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Is Mandarin or Japanese harder?


Learning a new language can be a daunting task, especially when trying to decide which language to learn. Two popular options are Mandarin and Japanese, but which one is harder? In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two languages and determine which one is more challenging to learn.

Background Information

Mandarin and Japanese are both considered difficult languages for English speakers to learn due to their unique writing systems and grammar structures. Mandarin is the official language of China and is spoken by over 1 billion people worldwide. Japanese, on the other hand, is spoken by over 126 million people primarily in Japan.

Japanese Snack Box

Writing Systems

Mandarin uses Chinese characters or Hanzi, which are pictorial symbols that represent words or ideas. There are over 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, but only about 20,000 are commonly used. Japanese also uses Chinese characters, but they are known as Kanji. Additionally, Japanese has two other writing systems: Hiragana and Katakana, which are phonetic scripts used for grammatical purposes and foreign words respectively.


Mandarin has four tones that change the meaning of a word, making it crucial for learners to master the correct pronunciation. Japanese has fewer sounds than Mandarin but has a complex system of pitch accent that can alter the meaning of a word. Both languages also have unique sounds that can be challenging for English speakers to pronounce correctly.


Mandarin has a relatively simple grammar structure with no verb conjugation or gender agreement. However, it does have a complex system of measure words that are used to count different objects. Japanese has a more complicated grammar structure with verb conjugation and multiple levels of politeness that vary depending on the situation.


Mandarin has a large vocabulary with many homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). Japanese also has many homophones but uses context to differentiate between them. Both languages have borrowed words from other languages such as English and German.

Cultural Context

Both Mandarin and Japanese have unique cultural contexts that learners must understand to fully comprehend the language. Mandarin is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and history, while Japanese has been heavily influenced by Chinese culture but also has its own distinct traditions and customs.

Difficulty Level

Based on the factors discussed above, it can be concluded that both Mandarin and Japanese have their own challenges for English speakers to overcome. However, Mandarin may be slightly more difficult due to its tonal system and complex writing system with thousands of characters.

Tips for Learning Mandarin or Japanese

Regardless of which language you choose to learn, there are several tips to make the process easier. First, immerse yourself in the language by listening to music, watching movies or TV shows, or speaking with native speakers. Second, practice consistently every day to build your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation. Lastly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes; learning a new language takes time and patience.


In conclusion, both Mandarin and Japanese present unique challenges for English speakers but can be mastered with time and dedication. While Mandarin may be slightly more difficult due to its tonal system and complex writing system, both languages offer rich cultural experiences for those willing to learn.

Further Resources

If you are interested in learning more about Mandarin or Japanese, there are several resources available online such as language learning apps like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone or online courses through platforms like Coursera or Udemy.

Bonus Tips

If you’re interested in learning any new language here’s some bonus tips: Firstly learning another language can improve your memory retention capabilities. Secondly don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re making mistakes as it’s part of the learning curve. Lastly try finding someone who speaks your desired language natively so you can practice speaking with them regularly.

Is it better to learn Mandarin or Japanese?

If you have a fascination with anime, J-pop, Japanese cuisine or culture, then learning Japanese would be the ideal choice. However, if your interests lie in Chinese history and its influence on various Asian cultures, then learning Chinese would provide you with valuable insight.

What is more difficult Chinese or Japanese?

Learning Japanese is relatively easier than learning Chinese, but Chinese is spoken by a larger number of people globally. Each language has its advantages and disadvantages.

Is Mandarin hardest language to learn?

Mandarin Chinese is widely considered to be the most difficult language to learn according to a variety of sources. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center categorizes Mandarin in the highest level of difficulty (Category IV) for English speakers.

Is Mandarin harder than Japanese or Korean?

Out of all the languages, Korean grammar is considered the most challenging, Mandarin tones are famously tricky for English speakers to discern, and Japanese is known for being the fastest spoken language with over 7 syllables per second.

How long does it take to learn Mandarin?

Achieving fluency in all aspects of a language typically takes between 4 and 7 years or around 2200 to 4000 hours of studying, with a minimum of an hour and a half per day. However, learners often develop greater fluency in certain areas based on their study habits.

Which is harder Korean or Chinese?

In comparison to Mandarin Chinese, learning Korean may be considered easier for English speakers, but this is a subjective opinion. The US Foreign Service Institute places both languages in the same difficulty category, Category Four.

Another important aspect to consider when learning Mandarin or Japanese is the importance of cultural sensitivity. Both languages are deeply rooted in their respective cultures, and learners need to understand and respect cultural nuances when speaking or interacting with native speakers. This includes understanding social customs, gestures, and body language, as well as knowing when to use formal or informal language.

Additionally, it can be helpful to set specific goals for your language learning journey. Whether it’s learning a certain number of characters per day or being able to hold a basic conversation within a certain timeframe, having specific goals can help keep you motivated and focused on your progress.

It’s also important to find a learning method that works best for you. Some people may prefer traditional classroom settings, while others may benefit more from self-study or online courses. Experiment with different methods to find what works best for your learning style.

Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the process! Learning a new language can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. Embrace the journey and have fun with it. Try exploring new music, movies, and literature in your target language to immerse yourself in the culture and make the learning experience more enjoyable.

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