Foreign language woes...Help please!

<p>I'll be a freshman in the fall at a private LAC that offers strong programs in International Affairs and various foreign languages. I'm planning on being an IA major and studying one east asian language. I've always been interested in East Asia, and for the past 1.5 years have been studying Japanese. However, I'm also very interested in Chinese culture, and I would like to learn the language. </p>

<p>My problem is that both of these languages are very difficult and require a dedicated student who will dedicate 4 years of college study to that one language. If I were to try and do all of my IA classes, plus continuing my JPN studies while starting my Chinese studies, I would be overworked and unable to engage in other academic areas such as math, science, literature, etc. To that end, I've decided that I should focus on one language to accompany my focus in IA while still having time to dabble in other things.</p>

<p>But which do I choose? Chinese or Japanese? I LOVE the Japanese language and culture, and already have 1.5 years of study under my belt. I could potentially enter in my freshman year at the 201 level and finish basic grammar courses by sophomore year. However, I'm also really interested in the Chinese language and culture. Furthermore, given the state of the world and China's booming economy, learning Chinese may be beneficial to a career in International Affairs and may make post grad school career options easier to handle. </p>

<p>Any thoughts? Should I focus on the new Chinese language and put Japanese behind me for a bit? Or should I dismiss the value of knowing Chinese and focus on a language I've enjoyed studying? Maybe try Chinese during freshman year and see how I like it, and then switch back to Japanese? </p>

<p>Gah, I don't know what to do! I know that I want to study one of the languages and that I want to study abroad somewhere in East Asia, but I'm so attached to Japanese! Yet I can't deny how neat it would be to know Chinese and how beneficial it would be to my potential career in the long run...</p>


<p>Try not to let the fact that you have had 1.5 years of Japanese guide a decision that will impact your entire life.</p>

<p>I think you underestimate the value of knowing Japanese. Japan has had a powerful economy for much longer than China and many Japanese people do not speak English, so knowing their language is probably an invaluable asset. Since you've already been studying Japanese, I'd say keep going! You don't want to start Chinese and then lose the Japanese skills you've been building. Try to become proficient in Japanese and then think about starting a new language.</p>

<p>There are two sides to this issue. First, demand for Chinese speakers is rising due to the rapid development of the Chinese economy. You can be reasonably confident that this demand will continue to increase. Second, college students are already rising to meet this increased demand. I don't have any numbers, but I'd bet that many more college students are taking Chinese than Japanese. If you stick with Japanese, you could set yourself apart from all of the other IA majors who speak Chinese. I agree with MidwestMom that you should try not to let your previous Japanese experience affect your decision. You can make up for the lost time by studying abroad for a summer.</p>

<p>If I were you, I would try taking Chinese my first year/semester and see how I like it. If I don't find the same passion for it than I do with Japanese, I'd go back. Both Chinese and Japanese will be useful in the future, so I don't think you can go wrong.</p>

<p>And for some reason, I'm under the assumption that the Chinese are better at speaking English than the Japanese are on a whole. Japanese syntax, as you know, is very different from English's and Japanese has a very different set of phenomes, so it only makes sense that the Chinese would have an easier time learning English.</p>

<p>Knowing Japanese is essentially useless for the job market. The (true) joke I tell is that knowing Japanese will actually DECREASE your income, since you'll be more likely to work for Japanese companies, which pay less. It is also useless from the perspective of international affairs, etc. Young Japanese actually speak English quite well, btw. Any lack of skill in speaking English in japan has nothing to do with the Japanese language, but is a cultural reticence issue.</p>

<p>Having studied both languages, I think that Japanese is much easier for English speakers to learn. The pronunciation of Japanese is very straightforward, tones in Chinese are extremely difficult for most English speakers to master. The grammar of Japanese is more difficult than Chinese but not too bad. You need to learn far fewer characters to be proficient in Japanese. </p>

<p>That said, if you are intent on studying both languages, I recommend learning Chinese first. Once you have mastered Chinese characters in Chinese, Japanese will come very easily, especially reading. Studying them simultaneously would be almost impossible.</p>

<p>In the end, though, you have to follow your interests. Learning either language to any degree of proficiency is so difficult that, unless you are personally interested in the culture as well, and excited about the prospect of interacting with people from that culture, there is no way you will succeed. You will give up early on.</p>

<p>Thank you for all the advice you all have given so far. I'm still torn though :/</p>

<p>See, I really enjoy modern Japanese culture, and a recent study abroad adventure I had there only furthered my interest. I would like to study abroad in Japan again one day, and I know that this is only possible with further Japanese study. I know that I could do a summer program or something, but I really would like to spend some extended time there.</p>

<p>But, of course. I feel similarly for Chinese. Modern and ancient Chinese culture is fascinating to me. And, frankly, what kenf1234 said is true. While Japan has consistently enjoyed a strong economy, much of the world is now focusing its economic attention on China. Based on research I've done, the Chinese economy is only going to grow, and the demand for Chinese speaking graduates will increase. I just feel that Chinese will prove to be an invaluable asset as opposed to Japanese. I am not at all saying that the Japanese language should not be studied.</p>

<p>In a perfect world, I would test into Japanese 102. I would then take Chinese 101 in the fall and see how I liked it. If I liked it, then I would take 102 in the spring and put JPN on hold. If I disliked it, I would proceed with Japanese 102 in the spring, and take 201 in Fall 09.</p>

<p>But I really just want to choose one...</p>

<p>I think it is a mistake to think that there will be a demand for Chinese-speaking graduates. There are a lot of people who speak Chinese in the world. It is not a rare skill. </p>

<p>I think that you should study Japanese, do a year abroad, and later pick up Chinese if you still have the interest.</p>

<p>Well what are your career goals?</p>

<p>@ken: being able to speak chinese may not be a rare skill, but it's still valuable.</p>

@ken: being able to speak chinese may not be a rare skill, but it's still valuable.


<p>What level of proficiency is valuable and in what way is it valuable? How have you come to this conclusion?</p>

<p>kenf1234, your posts are now confusing to me as you said that Japanese is "useless" for an international affairs/business job, but then indicate that Chinese speakers are not only low in demand but the language isn't all together that valuable.</p>

<p>For the record, I want to major in International Affairs. Most IA majors are recommended to have a foreign language and regional focus, especially at my college, so I was planning on majoring in IA while focusing on East Asia. Chinese seems invaluable to me because of China's booming economy and business world, but I am also very interested in Japanese. I have to focus on one or the other...</p>

<p>As for a career, I'm not entirely sure yet. I've chosen to major in IA simply because I am interested in and concerned for our world's current affairs and how different nations and cultures choose to interact with one another. I certainly see myself doing something for the U.S. Government in the realm of foreign affairs, or perhaps something in International business. I'm really not sure...</p>

<p>If your goal is to prepare for a career, and you are expecting your language skills to help you, I would think Chinese would be a better choice than Japanese. However, since there are so many Chinese-Americans who speak Chinese already, it is not an unusual skill. So it is very unlikely a company will pay you extra because you speak Chinese. It might be an extra factor getting you hired, but you will need some other skill to make you really desirable as an employee. </p>

<p>In addition, the level of proficiency needed to make your Chinese useful in business would require at least 3 years of study. You'd need a real intense and abiding interest to study such a difficult language that long.</p>

<p>When i studied abroad in Japan, most of the students I knew showed up with a year or two of japanese study. Even after a year in Japan, they could speak a little read even less, and within a few years after that, many of them had forgotten almost everything. And I consider Japanese quite a bit easier to learn than Chinese.</p>

<p>I thought I'd offer up my opinion on this subject based on my experience in this area. Please excuse the length of this post; I think I got a little carried away :D</p>

<p>I'm a Japanese major with a Mathematics minor at a top LAC who speaks fluent Japanese (i.e. reads newspapers/novels with only occasional dictionary usage). From my experience, taking college courses in an Eastern language will NOT make you fluent after four years. The first year or two will give you a good base to work off of, but Japanese is a language which you must put a considerable amount of at-home effort into in order to see real results (think at least 1-2 hours a day in addition to classwork).</p>

<p>As to which language is more "useful", it greatly depends on how you wish to use them and what kind of work you wish to do. Either language will be a great asset if you plan to market yourself in Asia. However, kenf1234 is correct in say that merely knowing a language will not get you a job. Language skills (expect in interpreting, translating, or language teaching) are really a supplement to some other skill set such as engineering, mathematics, science, etc. in the private sector. If you plan to get into academics, however, either language will serve you well, though you would be best to master both eventually.</p>

<p>kenf1234's statement that "knowing Japanese will actually DECREASE your income, since you'll be more likely to work for Japanese companies, which pay less" is not entirely fair, given that if you take the opposite stance (i.e. were to be hired at a Chinese company) you would make considerably less money than either a Japanese or American company would pay. The moral of this story is to get hired by an American or European company working in Asia, rather than a local outfit!</p>

<p>I would argue that there are far more Chinese who speak fluent English than there are Japanese. One can see this by looking at the sheer number of Chinese nationals who receive an education in the US. The Japanese, on the other hand, are generally educated entirely in Japan, unless they come to the states for an MBA or are transferred here for work. There are also far more Chinese immigrants living in the states than there are Japanese immigrants (though many speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin). </p>

<p>Finally, I would take great issue with the assertion that, "Young Japanese actually speak English quite well". Young Japanese may be able to read/write English somewhat decently, but speaking is an entirely different story. The Japanese learn English because it comes up as a subject on most college entrance examinations. These exams are entirely written, so their spoken ability is not tested, and thus not focused on by schools teaching English in Japan. And if you can speak Japanese, you will see a noticeable sigh of relief on the faces of store clerks and helpful citizens throughout Japan when you engage them in conversation :) </p>

<p>I would disagree that Japanese is easier to learn than Chinese (I take it you mean Mandarin, as there is no such language as "Chinese"). Both languages have their difficulties, but given my experience in both and what I have been told by professors who speak both, I would conclude that Mandarin is easier, though still quite difficult. </p>

<p>Japanese has simple pronunciation for a native English speaker, though the r/l sound takes some getting used to. This is not to say that Japanese pronunciation is the same as English, and one major weakness I see in beginning Japanese students is the tendency to graft American sounds and intonation onto Japanese. Pay close attention to intonation and inflection when you hear or speak Japanese, as these are the things that will make you sound truly fluent.</p>

<p>Chinese has more difficult pronunciation than Japanese, but it still is nowhere near as difficult as French or Russian. Many people have a great fear/concern about tones, but I have found them to not be terribly difficult. In fact, while Japanese is not a tonal language, you will find that differences in inflection can change the meaning of words (i.e. the word "ame", meaning either "rain" or "candy" depending on the intonation). In this case, however, Chinese is indeed more difficult.</p>

<p>When it comes to the writing systems, I personally think Chinese is MUCH simpler than Japanese. True, the total number of characters you must learn to be fluent in Chinese is greater, but most all these characters have only one pronunciation, where as in Japanese most characters have AT LEAST two. Some characters such as 生 have a ridiculous number of readings. (In case you're curious, this character can be read as "nama", "ubu", "sei", "shou", "na", "i" ,etc. And that doesn't include the ways it can be read in names.)</p>

<p>The final point of comparison I'll make between the difficultly of Chinese and Japanese is vocabulary. I think Chinese nudges ahead in this area, given that Chinese words sounds nothing like their English counterparts, and even transliterated words sound somewhat "off". Japanese has katakana, either a curse or blessing, depending on your point of view. This means that Japanese has an increasingly large number of foreign-origin words that sound close to their English (or German, or Portuguese) counterpart.</p>

<p>Thanks for your post, Lotus. I was already sort of aware of the language points you were making about Japanese (the r/l sounds, the 生 kanji and its many sounds and meanings, the use of hiragana and kanji versus katakana, etc). I think I understand now that knowing a language will not get me a job, and I think I would rather study things I know I'm passionate about versus what is academically "trendy," and common.</p>

<p>So...I've decided to study Japanese in college. Many of your points, Lotus, made a lot of sense to me, particularly those about Japanese people and their english speaking ability. When I was studying there, hardly anyone spoke english (including young high school and college students). Knowing some Japanese was immensely helpful in communicating with them.</p>

<p>Gah...I'm glad I've solved that issue for myself.</p>

<p>Always glad to help out a fellow gaijin. :D</p>

<p>Your post actually helped me out a lot too Lotus. I was in a similar boat to the OP with Japanese and Korean. I took a Japanese class last year and LOVED it, not to mention have visited Japan and done lots of reading into the culture. It really is fascinating. However, my college also offers Korean classes, and I would love to take those as well. </p>

<p>I definitely plan on going with Japanese (and Spanish as well, since I have done that my whole high school career.) But do you think it would be wise if I did Korean on the side as well? I'm also double majoring International Relations with Japanese already by the way...</p>

<p>I haven't had any experience with Korean, so any comments I make will just be drawing from what I've read or heard about the language. As you may or not know, Korean is relatively close to Japanese from a grammatical standpoint, but as Korean is blessed with Hangul its writing system makes learning to read relatively simple compared to Chinese or Japanese. All is not peachy and lovely, however, and if you want to read academic or historical texts you'll still have to learn Chinese characters.</p>

<p>As for which languages you should go about learning, I think that really depends on what results you expect. Japanese-Korean would be a much more time-intensive combination to study than Korean-Spanish or Japanese-Spanish. If you're an IR major the Korean-Japanese combo might provide you some ready-made subjects to study (comfort women, North Korean abductions, etc.), but there are also many Japanese living in Spanish-speaking countries in South America. I know three people who studied Spanish and Japanese at the same time, and I know one person who did his thesis on the Japanese diaspora to South America. </p>

<p>In the end it's up to you, what you want to study, and what you expect to get back. You'd likely see much faster and more tangible results from studying Spanish rather than Korean, but then again the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I've felt studying the seemingly chaotic and yet remarkably beautiful language that is Japanese is something I wouldn't trade for the world. :D</p>

<p>Becoming proficient in a foreign language is only in part about learning the technical aspects of the language. A major component of the process is learning about the culture. If you are hoping to make something of your life involving a particular area of the world, much of what determines your level of success has to do with how facile and sensitive you are to the customs, thoughts and priorities of that particular people. I understand it has been said that anyone can read a translation of the Qu'uran, but to truly understand its meaning to those that follow its teachings you have to read it with comprehension in Arabic. I think the point of that it that it is one thing to have a dialog on a linguistic level and another thing entirely to have communication.</p>

<p>where are you planning to study Japanese?</p>