From Chinese to Japanese – Conquering Both Together

Hello, dear reader. You may call me Hi’iaka. I am an American-Born Chinese who is pursuing his bachelor’s degree, making me a bit young to be visiting this site. I was inspired to write this article after reading Manan’s and realizing that the young still have stories to tell.

Stories Of Japanese Masters In The Making 91. Personal Situation

I studied Mandarin for four years, and have been studying Japanese for a year and a half and counting. I have created approximately ten-thousand Anki sentences – seven-thousand in Mandarin, and three thousand in Japanese. I have silently been with JALUP since near the beginning, back in 2011. I am only about level forty, placing me at the lower end of ‘masters in the making.’ Nevertheless, my journey has been long and convoluted; I hope that it will interest you.

2. Reason for Learning

My first encounters with Japanese came courtesy of the usual suspects: anime, manga, and games. In elementary school, I watched and played Pokemon to death. In middle school, my sister grew interested in anime and Vocaloids, and I grew interested by extension.

3. How I Got Started

I started seriously learning languages, though, for a much more mundane reason: school. I needed to study a foreign language for high school, and I decided to honor my Chinese heritage by choosing Mandarin. I soon noticed, though, that almost none of my media actually came from China. Ghibli, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Madoka – all were Japanese cartoons with Chinese subtitles. I also noticed that I had focused almost exclusively on reading and Anki, to the detriment of other skills. My card numbers kept increasing, but my real abilities had plateaued.

On July 6th, 2014, I finally became honest with myself. I was not advancing in Mandarin. I was too much of a coward to answer “why can’t you speak already?” I did not enjoy Mandarin. And finally, my time on Earth was limited. Why spend it on something that you don’t enjoy if you don’t have to?

4. Brief Notes on Method(s)

Stories Of Japanese Masters In The Making 9b

I was lucky that I discovered SRS’s early – Spring 2011, about half a year after I started studying Mandarin. Back then, I used’s premade lessons for my textbook. When that website went from free to paid, I imported my textbook’s vocabulary lists into Mnemosyne; I soon started running circles around my classmates. Half a year later, in Fall 2011, I discovered Antimoon, AJATT, and finally, JALUP.

I adapted many of JALUP’s methods for Mandarin. I switched to Anki, switched to sentences, and completed Remembering the Simplified Hanzi 1. To make RSH easier, I creating a ‘Reading’ hint and allowed myself to read my story if I got stuck; I burnt through the 1,500 characters in the book in about two months.

After 1,000  Mandarin-English cards, I tried switching to monolingual. The branches got so unwieldy that I temporarily used a Mandarin-English-Mandarin bridge, even though the article hadn’t even been written yet. I also discovered Incremental Reading around this time; back then, the original add-on was still available on the main Anki list.

When I quit Mandarin and started Japanese, I got serious with immersion. I started passively listening and blocking English websites, both of which have dramatically improved my listening abilities. To manage the kanji, I created cloze cards which display the sentence and the reading while asking me to write out the kanji. I used Tae Kim’s Complete Guide and Grammar Guide as textbooks, then switched to monolingual. Later, I started using a monolingual grammar guide. I started chatting on Mixi and using Rikaisama’s Real Time Import feature. And most importantly, I started to enjoy the media that I was consuming.

5. Content Milestones

● September 2010 – The adventure begins.
● September 2011 – Discover JALUP.
● November 2011 – 1500 hanzi.
● January 2012 – 1000 Mandarin-English sentences; switched to Mandarin-English-Mandarin bridge, then monolingual.
● Summer 2012 – 3000 hanzi.
● Spring 2014 – 7000 sentences.
● July 2014 – Mandarin adventure ends; Japanese adventure begins.
● August 2014 – 1000 Japanese-Mandarin sentences; switched to monolingual.
● February 2016 – 3000 sentences, 1700 kanji.

6. Confusing Stuff

Stories Of Japanese Masters In The Making 9c

Although I had the Mandarin advantage, character variations, big and small, threw me for a loop. As examples of small differences, the interior downward stroke in 毎 is actually two strokes and 成 has a different stroke order in Chinese. Others are more major – 連 and 联 look very different, I have little idea why 龍, 龙, and 竜 are the same character, and I wish that Japanese used 郁 instead of 鬱.

7. Worst Moments

My most difficult moment occurred when I started Mandarin-Mandarin, drew out my branches, and realized that these branches had no end in sight. On the Japanese front, when I took my Japan trip over the winter, I realized just how little I knew. Reality is a harsh judge, and discovering that I had spent loads of money to play little more than tourist was a rude awakening.

8. Best Moments

My best moment in Mandarin was when I passed a test that placed me out of my university’s foreign language requirement. A close second would be all the times my parents couldn’t figure out how to pronounce a character, but I could. In Japanese, my best moment occurred about two months ago, when I wrote a Lang-8 entry that required nearly no correcting. My visit to Kure’s Yamato Museum was a close second; the museum’s paltry English translations didn’t give Kure’s naval history the justice it deserved.

9. Advice

Never be afraid to quit. Memento mori – or since this is a Japanese site, 人生は儚いですよ. Delete cards, drop shows, and abandon methods that just aren’t working for you. Make sure, however, that you quit from the bottom up. Delete a card before giving up on a deck, delete a deck before giving up on Anki, and give up on Anki before giving up on Japanese.

Do not confuse Anki progress with real progress. You can have 10,000 sentences in Anki, but if that’s all you have, you won’t be able to listen, write, or speak a lick. Your reading won’t be very good, either – all intensive reading and no extensive reading will make actually enjoying media difficult. Anki is good for memorizing vocabulary and basic grammar structures – not, by itself, learning a language.

Never overestimate the power of motivation; it too, is fleeting. Use your determination-filled moments to create systems that will keep you studying when reality sets in. If I had used my initial determination to jump in and study Mandarin instead of figuring out how to use Anki, I would not be here today.

10. Impact of Japanese on My Life

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Studying languages has turned me into an ambitious perfectionist. Mandarin taught me that I have control over my education, and by extension, my fate. Japanese taught me to ruthlessly seek efficiency. Immersion, plainly told, ensures that every waking moment of your life helps you achieve one of your goals. Socializing, relaxing with a book or movie, even just spacing out move me one step closer to knowing Japanese. Once I started thinking like this, I found it difficult to stop.

Japanese has also taught me to be honest with myself. I finally came to grips with liking anime and Japan’s imperial history. Even just starting this journey took more honesty than I was used to.

Finally, I’ve learned our beliefs change more radically and completely than we could have ever imagined. I always thought that studying Mandarin would be one of my greatest achievements; now, it is one of my greatest regrets. Similarly, I currently feel that studying Japanese was one of my greatest decisions. Who knows what I will think five years hence?

Have your own story to tell?

Submit it using the “Join” button and include your: start, reason for learning, methods, milestones/timing, confusion/discovery, worst/best moments, advice, and how Japanese changed your life.

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College student. Frequented JALUP even when he was studying Mandarin. Spends too much time stressing about Japanese and too little time studying Japanese.


From Chinese to Japanese – Conquering Both Together — 11 Comments

  1. I think I have you beat in the age department– my seventeenth birthday is next month. (^^♪
    Thank you for your inspiring story! I especially resonate with your point about Anki being a good tool for grammar and vocabulary, but not the end-all for language learning. When I last went to Japan in July of 2015 (I was approaching level 30, but not quite there), I only did Anki and little to no reading or immersion. My introvertedness doesn’t help, but I remember stumbling over saying 「うどんをひとつください」or something like that at the little corner noodle shop at our gate in the Sendai Airport. 恥ずかしい〜

    As you pointed out, character appearances can be different across Mandarin and Japanese without changing the inherent meaning, but are there any kanji or jukugo that you can think of off the top of your head that look the same in both languages, but have different meanings?

    • I think I have you beat in the age department- my 15th birthday is 再来月 (in English it sounds awkward)

    • Biggest one I can think of is 娘 – means ‘daughter’ in Japanese but ‘older woman’ in Mandarin. Also, 安 usually means ‘peace’ in Mandarin, but the first time you see it in Japanese it means ‘cheap.’

      There’s also a striking similarity between 売 (Japanese, to sell) and 壳 (Mandarin, shell), but that’s just a coincidence.

      Extending to more than one character, 勉強 (to struggle/to study), 手紙 (toilet paper/letter), and 大丈夫 (great man/alright) stand out.

      Sidenote, I wish Japanese were consistent in its simplification like Mandarin. You have things like 龍 simplified to 竜 but not 襲, 壽 simplified to 寿 but not 躊…

      • That’s crazy how major some of those differences are! I can understand why something like 大丈夫 has different meanings. 手紙 as toilet paper, that’s pretty funny.

        It’s fascinating to look at the differences and similarities between languages which use Chinese characters!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it’s been very inspiring! I like what you said about quitting from the bottom up. Recently I’ve been watching my second j-drama and I found it very boring (Buzzer Beat, not my cup of tea really), but since I didn’t want to quit it because I need more immersion material, my j-studying started to slow down and get boring as well. I finally quitted it after 6 episodes and everything is good now n_n.

  3. This story was AWESOME, especially since you have 2 languages under your belt. Despite this being a Japanese learning site, I find myself feeling how you do about Mandarin when it comes to Japanese; I recently picked up Korean as of last week. I am 27 now and have been in a rather noncommittal relationship with Japanese since I was 10. My seeds were planned and poisoned in classrooms from age 10 to 22 and despite improvements I’ve made, I lack any real gusto for attaining even fluency in Japanese.

    I am laddering from Japanese into Korean and it is such an enjoyable experiment right now. It doesn’t seem like you went back to Mandarin, but I am hoping that Korean will change my relationship with Japanese. I got my degree in the language and it just feels like a thorn in my side more than anything. Koreans live in my area en mass compared to Japanese and well… here’s to hoping I get my glimmer for the rising sun again and FINALLY get to and breakthrough level 40!!

    • You have a degree in Japanese? I’m also not sure how studying Korean will make you want to study Japanese… I guess you think that a break is the best thing to do?

      Whatever you decide to do, find media that you want to watch. The main reason Japanese stuck while Mandarin didn’t was that I found media. If you go with Japanese, the hardest part will probably be swallowing your pride and watching things that are ‘too easy’ for you… which I failed to do with Mandarin.

  4. Very wise advice- I think everyone should read it. It’s so easy to become Anki obsessed- and equally as easy to become Anki-phobic. Anki should work like an internal organ- something running automatically in the background, allowing us to focus on engaging with the real language.

    我也学习中文。 Luckily I did it the other way around (started Mandarin when I was Lv.50 Japanese) so it’s Mandarin that I see as weird!

    I’m not planning on taking Mandarin far. I’m really interested in Kanbun (how the Japanese read Classical Chinese) but when I started looking at it decided a basic idea of modern Mandarin would probably be useful. So I’m just doing a basic 1000 Mandarin sentences then going back to Kanbun :)

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