How to master all three languages: Chinese, Japanese and Korean?

- The relation of Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) Part 3/5

If you’re interested in learning all three languages, Chinese characters are the key.

You can opt not (or delay) to learn Chinese characters while learning Japanese, Korean or even Chinese (You can learn conversational Chinese by using Pinyin/Zhuyin). However, if you want to be a fluent speaker of these three languages eventually, Chinese characters are the key. Once you have acquired a certain number of characters, it becomes easier to build up your Japanese/ Korean vocabulary. With the characters you know, you can often guess the meaning of new combinations of characters that you encounter in your reading.

Heads up!

Japanese is partially written using Chinese characters (kanji) while Korean is generally written in Hangeul (Korean alphabet). In the both languages, the changes were needed because Chinese characters were not designed for the conjugations that exist in Japanese and Korean.

Even if they are written in kanji or hanja, many “native vocabulary” can only be explained in Japanese/Korean context. Besides, many of the characters have changed their meanings in Japanese and Korean over time.

Chinese characters in China, Hong Kong, Korean and Japan can be different

What is CJK’s writing system?

1Japanese has 3 writing system: Hiragana (ひらがな) , Katakana (カタカナ) and Chinese characters known as kanji (漢字).

Japanese syllables are written sequentially such as the letters of the Latin alphabet. For instance, “カン” (originated from 漢) is composed of two phonetic letters: カ (ka) and ン (n).

2Korean is written 100% in Hangeul (한글), some of which “originated” from Chinese characters (漢字) known as hanja (한자).

Korean syllables, Hangeul (한글), are “grouped” into blocks using consonant and vowel parts. For instance, “한” (originated from 漢) is composed of three phonetic letters: ㅎ (h),ㅏ (a) and ㄴ (n).

3Mandarin Chinese (in modern China) is written 100% in simplified Chinese characters (汉字)

Chinese characters are not “built” by consonant and vowel parts. They are in fact compounds of “pictorial” element. Hanyu Pinyin (developed in the 1950s) and Zhuyin (developed in the 1910s) are rather new inventions to “spell” the sound of the spoken language*1. It is not a system for spelling the shapes of characters. The simplified Chinese characters “汉” (originated from 漢) is pronounce as “hàn” or “ㄏㄢˋ”.

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Reference: *1 and

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