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Quick east asian languages overview for the new learner

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By Edited Jun 24, 2016 0 0

If you want to get started on learning a new language and Korean, Japanese or Chinese is on your list, you may find these overviews helpful.

Korean and Japanese are both SOV (Subject Object Verb) languages while Chinese is mainly a SVO (Subject Verb Object) language with some exceptions among it's dialects.


A simple SVO sentence, such as

John likes Mary.

would become

John Mary likes.

in a SOV language.

Korean overview

Although Korean has several dialects the differences between them are not that great and they are mutually intelligible.

The Korean alphabetic system is called Hangul, it consists of 24 characters, 10 vowels and 14 consonants and there are several possible pronunciations for some of it's characters.

Each alphabetical character represents one syllable. In order to create a word one must follow the CVC structure (Consonant, Vowel, Consonant). For example:

ㄱ + ㅏ + ㅁ = 감

(kun which means feeling)



Japanese overview

Japanese uses several writing systems, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.

Kanji are characters taken from the Chinese language. Each kanji has two different readings in Japanese:

  • the on reading is the original Chinese reading at the time the kanji was imported into Japanese

  • the kun reading is the native Japanese reading associated with the meaning of the kanji


The Japanese language currently consists of over 2000 kanji required for everyday communication.

Hiragana is used to write native Japanese words for which there is no kanji available. Hiragana is also used as a pronunciation aid for kanji and as well as sentence particles. There are 46 hiragana symbols in the Japanese language.

Katakana is used mostly for foreign words, foreign names and for onomatopoeic words.

Unlike kanji, hiragana and katakana symbols have no meaning they are only the written representation of a sound.

A Japanese sentence can consist of just kanji, katakana, hiragana or a mix of them and many Japanese words have the same pronunciation.

Chinese overview

Although the Chinese language consists of 7 different dialects, Mandarin is the standard form of Chinese.

Chinese characters are called hànzi. Spoken words are composed of one, two or more syllables. Each syllable is written with a separate character and each character has it's own meaning.

Even though each character has it's own meaning, many are only used in combination with other characters.

Chinese is a tonal language, meaning different pitch patterns in pronounciation can change the entire meaning of a word.

For everyday use (magazines, newspapers) knowledge of about 3000 characters is requiered. For reading literature or technical writings, familiarity with at least 6000 characters is needed.

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