Gerardiebla wrote:Thanks Monika, I think I'm going to go the unfamiliar route. I'm leaning towards either Chinese or Arabic.
I think your choice should be between Japanese and Arabic, not Chinese and Arabic.
Why Japanese and not Chinese:
[Note that I have studied Chinese (and Arabic), but not Japanese, I have only second-hand knowledge about the latter.]
[Note 2: I used to recommend Chinese over Japanese, but more experienced learners have convinced me otherwise.]
1. There is no hope to ever master reading and writing Chinese.
Not even native speakers succeed: http://cognitive-china.blogspot.com/200 ... moser.html
Yeah you only need somewhere between 2000 and 4000 characters (learnable in few years) to be able to read 90% of the characters in a newspaper - too bad the essential information is in the other 10% (You could read like: "There was a plane crash in $some_place. There was $some_person of $some_country on board and died." but you don't get that the prime minister of Russia just died in Afghanistan and maybe the train did not have an accident after all but was shot down.)
I thought Japanese was as bad. It isn't. If I understood correctly, the basic 2000 or so words are written with characters (like the Chinese do) and more tricky stuff with the syllable- and letter-based writing systems, so you will actually be able to read and write within a defined timeframe.
Initially Japanese may appear harder because it has these three writing systems and because many characters can be read in two or more ways (that's one reason why I used to think Japanese is much harder), but after a short time learners seem to get over this and as mentioned in the long run Chinese is the unattainable one.
2. Even ignoring writing characters: Chinese is superhard to learn. This blog article explains why: http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Some of the reasons listed apply also to Japanese, others don't.
3. Chinese does not have an interesting grammar.
I would say Chinese has almost no grammar. Linguists would disagree. What I mean is: There is no conjugation of verbs (they do not change by tense, person or number). There is no declination of nouns, pronouns and adjectives (they do not change by case, gender or number).
So the interesting/assumption-challenging thing to learn is: While in other language families like Indo-European, Semitic, Turk the time (I go, I went, I will go) is expressed with suffixes/prefixes to verbs and/or helping verbs, this is not how it has to be (I go now, I go yesterday, I go tomorrow). Here, you have learned it, no need to actually study Chinese.
Chinese has mostly the same word order as English: Subject-Verb-Object. I think Japanese has Subject-Object-Verb. So Chinese does not help you to open your mind in that respect.
Besides linguistic interest:
I used to consider the "lack" of grammar in Chinese as a big pro for learning it, as it makes it easier. But it's not really a good argument. In Japanese, like with Indoeuropean or Semitic languages, yes, you study the ways to inflect verbs and other parts of speech for quite a while. And then you have studied it and you mostly know it and you are okay with it. And even before that - yes, you make mistakes, you do not sound native ... well you wouldn't sound native, yet, anyway.
And: "more" grammar helps you understand. In a Japanese (or Arabic or German) sentence with unknown words you can figure out if something is a verb, adjective, noun etc. in many cases and that can help you figure out what a sentence means. In Chinese this is pretty hopeless, the words are simply strung together. As the above blog mentions: You cannot even tell easily where words with more than one syllable begin and end in Chinese (and thus have trouble looking them up in dictionaries). This issue simply doesn't arise in Japanese, if I am informed correctly. (In Arabic I could not always figure out where words start and end, though; even though they use letters, but they have spaces after certain letters inside words.)
4. Chinese pronunciation is superhard.
If you get the tones wrong, you will not be understood. And you can be pretty certain to get them wrong, as your native language is not tonal.
Speaking Japanese at a level to sound native seems to be hard to achieve, too, but this does not seem to be your goal or interest, so whether you can make yourself understood is more relevant.
5. For Australians, Japanese seems to be more relevant. There seems to be a significant Japanese population in Australia and it seems to be more relevant for trade relationships. So you might have an easier time to find someone to practice with and make use of it later in life. (I don't have citations for this, this is just something Australians have told me.)
I can't really compare Arabic and Japanese as I know so little about Japanese. So just a few bits about Arabic:
- Besides singular and plural there is a dual (for verbs, pronouns, ...)
- As in English suffixes are used to form the verbs in different tenses, persons and numbers ... but additionally prefixes may be used.
- Noun case endings exist, but in spoken language they often seem to be dropped ... and in written language vocalizations (short vowels) are normally not written anyway - so you have a combination of "linguistically interesting feature" and "still easy to use" in practice.
- The lack of short vowels in writing (except in the Koran, teaching books and poetry) makes it rather hard to read normal texts in the beginning until you know a lot of words. But Japanese is not exactly easier with its characters.