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How to tell the difference between Major Asian Languages


A lot of language learning advisers recommend you going off and finding in your local used bookstores some Japanese. Or they tell you to go check out your library. You get excited, find yourself there, then unsure about which is Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and so on. Here is a quick guide to telling them apart, so you wont feel like you’re wasting time or money stock piling Japanese books.

There are 4 main East Asian Languages (at least according to Wiki). Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.


Vietnamese is the easiest to tell apart, mostly because now a days Vietnam uses Latin characters for their writing system. If you are not interested in much older texts from before the late 20th century or you’re not interested in becoming a specialist of some sort of it, then you have nothing to worry about. You’ll be able to tell immediately that this language is not Japanese. Here is an example of some Vietnamese phrases from general sites on the internet:

Bao nhiêu (tiền)? (how much is this) Tôi không có đủ tiền mua. (i can’t afford this) Không ăn thịt heo. (I don’t eat pork) Hello! – Xin chao! I’m fine, thank you! – Cam on ban toi khoe

simple right? That’s not Japanese at all.


The second easiest to tell apart from Japanese is Korean. While Korean uses characters that can sometimes confuse someone at first, there is one major difference concerning Korean that will instantly make it clear for you. Bubbles! All languages are fun to learn about, and Korean has an interesting system of writing too. But for here and now, simply knowing what it looks like will prevent you from buying it instead of Japanese stuff.

안녕하세요 Hi, 안녕히 주무셨어요? 안녕하세요? Good morning. 식사하셨어요? 안녕하세요? Good evening. 잘 지내셨어요? how are you?

Notice how almost every character has a circle? So if you see a bunch of them, know to stay away.

Chinese Versus Japanese! Game on!

Chinese and Japanese are perhaps the most confused of the two out there. I know when I was a young learner I went to my local library and was excited thinking I found some good Japanese newspapers. After a while of studying I soon began to realize that I didn’t have a Japanese newspaper, rather it was Chinese. I had spent a lot of time staring at the page in wonder and eagerness. Another example is my sister, Pandachan, just recently jumped on board the learning Japanese train. She is lucky to have great used book stores in her area that carries Japanese books. When she first came home one day and skyped me, she showed me several books. One of them happened to be Chinese. So if you’ve made this mistake, you’re not alone, and if you’re a newbie who hasn’t yet gone to look, then here is some tips to help you differentiate the two.

Let me start by explaining that Chinese is a very diverse language that has dialects and versions that aren’t all the same. It is kind of how English between England and America and Australia is not the same, and we even have different made up words. As if that wasn’t hard enough, Japan has modeled some of its characters (roughly 2-5k depending on your literacy level) after Chinese characters too!

Fret not, for Japan uses two syllabic alphabets that will save your day. Hiragana and Katakana. If you’re not familiar with their shapes, here are a few:  あ い う え お か き く け こ ア い ウ エ オ カ キ ク ケ コ. These buddies will be your life jacket to know if its Japanese.

Also, common prepositions, endings, and what not can help you determine too. For instance, ます。って。じゃない。でした。ました。の。か?が。は。お, are all examples of really common kana used within Japanese text. When I first started out telling the difference of books, I looked for の since it was really easy to see when scanning quickly.

So here is some text, in Chinese taken from a popular news place online:



Read more: 世界新聞網-北美華文新聞、華商資訊 IRS闢財源 查現金收入商家

See any of those kana? nope! Not even close to any of those kana. Here is some Japanese news from an online news site:

東京電力女性社員殺害事件で無期懲役が確定したネパール国籍のゴビンダ・プラサド・マイナリ受刑者(45)の再審請求審で、東京高検が追加で実施し ていた物証のDNA鑑定のうち、最後の1点だった被害者の着衣から、被害者以外の人物を特定できるようなDNA型は検出されなかったことが、19日わかっ た。 検察側はさらに鑑定が必要としているが、東京高裁が不要と判断する可能性があり、犯人を直接示すようなものは含まれていないことから、再審開始の可能性が高まった。高検は、公判段階で開示されなかった42点の物証の中から15点を絞り込んで鑑定を実施。24日には3者協議が開かれ、高裁は残る27点の鑑定の要否を決める見通しだが、高裁が不要と決めた場合、再審開始の是非の判断に移る。これまで、女性の体内から採取された精液のDNA型が同受刑者と異なる第三者のもので、殺害現場に残された体毛とも一致したことなどが判明。検察側は、女性と最後に接触したのが同受刑者と主張している。

The first string of characters is a little scary looking and may confuse you, but if you keep looking で pops up! You’ve hit kana! If you were skimming, there are over 11 の’s in those few sentences alone! See why I use that one, its easy to spot and used often.

So the moral of today’s post is, learn to recognize some kana before heading out the door to buy at your local used book store, or grocery mart. You’ll find that after you bring the decision down between the two (Chinese and Japanese), it’ll be a lot easier when you know the kana. Good Luck!

Mikoto Neko

The Ring leader of multiple projects who is studying japanese and raising a family! Who needs time for sleep?
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