Chinese versus Japanese

On paper, Chinese and Japanese look equally foreign, both consisting of intricate symbols that look nearly impossible to draw, let alone guess on their pronunciation. But, just how similar are these two languages?


Where shall we start? Japanese is the official language of Japan and most widely spoken there, but with considerable Japanese-speaking communities in the US and Brazil. Chinese is one of the official languages of China, but is also spoken in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Tibet and Taiwan.


Many think that Japanese came about from Chinese, which is in fact, not true. Japanese is a Japonic language. However, as they are geographically close and share similar historical milestones, it is very close to Chinese. You can see this today in its writing and loanwords.


Chinese script was originally used to write Japanese, though the modern-day Japanese alphabet characters are called kanji.

Chinese characters don’t reflect Japanese spoken language well, so two other alphabets -- hiragana and katakana -- were introduced. Both are phonetic, and together, along with kanji, complete the Japanese writing system.

Chinese is a tonal language. This means that the meaning of the word changes depending on the tone you use. Japanese, however, isn’t tonal. Although proper intonation is required to speak Japanese well, you don't need to worry that an incorrect tone is another word entirely.


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