Japanese, Chinese and Korean languages

Nowadays some people still tend to put all Asian people together, they think they are all the same, have a very similar language and all think alike. If we only take into account that China has three times more population than all Europe together, the diversity has to be wider. To clarify, I will write about the basic differences between the Japanese, Chinese and Korean languages.

Japanese is a language mainly made up of three alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Hiragana has 55 symbols that represent mostly syllables and vowels. With hiragana we can write any Japanese sound. Katakana is used to write words with a foreign origin (English, German, French, etc.). For example, company names such as Philips, Intel, Microsoft… are written using this alphabet. Up to here nothing seems complicated, but it’s kanji that turn Japanese language into a nightmare. Kanji are symbols that represent objects, concepts, actions and they may be combined with each other to form thousands of different words. We can write the same word with hiragana or with kanji, but with kanji it’ll take much less space and it’ll take us much less time to write it and read it (if we know the kanji).

Japanese language
Japanese script

As you can see in the image, Japanese language mixes hiragana, kanji and katakana within the same text. The symbols that seem the most intricate are kanji, the rest are hiragana and katakana. The kanji symbol after “3” (in the image) is read “gatsu” and means “month”. The problem is that this same symbol in a different situation means “moon”, and as it’s placed after 3, the overall meaning is “March”. After 14, the kanji symbol is “hon”, which means “day”, but in a different situation would mean “sun”. So, in this context it all means March 14th. As you can see it’s quite complicated because, even if you learn the kanji, depending on their place within the sentence they mean different things. Moreover, they are combined with each other to form other concepts.

The kanji script came from China. After many wars between China and Japan, the Japanese language started acquiring kanji symbols from different periods of the Chinese language. At the end, Japanese has turned into a very difficult language to master due to the mixture of alphabets, polite expressions, etc. being used.

I know very little about Chinese language. The problem with Chinese language is that all of its writing is kanjis, and therefore, in order to learn you need to learn those kanji by heart… massively. If you’re thinking their kanji are the same as Japanese kanji, you’re wrong, although there is some sort of resemblance. More or less the same resemblance that there might be between Spanish and French.

Chinese language
Chinese script

As you can see in the image above, the Chinese language only has the complicated symbols (kanji). Finally, Korean was what really caught my eye, because it is totally different from Japanese or Chinese. They don’t have kanji, only an alphabet, called Hangul, in the same neighborhood as hiragana, but completely different. I’ve heard is much easier to learn than Chinese and Japanese because you only need to learn one alphabet.

Korean language
Korean script

I’ve written this post in the hope that, at least, you will be able to tell the difference between a Chinese, a Japanese and a Korean web page.