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Studying Japanese by comparing it to Chinese

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Hi everyone! I hope the title of the topic isn't too misleading. I've been studying Chinese for some time now, I'd say I just reached intermediate level and am now starting to work on advanced. The thing is, I currently have the time to self-learn some Japanese and I've found that for every single word I learn I find myself going to a Chinese dictionary to compare how it's written in Chinese or if those kanji combination have a different meaning in Chinese.

Tl;dr: does anyone study Japanese while using it as a resource to reinforce their Chinese. I know they're not the same, barely even similar, so that's why I'm curious. 




Edit: let me put a very basic example.

本 Means book (among other things) in Japanese but it's mostly used as a measure word (for books) in Chinese.

手帳 Is notebook in both languages (written as 手帐 in simplified characters).

Does anyone do this kind of comparisons?

I want to do it mainly to be able to consciously learn where they differ as well as try not to mix the meanings (as could happens with words like 新聞). Also, as much as I love Japanese and want to eventually speak it fluently, Chinese is my career choice so I don't want to mix both languages in my brain and mess everything up.

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I learned Japanese first, lived and worked in Japan, etc. then I started learning Chinese as a hobby.


It is not so useful to compare or use as a reinforcement aid actually. Grammar is wildly different (Japanese is complex), pronunciation is completely different (Mandarin with its tones will forever be crushing my soul), expressions are different too, but there is some shared vocabulary, especially for more "technical" areas beyond core vocabulary. For this reason it can be convenient and help. I often don't know how to pronounce words in Mandarin when I am reading news articles but I get the meaning and gist. So in that respect it can be useful I suppose.


But don't worry, your brain can handle both! The human mind has an extraordinary ability to compartmentalize things and organize information. 


Also, while 本 does mean books in a very generic sense, it is also a measure word, an indicator "this", and indicates an origin or source, for example in 基本, 本音, or 本年度.

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Hey, I can see from your screen name that you speak Japanese. 星の海, right?


My adventure into Japanese started from a simple wish to be able to pronounce kana (I was at the time interested in different writing systems). It took me one afternoon. Then I was struck by the similarity between Japanese and Cantonese pronunciations of certain characters, for example 一 to 十. Both languages preserve the entering tones of Middle Chinese. It's quite easy to map one to another with the help of a little knowledge of phonology. Even some unique words are related. 夾萬 gaap3 maan6 'safe, strongbox' and 鞄 kaban 'briefcase, bag' both come from 夾板. So I thought, maybe I can reuse the experience I gained from learning Cantonese. All I have to do is learn to pronounce things in a different way, right? Boy, how wrong can one be.


Chinese is to Japanese as Latin is to English. Of all the words listed in a modern Japanese dictionary, an estimated 60% is of Chinese origin. A Chinese person who has never studied Japanese before can read a Japanese newspaper and, with some guess work, understand a good portion of it. But, Sino-Japanese words only make up about 20% of Japanese people's day-to-day speech. The more casual you go the lower the percentage. At the core, Japanese is fundamentally different from Chinese. It is multisyllabic, inflected, strictly head-final. At the beginner level, your Chinese knowledge won't be of much help vocabulary-wise, just as knowing Spanish doesn't mean you know how to say "I read a book yesterday" or "On the other hand, we have five fingers" in English. Of course, you don't need to learn how to write and the basic meaning of kanji. That's about 400 hours less study time.


Speaking of which, you should have known by now 本 is a 指事 ideogram. 木 is the shape of a plant. The extra 一 indicates its root. So the root meaning of 本 is 'root, source, origin'. 日本 is the land where the sun rises. 底本 is the master copy all later copies are based on. 書本/課本 is where you get your knowledge from. It takes the shape of a book so it also means a book, and in Chinese is used to count books. In Japanese 本 is also a counter. But mainly to count trees, and later extended to tree-like, long, thin objects, for example, bottles ビール一本, pencils 鉛筆二本, and even ropes, rivers. It's just that different people have different ways of looking at things.


A person who has successfully learned a foreign language has also learned how to temporarily turn off the processing of another language, namely his mother tongue. So I wouldn't be overly worried about mixing things up. HSK5 seems good enough.


If you really want to use Japanese as a resource to reinforce your Chinese, why not try learning Japanese using a Chinese textbook? That's a good way to put your Chinese in use. Since each new word will be explained in Chinese, you will be able to see the difference quite easily. 手帳 would be 筆記本,手冊,(警察)證件 in Chinese. We really don't use that word the Japanese way. It's a Japanese word, probably borrowed from ancient China and its usage long forgotten, or probably a made-in-Japan pseudo-Chinese word.

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You guys raise many interesting points here. Yes, fortunately kanji won't be a newbie problem and so far I can say Chinese hasn't interfered in a bad way. But you just made me realize that trying to compare characters and vocabulary may not be such a good idea (as happens with the 手帳 example since, even though 手帐 exists, 笔记本 is much more commonly used). So shall I just completely separate both languages for the sake of not mixing common with uncommon words ?

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I'm curious where did you get the 手帳 definition. I couldn't find it in 新華詞典, 現代漢語詞典, 漢語大辭典, or 辭海. Yes, in both languages 手 means 'hand' and 帳 'ledger'. But I've never seen the combination 手帳 (probably for good reason - the only shou3zhang4 I can think of is 手杖) except in Japanese where there's also 電話帳(電話簿), 写真帳(影集/相冊), 通帳(存摺). Maybe it exists in regions where Japanese influence is strong such as Taiwan, or among younger generation 哈日族, 御宅控?

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Yes, I got it from Pleco but I've also seen it countless times on Taobao, though that may be because they love making stationery items sound like Japanese...

Now that I thinks of it,  手帳 has more the Japanese sense of "personal diary" than 笔记本 has, maybe the Chinese borrowed 手帳 to indicate the kind of planner/agenda the Japanese are fond of using everyday.

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