Language is not a writing system!

Okay, so this subject has been on my mind recently.  There’s so many simpletons out there that proclaim that Chinese and Japanese are much harder to learn than Korean. Sorry. You’re wrong. Korean is far harder to learn.

Korean does have the simpler writing system. That’s true.

But the reality is, that the sounds of Korean will set you far back than any writing system. Language is about sound and meaning. If you don’t have that covered first, you’re going to have trouble understanding what you read anyways.

Japanese on the other hand is extremely simple to learn. The sounds of Japanese only have a few real trip ups here and there. The Grammar, however is a lot more complex and is very similar to Korean in many respects.

Also, Japanese has many different registers (how you talk, what words you use depending on your relationship to the person you’re speaking to). Korean also has many registers and some verbs change completely (not just morphed) depending on the register. That’s quite tough.

I got really angry one time in my Korean class when a student said in an example that Japanese is much harder to learn than Korean. And while I agree that it’s hard to learn Japanese in Korea, their reasoning was the writing system.

NOPE! That’s not the language! That’s a representation of the language.

If you learn to pronounce the Hangeul in a week, you still won’t be able to understand Curious George in Korean.

A writing system is not a language! A language is a collection of sounds and meaning. Noam Chomsky would also point out that it actually developed through the evolution of human thought, not just for communication.

But, I didn’t want to seem like an old grump and argue with the class or the teacher who agreed with the student. To no fault of her own, she’s not learned Japanese and therefore doesn’t really know. Also, she doesn’t have a point of view from a native English speaker. And most teachers don’t teach phonics or barely remember how the mouth produces sounds from their university courses.

Japanese only looks hard from the characters. But the characters are not the language. Pick your fights, right? One thing I did learn in Korea was not to embarrass people even if they are dead wrong or simply don’t know better.

Did you know that you can teach without a textbook and through speech and context alone?

So why not use that? Learning just like you learned to speak English first (or your other mother tongue). You didn’t learn to write or read first, did you?

Textbooks are far easier on the teacher, and those methods of speech and heavy CI are very intensive for the teacher. With texts and books, the teacher can just say “Do this page for homework.” Speech and CI take lots of preparation.

Pimsleur CD’s took a lot of hours to make and that’s an audio only method. The method is also quite effective.

Now, where was I?

Ah, Chinese!

Yes, Chinese is even harder than Japanese with many more ideograms than Japanese.The Chinese characters fit together logically. But again we are talking about the writing system.

Also, the sounds of the language are more different from English compared to Korean. So in those respects Chinese is harder.

You know why Chinese is easy for English speakers?

The grammar is quite similar to English. More so than Japanese or Korean. And this is a huge help in getting into the greater depths of the language. However it is also different in many areas, so it’s not like Chinese has no grammar learning curve.

Anyways, that’s my venting for the day. Try to calmly explain to people why Japanese and Chinese aren’t really that hard to learn even though they say you can read Korean “In a morning.” That of course is true of a focused student, but you won’t remember how to read it unless you practice for a good month. And you’ll be slow as beans until after another 3 to 6 months. And even then, you won’t have acquired much vocabulary to make sense of most things you’ll see that are longer than a few sentences outside of a textbook.