Are you curious about the differences between learning English and Japanese? For Japanese speakers, mastering English can be a daunting task, as the two languages have many contrasts. From pronunciation and grammar to writing systems and cultural norms, English vs Japanese language learning presents its unique set of challenges.
In this article, we’ll explore the differences between learning English and Japanese. So if you’re interested in understanding the contrasts between these two languages, read on to discover the key differences between English and Japanese language learning.
When it comes to language learning, English vs Japanese are two vastly different experiences. The contrasts between the two languages can be seen in many aspects, such as pronunciation, levels of formality, writing systems, and grammar rules. By understanding the differences between English and Japanese, learners can better prepare themselves for the unique challenges of each language.
Pronunciation is one of the most challenging aspects of learning a new language, and the differences between English vs Japanese are no exception. English has a more complex sound system, with a wider range of vowel and consonant sounds than Japanese. This language complexity is especially apparent in the distinct “R” sound, which is absent in Japanese.
On top of that, the pronunciation of Japanese words is clear. You pronounce the words how they are written. On the other hand, English words can have the same spelling or structure, but they are pronounced differently.
For example, “read” in the present form and “read” in the past form are pronounced differently. “Cough” and “tough” are pronounced the same, but “dough” and “through” have different pronunciations. This makes English a little confusing for non-native speakers.
Japanese pronunciation has its own share of challenges. Words can have double consonants and long vowels. When pronounced wrong, these can change a word’s meaning. They make learning Japanese quite difficult for non-native speakers.
2. Levels of Formality
Levels of formality in language use is another area where English vs Japanese has distinct differences. Japanese are known for being polite. The language attests to this. Depending on the level of formality, the way you say things can be different. This concept is called “Keigo,” or Japanese honorific speech.
In contrast, while English also has formal and informal registers, the differences are generally less pronounced than in Japanese. These variations in levels of formality add another layer of complexity to language learning, making it essential for learners to understand the cultural context in which the language is used.
Keigo has three types of language. Each type has a specific set of rules. You choose one depending on the situation.
The three types of Keigo are:
- Teineigo – use when you don’t know the person you are talking to.
- Sonkeigo – use this when referring to your superior’s action and never-to-be-used when talking about yourself.
- Kenjougo – use this to refer to your actions.
English speakers are freer. There is no Keigo equivalent, so learning it is easier. To show respect or politeness, you can add words to change the tone or soften your sentences. For example, you can say, “Can you please repeat the question” instead of “Repeat the question” because it sounds more polite. But this is optional, whereas Keigo is a big part of Japanese culture, so you can’t disregard it.
The writing systems are also one of the factors that cause the difference between learning Japanese and English. Japan has three separate writing systems, while English has one alphabet.
The three Japanese writing systems are Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Let’s check them out:
- Hiragana – has 46 characters and 20 extra formations. Several other forms can increase this number.
- Katakana – the same as Hiragana but using different characters.
- Kanji – the characters are adopted from Chinese. A person can know 2,000 – 5,000 Kanji characters.
Meanwhile, the English writing system has only one alphabet. It is composed of 26 letters, from A to Z. This makes it easy for English-language learners. The only thing to keep in mind is capitalization. The characters have two forms: lowercase and uppercase. Uppercase letters (capital letters) are used for starting sentences, proper nouns, title cases, and more.
Expectedly, the biggest reason why there is a difference between learning Japanese and English is the grammar. The rules for using articles/particles, sentence structures, pronouns, and other things are different.
English vs Japanese: Sentence Structure
Japanese sentences are structured as subject-object-verb. This is the most common language form.
On the other hand, English sentences are structured as subject-verb-objects. Additionally, an “agent” comes before the subject.
Articles and Particles
English has articles like “a,” “an,” and “the.” These define a noun, signifying how many there are or whether it is indefinite. For instance, you can say “an apple” but not “an apples.” To correct the latter, you need to use “the” since “a/an” is only for singular nouns.
Japanese articles are different. They show the relationship between the words in a phrase. A small change mistake can change the meaning of a sentence. Therefore, regarding articles, English is more forgiving.
Japanese speakers may find English articles confusing, but not as much as Japanese-language learners will struggle to understand Japanese particles.
There are 11 English pronouns, plus “it.” Which one you use depends on the gender of the person you are talking about. Furthermore, you need to consider what they are in a sentence – are they a subject or an object?
The English personal pronouns are:
- I/Me – refers to yourself.
- You – refers to the person/s you are talking to.
- He – refers to a boy you are not talking to, who is the sentence’s subject.
- Him – also refers to a boy you are not talking to. But this time, the pronoun is an object in the sentence rather than a subject.
- She – refers to a girl you are not talking to, who is the sentence’s subject.
- Her – also refers to a girl you are not talking to. But this time, the pronoun is an object in the sentence rather than a subject.
- They – refers to a group of people you and the person you are talking to are not part of. Also, the group should be the sentence’s subject.
- Them – refers to a group of people you and the person you are talking to are not part of. This time, the group is an object in the sentence.
- We – refers to a group where you belong. Use this pronoun when the group is the subject.
- Us – refers to a group where you belong. Use this pronoun when the said group is an object in the sentence.
What separates Japanese and English pronouns is that the form does not change, regardless of whether you use it as a subject or object.
The Japanese pronouns are:
- Watashi – refers to yourself.
- Anata – is used for the person you are talking to.
- Kanojo – is used when pertaining to a girl.
- Kare – is used when pertaining to a boy.
- Karetachi – is used when pertaining to a group of boys.
- Kanojotachi – is used when pertaining to a group of girls.
- Watashitachi – is used when pertaining to a group you belong to.
How the pronouns are turned into their possessive forms is also different. In English, it can turn into a different word. Such is the case with “I/Me,” which becomes “my.” In Japanese, there is no change in spelling. You simply have to add “no” at the end of the pronoun. For example, the Japanese equivalent of “his” is “kareno.”
That said, learning Japanese pronouns is easier than learning English pronouns. However, there is one more thing to note. Japanese pronouns have alternate forms that communicate status.
English vs Japanese: Why Learning English can be Challenging for Japanese Speakers
Japan’s economy is very dependent on foreign investments. And it is not a secret that English is the “universal language.” It is how people from different countries communicate. That said, you would expect Japanese people to be very proficient in English. However, that is not the case.
Japanese people are having trouble learning English. What could the reason be?
English vs Japanese: Differences Between the Two Languages
The language structure discussed above is the main culprit. Japanese are fond of putting the verb at the end of the sentence. So the subject-verb-object order of the English language gives them a difficult time.
Pronunciation also affects how easy or difficult it is for a person to learn a new language. The Japanese language has 114 clear vowels and consonants. They pronounce them the same way they write them.
On the other hand, English has around 2,100 pronunciation mechanisms. It makes similar-looking words pronounced differently, depending on the context. Japanese (and other non-native English speakers) find it hard to wrap their heads around these rules.
Japanese People Are Not That Familiar with English
Japan’s history is also among the reasons why Japanese people struggle a little with learning English. The five countries in the world that a European country has never colonized include Japan. So, in the past, the Japanese did not have any reason to study English. Thus, they are not that familiar with the language.
It is only in recent times that they began to study English, mainly because of tourism and the growing number of foreign employees.
The More Detailed Language
For some people, learning Japanese is easier than learning English. When asked what the difference between learning Japanese and English is, they’d tell you it’s about the details. English is more detailed than Japanese.
One can cut a lot of words from a Japanese sentence, and the meaning will stay the same. You can’t do that in English, or else you’ll sound like a drunk person. The efficiency of the Japanese language makes it easier for some people to learn it.
That said, a Japanese person speaking in English should remember the following:
- Give as many details as needed to be clear. By Japanese standards, you may feel like you have given enough. However, it’s possible that you actually said too little.
- Be careful with small words. Japanese people tend to ignore the ‘s’ in the plural form of nouns or the third-person singular verbs. Likewise, they don’t pay attention to the proper use cases for “a” and “the.” Don’t be like this. Remember, in English, details are very important.
Why Learning Japanese Is Difficult for Non-Native Speakers
There are many differences between learning Japanese and English. But there are also similarities. For one, English speakers also find Japanese sentence structure confusing. When they have to say something in their minds, they have to say it in an order they are not used to.
Now back to the differences between learning Japanese and English. Learning how to write and read Japanese is a lot more tedious since there are three different writing systems. Not only that. Each writing system also has so many characters and combinations. Therefore, Japanese-language learners have to study three times harder than English-language learners.
But that is not the end of it. As mentioned above, the Japanese language has different levels of politeness. Non-native Japanese speakers need to study this carefully. Else, they may sound rude, which is never a good thing.
The Japanese most people study is the one spoken in Tokyo. However, even if they become proficient in that, they can still feel out of place while traveling in Japan. That is because of dialects. Cities and prefectures often have drastic differences in dialects. And some dialects are really complex, with vocabulary including words from the dialects used by the original inhabitants of Japan.
While there are many types of English – American, British, New Zealand, Australian, etc. – most people speak standard American English.
Japanese Is Not a Common Language
Most people are keen on learning English not only so they can converse with native English speakers. It also allows them to talk to non-native English speakers. Through English, a Korean, a French, and an Indian can speak to each other and understand each other.
Japanese is not as common since it does not have the reputation of being the universal language. Thus, not so many people are keen on learning it. In fact, only 1% of Japanese speakers are not in Japan. They are in the United States, Brazil, and Guam.
With that said, there is not enough motivation for people to learn the Japanese language. It contributes to the difficulty of learning the language.
How To Learn English or Japanese Fast
The English vs Japanese learning period also has a big difference.
You can speed up the rate at which you learn English because there are so many available resources. For instance, you can learn English online for free with Denwa Sensei. You can also enroll in an English learning school. Furthermore, you can watch English movies or read English books, both of which are very ubiquitous. Talking with others who also know the language improves your English. Again, there are many people who know English. They’re in so many countries.
Unfortunately, people who want to study Japanese do not have it as easy. The best way for them to learn Japanese is to be in Japan first, then enroll in Japanese language schools. The reason is they can also find native Japanese speakers in the location. So they can speak to them to practice Japanese. That will improve their fluency.
But what if the person can’t go to Japan? Some schools outside Japan teach you Japanese. You just need to find one. Also, while Japanese books are not common outside of the country, Japanese shows, movies, and anime are popular. One can use these to familiarize themselves with the language better. Though, they need to remember that real Japanese people don’t talk like anime characters.
English vs Japanese: The Differences in Learning Key Takeaways
Both Japanese and English-language learners need to get accustomed to a new sentence structure. Also, they have to study different pronouns, counters, articles, auxiliary verbs, etc.
So, what is the difference between learning Japanese and English? English-language learners need to be more detailed with their sentences. You can’t cut words from your sentences like you used to do with Japanese.
Learning how to pronounce words properly could be the most challenging part for English-language learners. English is not like Japanese, where the pronunciation of words is clear. Some Japanese can understand English well. However, they struggle to read English words orally because of the confusing pronunciation rules.
Meanwhile, Japanese-language learners need to familiarize themselves with Keigo or the different levels of politeness. They have it easier than those who study English because there are fewer rules in Japanese. The pronouns and pronunciation of words are much simpler.
The availability of materials also makes a big difference. Learning English can’t be expedited by reading English books, watching English movies, shows, and YouTube videos, and listening to English songs. These are all available everywhere. Japanese-language learners need to exert more effort to find Japanese books, teachers, and other resources.
Japanese people can also practice their English with a lot of people since so many speak the language. Contrarily, Japanese-language learners can only practice Japanese with Japanese people. The language is simply not as common as English.
The gist is that Japanese people studying English struggle because of how complex English is in comparison to their native language. But because of readily-available learning resources, it becomes easier. On the other hand, English speakers should be able to learn Japanese easily since the language is simpler. But because the learning materials are less ubiquitous than the ones for English, it becomes complicated.