WRONG. And I don’t just mean because Chinese Cantonese is harder. Japanese is actually a relatively simple language, at least in some aspects, when compared with many others and there are plenty of good reasons to learn. For a native English speaker this language will naturally be trickier than learning a language such as French or Spanish, but it isn’t quite as impossibly complicated as you might think.
A Breath of Fresh Air:
In Japanese there’s no masculine and feminine present like there is in French and many other languages. This feature in French when I was learning in high school, and other languages I’ve dabbled with since, evades me and frustrates me endlessly. So Japanese is like a breath of fresh air.
As well as this, there are no plurals in Japanese. You might think this would be confusing, but I found it actually makes things a great deal simpler! Plus verbs don’t have confusing inflections (alterations) when used with different pronouns. In Spanish for example, the verb ‘to eat’ will change substantially: I eat = como, you eat = comes, he eats = come, we eat = comemos etc. In Japanese, the verb remains the same for each – taberu (たべる).
Verb conjugations are actually also fairly simple and easy to learn, as there are only 2 irregular verbs – which is a dream! And even these are simple and easy to remember. For the rest, you only have to remember a couple rules that apply to the 2 categories of verbs (eru or iru/ichidan or godan) and you can conjugate any Japanese verb you come across. No memorising numberless confusing exceptions and complicated conjugations. Happy days.
Pronunciation is also very easy, you’d be surprised! There are no confusing tones, no confusing variations in pronunciation for the same spelling, and no awkward sounding/hard to say words (unless they are particularly long).
Thorns to the Roses:
I have to say in balance, there are a few big reasons why Japanese is widely perceived as such a difficult language. One thing in particular never fails both to fascinate and terrify the westerner: The alphabet. 3 of them in fact. And all of them, well…squiggly. Katakana, Hiragana, and the notorious Kanji. Then of course there is the size of them … over 40 characters in each Katakana and Hiragana, and, wait for it … over 2000 ‘common’ characters in Kanji. So for all their complex prettiness, the prospect of learning this phenomenal amount of characters is indeed, TERRIFYING. But it’s not all bad – not least because you can look darn cool (or try to) when showing off you can write your name in Japanese, or draw the Zelda Triforce with the Kanji for power, courage and wisdom (I’ve been there) or whatever it is you do. Katakana and Hiragana are actually quite simple and there are straightforward methods to learning these, which I’ll mention in later posts. Most people surprise themselves when they see how fast they get the hang of it. Kanji however is something you have to get a feel for and to be honest I still struggle with it, but it is good fun.
Another thing that makes Japanese difficult for many foreigners, is just how different it is. You can’t guess the meanings of the majority of words like you could if you were an Englishman trying to read French. The sounds are just totally different with Japanese. Other than this, most of the things that set Japanese apart and make it difficult to learn in the beginning, you can quickly get a feel for.
In all, don’t be put off. It’s a brilliant language to learn! Try it and you won’t regret it. It is certainly a challenge and a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
NOTE: This is not a completely comprehensive review or analysis of the Japanese language. I have tried to avoid overbearing amounts of detail, aiming the content more towards beginners and prospective learners. Furthermore, I acknowledge that as skills vary between individuals, so will opinions regarding this subject matter.