So, I want to learn both Mandarin and Korean but I can’t decide which to learn first. I can only learn one at a time. I really don’t see myself going to any of these countries anytime soon but there are a lot of speakers of the two here in GA. Which, do you think, would be more useful and/or easier?
In today’s world, Mandarin is of increasing importance, and I am quite partial to it anyway, but here’s my assessment:
I haven’t tried much Korean, but upon first impression it seems more difficult than Mandarin. Mandarin has a very limited number of possible sounds with each character being only one syllable and most words being two-character compounds. Korean on the other hand seems to have much longer words with different possible sound combinations, making for longer and more difficult words to learn and pronounce.
Comparing the writing system though, Korean has an advantage in that it can be sounded out. Some Chinese characters have a pronunciation hint in their strokes, but there is really no way to know how to pronounce a character. But learning and recognizing them gets easier.
Grammar and vocabulary-wise I can certainly say Chinese is relaxing. It’s a very simple language with no conjugation whatsoever and many words are compounds made up of more simple words, usually in two-character (so two syllable) compounds, making vocabulary pretty easy as well.
I would start with whichever one you find most interesting and useful to you personally, but in general I would say Mandarin seems both more useful and easier. Of course though, as with any new language, there may be a steep hill to climb at the beginning, but once you get into it you’ll find it’s a pretty simple language. Without having to worry much about grammar, you mostly just build your vocab which is fun.
There is also a way to get one and a bit of the other: either Korean with a strong focus on hanja (could also learn corresponding simplified hanzi while you’re at it), or Mandarin while also noting the Korean pronunciation of shared vocabulary.
You might also want to think about whether you ever plan to learn Japanese as well. If so, Korean with a strong hanja focus is the best way to prepare ahead of time.
You know for a while, I wanted to learn Japanese until I realized that I’ve probably encountered like 3 Japanese speakers in my life. I would pretty much only use it in Japan or Hawaii. But, you never know, minds can change.
Having spent some time studying both (though much more studying Korean), there are certainly interesting aspects to both. However, probably the best thing to do is to start with the one that you’re most motivated to learn. I studied some Japanese back in the day, but only because I knew it shared some similarities to Korean. I didn’t at the time have any interest in Japanese culture, and my motivation faded away fairly quickly. Chinese, on the other hand, came about after spending time learning about Chinese politics, history, etc. I ended up studying Chinese for a little over a year and thoroughly enjoyed the process. My motivation to study Korean then jumped again, but I definitely enjoyed learning Chinese more because I had a genuine interest in it.
Studying a language out of obligation is just like learning to play an instrument that you don’t really like. Sure it has some benefits, but if you’re going to spend the time you may as well find an instrument (read: language) that you like!
I thought I’d start learning Mandarin Chinese next year. I know no Chinese people and very little about them. I guess I’ll learn There seem to be quite a lot of them, and they’ve written lots of books and stuff, so I’m sure it’ll be rewarding, if not easy.
I studied Korean for 6 months and I believe that the difficulty of the language is exaggerated. It is very easy to read and after a while the pronunciation is also quite easy. There are few subtleties in Korean pronunciation, it is very straightforward, though it will take a while for the difference in certain sounds to become apparent. The structure and grammar in Korean is a mined maze, and that is where the major difficulty comes in.
If you do wish to study Korean, use ‘talk to me in Korean’ (TTMIK). It is a superb website with an a great deal of excellent content. You can import everything you need from that site alone.
In line with what Bonnenouvellejonny says, Korean is much easier from the start since it is very simple to read and pronounce. Up to the conversational level, you shouldn’t find too many difficulties except for honorifics (which don’t really exist in Chinese). The advanced vocabulary can be quite difficult, and a strong knowledge of Chinese characters will help when moving to the academic levels. However, for most people this isn’t necessary and the goal is rather to be conversational. Talk To Me In Korean is a great site to help out – you can even import their lessons into LingQ to study the words through our system here. Good luck!
Well there we have it. You guys have definitely helped me make up my mind. KOREAN it is. Although, I love the way Mandarin sounds, I think I have a little more interest in Korean dramas; they are easier to find anyways. I’m studying German now but once I start getting a little more comfortable with speaking on a regular basis to my girlfriend, then I’ll start diving into TTMIK. So, excited. I love having things to look forward to. Thank You all very much for your input.
I wonder about the importance of Mandarin. Mainly, I wonder if I’ll ever get a good chance to use it if I don’t get a chance to actually go to China. Korean is the same. It seems limited, but interesting.