After I finish learning French and Spanish, I am moving onto learning German. I need to find, however, a language that I can learn alongside German. Korean is pretty high up on the list because I have many Korean friends and am already quite interested in the sound and writing system of the language.
I am therefore leaning towards Korean, but I am wondering, how does it compare to my other top candidates listed below?
- Mandarin (still scared of Mandarin, so probably not this one)
Mandarin is definately the odd one out in terms of sound and grammar. Since you are already scared of it, I'll assume it out of consideration.
Since you don't know any Sinitic or Turkic language already, the process of vocabulary acquisition would be equally hard for all three languages. Grammar is fairly "different" for all three languages, although you can learn the other two with much better ease once you learned one. I do not know any Turkish myself, so I cannot be entirely sure about it; but I have heard from other Korean language enthusiasts that Turkish is one of the easiest language for the Korean speakers. So, I'm assuming that all three have the same "kind" of grammar - agglutination - and I do not really think one has any advantage over the others in terms of difficulty for a Westerner.
In terms of practicality of acquiring the materials, Japanese is definately the choice, although there are substantial amount of materials available for Korean and Turkish on the market as well.
On the other hand, finding Korean speakers in Arizona would be far easier than Japanese or Turkish speakers. Koreans, Turks and Japanese are generally appreciative of foreigners who learn their languages, but you should expect that they may not be able to answer your questions - although they can tell you which form is right and which is not, they may not be able to answer why. (Same goes for most English speakers as well, in fact.)
Finding popular culture / audio / video materials would be easier with either Korean or Japanese than Turkish, although some people may disagree. But I think it would be safe to assume so, especially given your location of Southwestern US. But this ultimately depends on your taste, so if there's anything that particularly attracts you, then it should be the choice.
Japanese writing system would prove a considerable challenge, while it is much less so with Korean and Turkish. Be prepared to bang your head on the wall late in the night out of frustration. (Personal experience 8) ) Learning Hanja for Korean is, I must say, largely optional unless you can take advantage of a previously learned language - otherwise, learning the roots and the compounds would not be terribly more (or less) difficult than that of Turkish.
I don't know any Turkish grammar so I won't be able to comment on this area, but I have heard that Japanese grammar is more "streamlined" than Korean, and I share this opinion as well. But this is partially due to the fact that Japanese pedagogy has been studied for more time than that of Korean; there are a recent boom of materials for teaching materials of Korean as a foreign language, particularly from South Korea itself. However, some of them do not make to Amazon so you'd have to find other venues, such as aladdinus.com. A lot of Japanese materials can be obtained from Kinokuniya USA as well.
In terms of the economic usefulness, Turkish would fall behind in the Southwestern US compared to the other two. Japan is a major economic powerhouse that is largely withstanding even the recent economic crisis; while South Korea is not an insignificant, it is not a terribly important player either. But the Korean population in the Southwest - especially California - can prove it useful at times.
I think it's ridiculous for the people to "decide" for the others when they're only asking for some advices and ideas, so I'll let it end here.