August 25, 2019 100

How Similar Are Chinese and Japanese?

How Similar Are Chinese and Japanese?

Learning a language ? Have a look at our
partner website italki where you can meet language exchange partners for free
or learn at home with convenient online lessons. Buy your first lesson and get your second lesson free.
Check out the link in the description below. Quiz time: Are the following words
Chinese or Japanese? First. Yes it’s Japanese. Next. It’s Chinese. Next. Actually, this is both Chinese and Japanese. And finally. Actually this is neither, this is Thai. What, you thought all Asian languages are the same? Racist. Hello everyone. Welcome to the LangFocus channel,
my name is Paul. Today’s topic is: the question how similar are Chinese and Japanese. A lot of people look at a map of Asia and see how close Japan and China are or they might look at a sample of Chinese and Japanese
writing and think that something looks similar and they might conclude that the
two languages are similar, but are they really similar? Well, the short answer is
no they are completely different languages but Japanese has been highly
influenced by Chinese in its vocabulary and its writing system Chinese and Japanese do not share any
common origin and they don’t belong to the same language family Chinese languages belong to the
Sino-Tibetan language family and Japanese as far as we know belongs
to the Japonic language family. Phonology: First off, the phonology of
the languages is very different With the most basic difference being that Chinese is a tonal language while Japanese is not. A tonal language is one in which there are tones or pitches that help determine the meaning of the words you use; if you used the
wrong tone then the meaning of the word changes. Here’s an example: the word for teacher, “lao3shi1” and the word for naive, “lao3shi2” and the word for old-fashioned, “lao3shi4”. So I’m sure that Chinese teachers get
called naive and old-fashioned all the time by mistake or maybe not by mistake. In Japanese there are basically no tones like this that determine the meaning of words. In Japanese there is something called pitch accent which means that the syllables of a word have either a higher pitch or a lower pitch
but they’re not like the tones in Chinese because they typically don’t
determine the meaning of the word they’re more like stress in English. Structure: the structure and grammar of the two languages is completely different at the most basic level Chinese is an
SVO language while Japanese is an SOV language Here’s an example in Chinese: “ta1shuo1zhong1wen2” This means he speaks Chinese and you can see SVO: subject verb object. And here’s that sentence translated into Japanese: “kare wa chūgokugo wo hanashimasu”. Here we can see SOV: subject object verb. And you can see there are some extra little words in Japanese that don’t exist in the Chinese sentence for example Japanese has the
topic marker “wa” which doesn’t exist in Chinese and Japanese also has the
object marker “wo” which doesn’t exist in Chinese. Chinese is an analytic language
which basically means that you create a sentence by placing independent elements
side-by-side. Analytic languages like Chinese do not use inflection: inflection
means modifying words to indicate some kind of grammatical meaning like plural,
gender, tense or case You don’t change any part of a
word in order to change its meaning Instead you can add to the meaning of that word by adding an extra word next to it Japanese on the other hand is an agglutinative language that uses inflection. Agglutinative languages use a lot of affixes: Rather than just placing independent words side-by-side
you attach additional pieces to words to add or modify meaning: this kind of
inflection in Japanese means that Japanese words are often longer than
Chinese words and that it may take a few words in Chinese to translate one Japanese word. In these Chinese sentences we
can see that there’s no inflection “wo3qu4xue2xiao4” this sentence means I go to school “wo3qu4xue2xiao4” this sentence means I went to school so no part of the verb is changed indicate the past tense We can show the past tense by
just adding a time expression. Now these similar sentences in
Japanese show inflection This sentence means I go to school
“watashi wa gakkou e iku” I went to school
“watashi wa gakkou e itta” And the polite form of “I go to school”:
“watashi wa gakkou e ikimasu” I want to go to school:
“watashi wa gakkou e ikitai”. In this Japanese example we use inflection
changing the word “iku” to the “iki” form and then we use agglutination to attach
a form that shows intention: “tai”. In Chinese though there’s no inflection or
agglutination: you just add an extra word like this. That’s just a brief sample of how different
the grammar is in Japanese and Chinese basically they’re completely different languages when it comes to their grammatical structure The one area which there is some similarity between
Chinese and Japanese is in vocabulary and in the use of Chinese characters.
During a period of great Chinese influence between the 5th and 9th centuries CE
there was a huge amount of borrowing from early Middle Chinese
into Japanese. Japanese originally had no written form
so Chinese began to be used as the literary language and as the language of science and of religion. Chinese vocabulary began to be borrowed into Japanese and the Chinese writing system
was gradually adapted to fit the Japanese language so not only
were vocabulary borrowed But the Chinese characters that represent them were also adopted. 60% of the words used in Japanese are of Chinese origin but that includes all of the words in the dictionary and that
includes a lot of very specialized, academic and formal vocabulary that’s mainly used in writing. In spoken Japanese the number of Chinese loan words used as much lower, At about 18%. The borrowed words were almost all Chinese nouns; even though in Japanese they might be used as verbs or as adjectives that’s just one way in which the
vocabulary is used differently but also the pronunciation of those
Chinese words that were borrowed into Japanese changed to match the Japanese
phonological system and that included the loss of the tones of those words.
And also these words were borrowed a long time ago, which means that the words have
also changed in pronunciation in Chinese so the pronunciation has diverged quite a bit, meaning that modern Japanese pronunciation and modern Chinese pronunciation of similar characters or words is quite different. And it’s also important to point out that Mandarin was not the standard form of Chinese back in those days when those vocabulary words were
borrowed into Japanese, so Even at the time they were borrowed the pronunciation was different from standard Chinese today And from what I understand the modern Japanese pronunciation of those loanwords Is often more similar to modern Cantonese
than it is to Mandarin These examples show how the same words are pronounced very differently in Japanese and Mandarin The word for family: In Japanese it’s “katei” and actually in Japanese the meaning is more like household or home And in Mandarin: “jia1ting2”. Next, the word for death:
In Japanese: “shibou” And in Mandarin: “si3wang2” Next, the word for season:
In Japanese, “kisetsu” And in Mandarin: “ji4jie2” And the word for home country:
“In Japanese: bokoku” And in Mandarin: “mu3guo2” So you can see that these words
look the same and they have basically the same meaning but they sound very different So Chinese vocabulary represented by Chinese characters were borrowed into Japanese but those Chinese characters were also then applied to native Japanese vocabulary that had a related meaning to those Chinese loan words That means that a Chinese speaker can often look at a native Japanese word and understand its core meaning without knowing that Japanese word because the Chinese character is used to represent it So Chinese people can often read a
text in Japanese and they can make sense of the basic meaning of it based on the Chinese characters but they won’t understand all the details And the same is true in reverse: Japanese people can look at a Chinese text and kind of make sense of the meaning of it based on the Chinese characters that they know. But it is easy to misunderstand the
details of what’s written especially if they have zero knowledge
of the other language Here are some Japanese example sentences that have the same Chinese characters but the meaning is very different because of the inflection that’s used “Neko wa sakana wo taberu”. That means,
The cat eats fish. “Neko wa sakana wo tabenai”. That means,
The cat doesn’t eat fish. “Neko wa sakana wo tabeta”. That means,
The cat ate fish, in the past tense. “Neko wa sakana wo taberutsumori”
the cat plans to eat fish “Neko wa sakana ni teberareta”, that means
The cat was eaten by a fish So a Chinese character reading these sentences would get the core meaning of the Chinese characters But they would miss something in the inflection For example the negative, or the past tense,
or intention or the passive form especially the last example could be
highly misunderstood So imagine you’re an English speaker
reading something with English loanwords it might look something like this Cat bla fish blah food blah blah Of course even after just a little bit of studying Japanese a Chinese speaker could probably learn enough to understand basic
Japanese sentences like that For me, as someone who studied Japanese to a relatively advanced level the same is true in reverse: when I was in Taiwan last year on the subway for example I could read a lot of the advertisements and I would get most of the meaning; I wouldn’t understand all of the Chinese characters but I would get usually 3 out of 4 of them
and the fourth one would be new to me because in Chinese there are a lot of characters that actually aren’t used in Japanese at all But just getting 3 out of 4 of them was often
enough to understand the basic meaning of that advertising but of course I had
no idea how to pronounce those Chinese characters and if I tried to read them
out loud like the Japanese I would hear laughter from both my girlfriend and
from local bystanders. It might seem strange that I can look at a Chinese
character in Chinese and understand what it means without knowing how to say it
but think of it as a symbol like a number the number seven right here is
pronounced differently in different languages but when you see it you know
what it means no matter how you pronounce it Chinese characters are kind of like that except that they represent a much wider range of meanings The Chinese characters
used in any particular sentence can be very different from those used in the
other language for a sentence of similar meaning and in Japanese there are a lot
of compound words that were created from Chinese characters but those compound
words don’t actually exist in Chinese these are called “wasei kango” which means
something like Chinese vocabulary created in Japan Here are some examples of “wasei kango”: some were created to represent things unique to Japan like “ninja” “geisha” and others were created during the Meiji period to represent Western concepts like democracy, “minshu”. So even though you might recognize
a lot of characters when you look at some text in the other language they
might be used in a very different way so the meeting will be unclear A Chinese speaker might be confused by “wasei kango” when they try to read some Japanese and Japanese people might be confused
when they read Chinese because there are a lot of Chinese characters that were never borrowed into Japanese in the first place or they’re not used in modern Japanese But in either case, even basic knowledge
of the other language would help in reading comprehension quite a bit Japanese “returned loan words” in
Chinese so as we’ve discussed already lots of Chinese vocabulary was
borrowed into Japanese but some Japanese vocabulary has also
been borrowed into Chinese. A moment ago I mentioned “wasei kango”
Japanese vocabulary created from Chinese roots vocabulary that didn’t exist in Chinese
but some of those “wasei kango” have actually been borrowed from
Japanese into Chinese Some sources say that such vocabulary accounts for around 30% of modern Chinese vocabulary. Of course the way those returned loan words are pronounced is based on the modern Chinese pronunciation of the Chinese characters Here are some examples: The word for history in Japanese, “rekishi” and
Mandarin, “li4shi3” The word for industry, in Japanese, “kōgyō”
In Mandarin, “gong1ye4” The word for electron or electronic in Japanese “denshi”
In Mandarin “dian4zi3” The word for injection, in Japanese “chūsha”
In Mandarin “zhu4she4” The word for philosophy in Japanese “tetsugaku”
In Mandarin “zhe2xue2” The word for system in Japanese “keitō”
And in Mandarin “xi4tong2” And most Chinese people these days
are probably not even aware that those words were borrowed from Japanese It’s also important to point out that in mainland China, Simplified Chinese characters are now used as
opposed to the traditional Chinese characters used in Taiwan and in Hong Kong That means that someone from mainland China may have some more trouble recognizing Japanese kanji than someone from Taiwan for example So in short, Chinese and Japanese are
very different languages especially the spoken languages
even though there was a lot of vocabulary borrowed from Chinese into Japanese And a little bit from Japanese into Chinese Only in writing are those two languages
somewhat intelligible because of the Chinese characters that are used So the question of the day for Japanese speakers: “What’s your experience when you
look at a Chinese text?” “Are you able to understand the basic meaning
based on the Chinese characters?” And similarly for Chinese speakers: “What happens when you look at a Japanese text?” “Can you understand the basic meaning or did you get confused because of the different way that the Chinese characters are used?” Thanks again to all my Pateron supporters and I
want to say thanks to all the New subscribers who joined this month;
there are a lot of you And you are very welcome and very appreciated Thank you for watching, have a nice day

100 Replies to “How Similar Are Chinese and Japanese?”

  • siori sati says:



  • Zhou Jianghong says:

    In fact, Chinese has a closed structure with English, but I have big problems with tense in English. Because Chinese does not have Tense. However, I prefer the way of Chinese to handle tense, just clarifying the time or using symbolic words. For example, I went to school in English. In Chinese, I go to 过 school. I ate lunch. In Chinese, I eat 过 lunch.

  • 東方孤行買豆花 says:

    that should be chinese newspaper from Taiwan lol.

  • magyogyo says:


  • 我没有打酱油 says:


  • Sega Re-trop-vieux says:

    Kanji is something really hard to learn. The most disturbing thing is that you can write everything with hiragana and katakana but they still use those old and complicated kanji’s.

    Japan is the only country to have that ( 2 different simbols for the same meaning)

    My wife ( she is Japanese) doesn’t understand some old and unfamiliar kanji’s, but if it is written in hiragana she understand.

    I know It is part of their culture, but they should erase the kanji’s for a more simple life ( my 2 girls needs 10 years to learn kanji’s, 10 fuc.. years to read and write)

    I hate kanji’s ( I know only 150 ), you need at least 1900 to read a newspaper

  • 张紫乔 says:

    I’m a Chinese, one thing I am pretty sure is Chinese teachers won’t get called naive and old fashioned all the time by mistake. These three words are easy to distinguish in Chinese

  • Shawn W says:


  • Lao Cat says:


  • 商务舱机票5到8折 says:

    Looks similar but sounds totally different

  • OnlineGirlPlayz Gamez says:

    Is this in Japanese or Chinese and what does it say?

  • 自由美利坚三亿人的枪战梦 says:


  • Gang Lin says:

    U must not know that most of the modern Chinese vocabularies were borrowed from Japanese..

  • Anya /T says:


  • youngyt says:

    lol. another white guy who has no idea about ancient Asian history. this guy doesn't even know japanese came from china in the qing dynasty 200 AD, and he is here misleading everyone. so sad.

  • Đỗ Hùng says:


  • fan lee says:


  • 雨宮響也 says:

    Why Hong Kong is not belong to China in your map?

  • 李明 says:


  • Zedis Dead says:

    爱 电 ——

  • いかすみくん says:

    Japanese and Chinese have similarities because Japan was in east Asian cultural sphere, which is crated and improved by China.

  • Garrick Yeh says:



  • longcom vu says:

    Can you make video about How Similar Are Chinese and Vietnamese ,Vietnamese and japanese, Vietnamese and Korean you know we are in sinosphere and sharing han culture

  • 文种大夫 says:


  • pucioy says:

    racists? really?

  • Bobocha Sharma says:

    How they communicate

  • Cody Greenland says:

    I like to group up regions for ancient trade, which influenced culture and language…
    So I say China, Korea, Japan, Thailand?, and Laos? are part of this little bubble

  • PIG Supoo_ says:

    橋和 箸 也同样是不同音调

  • Alta19 Leblanc82 says:

    because those people stole the language from China

  • Gray Rainbow says:

    ❤ from Syria. I like Japan and wish I could visit it.

  • 井戸稲勢 says:

    His linguistic ability and linguistic knowledge is great.

  • Intro 127 says:

    So Tagalog (Philippine) is VSO so it is so hard to translate and as bilingual you translate everything in ur head before speaking.. Most of us can't totally speak in straight (without pausing) in english ??

  • Just Curious says:

    Omae wa mou shindeiru

  • ZBajie1 says:

    In Taiwanese Hakka, "thank you" is "承蒙“ instead of 谢谢。

  • linn h says:

    I had the intro all right lol.

  • sweet YIBO says:


  • Aa Aa says:

    I thank China for giving us Kanji

  • na me says:

    1:42–1:50 Tones/pitch can change the meaning of the word. In Japanese, 橋 and 箸 are both はし hashi. But they are pronounced differently. Same for 女子 and 助詞. 雨 and 飴 and more. Tones in Japanese are not marked in the language like Chinese, so I think Japanese is harder to learn than Chinese.

  • Atlantis says:

    Примерно на половине ролика переводчик на русский устал, выпил воттки и началась такая халтура…

  • 王鹏 says:


  • erictjie 1234 says:

    chinese and japanese should be brothers. move forward and kick uSA out from division

  • FlowUrbanFlow says:

    So Japan imported Chinese characters and made new words from them that China then readopted with a new version of Chinese pronounciation. Well then

  • じゃがみこぉぉお!! says:


  • MKX says:


  • AWen Ori says:


  • miospio says:

    Soooo fascinating…

  • レベルワンLv1 says:


  • Jerick Ong says:

    The only difference about them is Japanese having characters with curved sides

  • wilroth2403 says:

    9:05 Math Teachers would like to know your location

  • wilroth2403 says:

    Learning Japanese can often supplement a lack of Chinese understanding.

    In math class I heard some Chinese guy saying something to me with words that sounded like “ma” and “ochinchin”. I immediately called him out on it and he was, indeed, insulting my mother!

  • Den gode døden says:

    I think that I'll start to study German and Japanese languages

  • Ahmed Zeki says:


  • Ahmed Zeki says:

    Did you know that
    他说中文。can also mean she speaks chinese since Chinese doesn’t have gender? YAY!


    I really love your video, nice expression. As a Chinese, I have learned a lot from your video. Thank you

  • George Nadvi says:

    Paul, you are a genius.

  • jaemin jeong says:


  • Zhengang Guo says:

    Chinese is the Latin of east asia, the only difference is Chinese people are still using it. Chinese people could understand ancient Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese books.

  • Ahmed Zeki says:


  • Megan Cress says:

    i find that knowing english helped me more in understanding spoken japanese than knowing chinese, while the opposite is the true for written japanese

  • Ahmed Zeki says:

    聖圣my keyboard is simplified and traditional Chinese what?。

  • Kurumi Natsume says:

    Eastern languages shouldn't be categorised using a western centric system like SVO or SOV etc. Japanese is not simply SOV. OSV constructions exist too. And the concept of subject in Japanese is highly debatable. Also, Chinese people from the mainland have no problems reading traditional Chinese. To think that those using traditional Chinese would have an advantage in learning Japanese is laughable. Btw many Chinese characters in Japanese are the same as simplified Chinese.

  • 忍者黒 says:

    Chinese is gonna take me at lest 1yr to learn half of it but japanese is gonna take me maybe 4or5 months to learn because its more easy for me to learn

  • 舘さん says:





  • Stanford Leeham says:


  • Stanford Leeham says:

    Vietnam langauge is similar to thai

  • Adain Santana says:

    I knew that the THAI language wasn't Chinese or Japanese because of Lisa from BLACKPINK

  • ガプロ says:


  • Satoshi Aoyama says:


  • Emily Candy says:


  • Ко Ка says:

    Great analysis

  • zh x says:

    sorry to quote a Japanese comment.
    Most Chinese people can understand the meaning of this Japanese passage through Key Chinese characters.
    So to a certain extent, Chinese and Japanese can communicate through Chinese characters.

  • Lancelot Wang says:

    I, a Chinese native speaker, can read all of the Japanese Kasugano and Hiragano. (But I DO have FEW reserves of vocubularies as I have no time to learn Japanese…)

    So, now, when looking into the captions of a Japanese song,
    On one hand, I can understand 30%-50% of the meaning of the song, But I cannot read those Kanjis;
    On the other hand, I can read those Kasuganos and Hiraganos, but I do not know the tense, meaning and whether positive action or negative, and surely I do not know the meaning…

    Just like a sentence in the song of <<White Album>>," 白い雪が街に 优しく积もるように",
    On one hand, I guess the meaning is "the good(good???), white snow falls down, coverring the street"
    while the actual meaning is "Just like the white snow, gently covering the street"
    (日本の友达、もし正确に翻訳していないなら、訂正をお愿いします,since I was using Google Translation…A-Ri-Ka-Do)
    On the other hand…I do not know the linking Hiraganos of some Kanjis, so two years ago, when I tried to sing this song–"Shi-ra i yu-ki ga ??? ni, Ya-sa si ku ??? mo ru yo-u-ni"(OMG>-<)
    while the correct pronounciation is "Shi-ra i Yu-ki ga ma-tsi ni, Ya-sa si ku tsu mo ru yo-u-ni."

  • Ahmed Zeki says:


  • Ahmed Zeki says:

    انا اتكلم العربية.

  • Ahmed Zeki says:

    سلام.انا لا اتكلم Chinese. انا اتكلم العربية.

  • Shi Ko says:

    I'm a Japanese. Yes, I love Chinese literatures, structures, nature, and panda etc. But of course I can't understand Chinese! Especially it's hard to get the pronounce.
    However Japanese junior and high school students have to learn 漢文(Chinese classics). Japanese have learned 漢文 for over 1000 years. Haha.

  • Shoran Liu says:


  • 李润隆 says:

    私 亦 简单日本语 会说,八嘎呀路

  • リィロゥ says:


  • Paul Lebrun says:

    I would say there are much more "returned Chinese loan words from Japanese" to Taiwan Mandarin than China Putonghua. Probably because of the Japanese influence in Taiwan.

  • Xinyuan Lai says:

    I played “cat bla fish bla food bla bla” for over 10 times. So rhythmic.

  • Emma 3 says:

    ترجمة عربية بليز????

  • Wanderson F says:

    Faltou a legenda em português :'(

  • Kono Dutch says:

    Before they murdered SAMURAI is the late 1800s and put in the fake japanese Royalty japanese and Chinese were connected

  • Kat Aw says:

    You mean ; a fish was eaten by a cat.

  • Jerry Yang says:

    cat bla fish bla eat bla bla bla… lol

  • Darko Bonovil says:

    Cat bla fish bla food Blabla

  • Falvitek says:

    0:18 omg that caught me off guard. Made me crack up haha!

  • DrewPicklesTheDark says:

    Am I the only one who got the quiz right at the beginning? I can't speak any of them, but I have seen enough of them to learn the looks.

  • Chinestory says:

    If you are curious about Chinese language, want to make sense of these Chinese characters so that they not only become meaningful to you, but also stay long in your memory. Watch this TEDx talk "Learn Chinese in the 21st Century"

  • Lee Winterthur says:

    The 'people's Republic' in PRC is actually a Japanese invented Kanji.

  • vnetenv2 says:

    主要是漢字系統基本是sign and symbol,理論上可以完全脱離語言單獨運用,所以什麼語言也可以運用符號去表達意思。好處是有,但壞處是符號太多。

  • feast 4 good knowledge says:

    You look like Randy ortan's brother

  • OKOK Conan says:


  • Caffa Krrem says:

    Thank you ! At last, something clear about a cloudy subject ! ??

  • 家偉 says:

    There are way more similarities in the pronunciations of Chinese characters between Japanese and Hokkien/Hakka. Would be very interesting to look into it.

  • ArchDukeSnowman says:

    Love the progression of the example sentences at the beginning:
    私はタバコを吸わない:I don't smoke cigarettes
    在室内不能描烟: Basically means "No smoking indoors"
    警察: means police
    The thai sentence means I'm in jail
    Guess he didn't stick to not smoking huh lol.

  • 森茉莉 says:


  • Wilfried007 says:

    Hey great video thanks Paul

  • Minghao Zhang says:

    How could these loan word have connection with Cantonese?Their Japanese pronounciation are more similar with 官話 and 吳語.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© Copyright 2019. Amrab Angladeshi. Designed by