Why Learn Japanese? It’s like the hardest Language in the World, Right?….Right??

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.

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3 thoughts on “Why Learn Japanese? It’s like the hardest Language in the World, Right?….Right??

  1. I am a longtime study of the Japanese language, having been at it on and off for over 15 years.

    I agree with you that studying Japanese can be fun (hence I haven’t given up and still study almost every day), but I think you’ve forgotten to mention a few things that make Japanese difficult.

    1) There are few irregular verbs, but you have do deal with irregular numbers (し vs よん), irregular pronunciations for days (ついたち) and things like counters that make it necessary to memorize a whole bunch of extra suffixes just to be able to count things natural (一匹 etc)

    2) I very much disagree with you about the pronunciation of Japanese being easy. Though the basic pronunciation of sounds is mostly easy, you have the difficulties of vowels which aren’t sounded out (like the first in ひと), many regional dialects (not uncommon if you watch TV), and a different set of pitches to learn for each word if you want to sound close to native. There are also certain sounds which are hard to express in writing (like the phrase: “なんってった” where the て sounds like a ‘tssss’)

    3) Various levels of politeness with completely different verbs and words to use (いらっしゃる)

    4) Different ways to say almost the same thing, but with different connotations (です vs である), and much of this relates to spoken vs written language.

    5) “ateji” and irregular pronunciation of Kanji words (流石=さすが, 商人=あきんど)

    6) Verbs which are overloaded with more than one meaning (きく = hear or ask)

    7) Particles, some of which are difficult to use properly (i.e. は vs が).

    8) A constant influx of loanwords, which may seem to be a benefit but the hard part is when those words don’t match English’s definitions (i.e. マンション), and oftentimes it’s hard to know when to use the modern loanword version or classic version of a word

    Anyway, I could probably write many more of these, but there are many other posts online of people making similar lists, so probably not a good use of time.

    Also, with regards to comparison with Spanish, the government has made a ranking of various foreign languages which shows their difficult level when learned by English speakers. Spanish is in the easiest category and Japanese the hardest (:

    http://www.effectivelanguagelearning.com/language-guide/language-difficulty

    I’m all for more students of Japanese, but I’d rather tell then the truth from the get go. It’s a very hard language to learn and master, but it’s totally worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your feedback. I agree with some of your comments and have altered the post accordingly. Much of what you said, though I agree with, I have not input into the text, as it has been aimed towards beginners, and I plan to cover such other material in later posts. I’ve also noted at the end that I understand my writing is not completely comprehensive and given reasons.

      By the way, I think it’s very impressive that you’ve been learning for 15 years! You must be really rather proficient! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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