Is learning Japanese difficult? There are many misconceptions about this topic. Let’s examine why it is hard for some and why they are mistaken.
Learning Japanese is reputed to be challenging. However, it’s all a bunch of misunderstandings. We can understand that for some people, learning Japanese can be frightening. The Japanese language has some undoubtedly difficult aspects of learning. One needs to understand all these completely new characters, grammar rules, and kanji – which is the biggest turnoff for prospective Japanese students. While learning Japanese presents some difficulties, you’ll find it much simpler than you might think!
Keep scrolling to read the thread and find the answer to the question – is learning Japanese difficult?
Why do some people think learning Japanese is difficult?
Before answering the question: Is learning Japanese difficult? First, let us understand that the Japanese language has a reputation for being particularly challenging to learn due to the following three factors.
- Many are warned that learning Japanese is difficult.
The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is an American government organization that trains foreign diplomats, and they’re partly to blame for the Japanese’s reputation for being difficult to learn. They have consistently ranked Japanese as the language that takes the longest for their students to master.
The FSI rankings have led prospective learners to believe that Japanese must be the hardest language to learn. However, the time it takes to learn a new language does not necessarily indicate how difficult it is.
- They are intimidated or confused by honorific speech.
In Japanese culture, courtesy is extremely important. Although there are significantly fewer tenses and irregular verbs in Japanese than in other languages, you still need to learn extra polite and humble variations of words and phrases. Even for native Japanese speakers, this style of speech, known as honorific speech, can be challenging.
The difficulty that seems to have in learning Japanese may be related to the fact that one needs to learn a specific additional set of vocabulary to talk to people of different ranks, particularly higher-up officials and royalty. It’s the kind of issue that you most likely will encounter once you’ve learned a lot more.
- The word order change unsettles them.
Japanese sentence structure differs from that of English and many other Western languages. For example, in the subject-verb-object format, we say: “Leo eats an orange,” whereas Japanese sentences are inclined to subject-object-verb: “Leo – an orange – eats.” The verb has always been at the end of a sentence in Japanese, and the subject can be removed. Japanese has a flexible basic word order where the subject may also come before the object, and the order of the objects (if there are multiple objects) may vary.
Why learning Japanese is easier than you might think
Most Western people perceive the Japanese language as complex, challenging, and nearly impossible to understand. As a result, many people wonder, “Is learning Japanese difficult?” Contrary to popular belief, learning Japanese is easier than you think. It is much simpler now that many online Japanese classes are available worldwide.
These five arguments prove that learning Japanese is much simpler than you might have imagined.
- Grammar has simple and direct rules.
Understanding English grammar is daunting. Some outstanding writers contend that there is no perfect grammar; rather, it is just a collection of structural rules that the individuals who developed them need to comprehend fully.
And Japanese is the complete opposite. Japanese grammar and structure are very simple to comprehend. There are almost no exceptions to the rules of Japanese grammar, only the past and present tenses. Additionally, Japanese lacks pronouns and nouns with gendered usage.
Because they aren’t used in the language, you won’t ever have to worry about inadvertently calling something “he” or “she” in Japanese. Verbs must not be conjugated in Japanese to match their respective subjects. Consider the verb “to eat,” for instance. You must learn six different verb tenses in Spanish for the present tense alone (one for each pronoun group) and the numerous other tenses.
For each tense, there is only one verb form in Japanese that you need to learn. Whoever is doing the eating, the verb “taberu” (means to “eat”) remains unchanged!
- “I eat” – Taberu
- “You eat” –Taberu
- “He / She eats” – Taberu
- “We eat” – Taberu
- “You eat” – Taberu
- “They eat” – Taberu
- Japanese sounds or pronunciation are easy to understand.
Contrary to popular belief, Japanese sounds are much simpler and easier to learn. That is easier than English. Why? Because there are only five vowel sounds in Japanese, compared to up to 24 in English. Not to mention, the fundamental consonant sounds are also simple.
Japanese is also distinct from other Asian languages like Vietnamese or Mandarin in that it lacks tones. It implies that a word or phrase could be shouted and still convey the same meaning as if it had been whispered. Although this only sometimes holds, there is less difference in meaning depending on the pitch of your voice than in other languages.
- Learning the writing systems is enjoyable.
You must learn three Japanese writing systems: katakana, hiragana, and kanji. Katakana and hiragana are similar and simple to learn once you have mastered one.
Additionally, hiragana and katakana are simpler to memorize when you use mnemonics. Even though it takes some practice, once you are proficient in these two writing systems, you can move on to real learning.
Learning a new writing system empowers one because it is like facing a fear – at least in language learning. It gives the impression that I could accomplish anything. It’s similar to discovering a secret code that opens up a world of labels, menus, street signs, and other things.
The third writing system mentioned – kanji, is also enjoyable to learn despite most Japanese language students struggling with kanji. But that is no longer the case due to modern technology and the internet. Online lessons and apps are available to practice and learn Japanese kanji quickly.
- There are loanwords all over.
We live in a mixed-up world where cultures are more closely related than ever. Even 10 or 15 years ago, we didn’t have nearly as much access to the cuisine and cultures of other countries. Therefore, it may not be a huge surprise that many words translated into Japanese mean the same things as in English—just as we understand what origami, sushi, sake, and typhoon mean.
Some examples of loanwords are:
- Maiku マイク (microphone)
- Taipu suru タイプする (to type)
- Sarariiman サラリーマン (salary man)
- Kokku コック (cook, from Dutch kok)
- Gomu ゴム (rubber band, from Dutch gom)
The “Japanified” pronunciation of English loan words will need to be learned, but the phonetic patterns are very predictable and consistent. After learning Katakana, you have to become familiar with how English sounds are translated into Japanese, which you can do over a short time.
- People can learn Japanese with the aid of technology.
When learning Japanese in the past, one had to flip through massive dictionaries and carefully study the correct stroke order for writing kanji.
However, in this digital era, learners can use an online tool to help them understand Japanese. While learning to write in Japanese by hand is something you should incorporate because it will help you remember what you have learned. You can now look up kanji or type them using romaji (an online translator). Or, if you want a convenient learning process, add an online tool to your mobile phone or laptop.
Is learning Japanese difficult for you? Well, memorization of kanji is undoubtedly the biggest obstacle to learning Japanese reading and writing. However, you can learn quickly and from any location thanks to what is known as the magic of the internet.
How Long Does Learning Japanese Take?
It takes time to learn the Japanese language, but the length of time varies. The Japanese language is classified as a category IV language by the US Department of State. To become fluent, one must learn for up to 88 weeks (2200 hours).
Even though it does take that long to achieve true fluency, this is only sometimes accurate. It indicates that you aren’t yet a native speaker due to your lack of language fluency. You are still permitted to use the language, though.
There are five levels of official Japanese proficiency: N1-N5 proficiency. The N5 level, which one can learn in under a month, is sufficient for vacations in Japan. Most employers in Japan require N4 to N2 levels if you intend to work. These take between 300-600 hours to complete. Some positions don’t require you to be proficient, like teaching English in Japan. Learning takes a different amount of time. A beginner can achieve N2 within a year if they have 10 hours available each week.
Tips On Learning Japanese
Is learning Japanese difficult for you? What can you do to simplify the learning process now that you know your advantage in the Japanese language? How can you quickly advance your language learning and skill development? Here are a few tips, especially if you are a beginner.
- Construct Learning Habits.
Beginners need to form healthy learning habits to understand Japanese. Any language requires effort on your part. The longer it takes to learn the Japanese language, the less effort you put into it. You can’t expect to learn Japanese for a few hours a day and become an excellent speaker overnight. Language skill development takes months or even years. Give it your free time, and maintain a routine. A daily commitment of 1-2 hours is preferable to inconsistent and occasional learning sessions.
- Choose and Invest in the Appropriate Learning Resources.
There are many learning resources available, online or in handbooks. Ebooks and podcasts are just two options for getting your bearings. Numerous works of Japanese literature are also available for you to read as you begin your studies. These can be anything from nonfiction to short stories. Manga offers some of the richest stories and is a fantastic way to learn.
The best stories for this are brief, simple, and digestible. They are bite-sized, making it easier for you to process them. Watching anime, J-dramas, and listening to Japanese music are additional ways to learn Japanese. It ought to hone your listening abilities and give you a fast introduction to the culture.
- Concentrate on Patterns instead of Grammar.
Japanese sentences typically follow a subject-object-verb (SOV) structure, whereas English sentences follow a subject-verb-object structure. If you translate directly from Japanese to English, you’ll probably end up sounding like Yoda!
Rather than getting trapped in complex grammatical rules and technical structuring, concentrate on identifying patterns. Consider the difference between “I, Japan too, am going” in Japanese and “I am going to Japan” in English. You can see loose patterns emerge in how sentences are formed without getting trapped in grammatical theory and complex rules.
- Make use of Full Sentence Flashcards.
Flashcards are an excellent tool for learning new vocabulary. On the other hand, it works best with full sentences rather than individual words or characters for Japanese beginners. Create a deck of simple sentences to familiarize yourself with the context surrounding much of the language and the word order found in a sentence. Pre-made sentence flashcards are available on websites, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Refrain from being concerned about your handwriting.
If you’re learning Japanese in a traditional classroom setting, you might notice a lot of emphasis on handwriting kanji. There are over 2,000 jy kanji (characters). With so many things to learn as a beginner, it’s best to concentrate on speaking and reading. You’ll only need to be able to write a few kanji in your daily life at the beginning of your studies. Can you already write your name, address, and a few numbers? Then you’re already far in advance of the process.
- Converse with Japanese speakers.
Speaking with native speakers is the best way to pick up the language. Speaking Japanese requires practice, even though you can learn to write and translate. You want to gain self-assurance using Kaiwa (conversation). Practice is the key to improving your communication abilities. You’ll learn how to construct sentences, formulate ideas, and converse with people as you talk to someone else.
Words from a Japanese Expert
Do you need some motivation to learn Japanese? How about some guidance from a professional? In Japan, Bobby Judo hosts both radio and television. Bobby, born in America but speaks fluent Japanese, hosts a well-liked YouTube series to aid students in learning the language. Here, Bobby shares his experiences learning Japanese and advises students on the language.
He gives five professional pieces of advice. You’ll be well on speaking Japanese fluently if you heed this advice!
- Learn to speak and listen. Beginners should start watching subtitled Japanese movies or television programs. As you gain proficiency, you can try speaking with native speakers online or listening to Japanese radio or podcasts.
- Ask Questions. Always seek clarification on anything you need help understanding. Pretending you understand is the most effective way to ensure you never do.
- Always keep a notebook with you. Take notes on any words, phrases, or grammatical structures you encounter in everyday life or conversation. Later, look them up. Set aside time once or twice a week to review your new Japanese terms for the week. This method requires you to interact with each new piece of language at least three times, which increases your chances of retention.
- Feel free to make errors. Mistakes are indeed an unavoidable part of the difficult process of learning a new language. You will hone your Japanese skills by looking for opportunities to practice and persevering through setbacks.
If you want to learn Japanese, note that the best and quickest way to learn Japanese is to enroll in lessons with a Japanese language tutor.
Final Verdict: Is Learning Japanese Difficult?
There is a general view that learning Japanese is difficult. For a variety of reasons, English speakers find learning Japanese to be challenging. First off, the grammar rules between the two languages are very dissimilar. For instance, whereas English has numerous verb conjugations, Japanese does not. It can make it challenging to understand how to phrase sentences in Japanese.
The two languages also have different writing systems and sounds. For instance, there are four different writing systems in Japanese, each with its own set of rules. English speakers who are accustomed to the alphabetical system may find this confusing.
Finally, it may be challenging to communicate in Japanese due to the cultural differences between the two nations. For instance, miscommunications may occur because Japanese people are much more polite than people in most Western nations.
However, studying Japanese is better than it is portrayed to be. Learning Japanese can be done fairly quickly if the right tools and methods are used. You should progress toward communication fairly painlessly if you tailor your study to your needs, particularly if you focus on speaking and listening first. Reading and writing are easy to achieve with concentration and effort.
You can learn the fundamentals of the language for free using various online resources. Additionally, there are a ton of free software tools and mobile apps that can assist you in learning Japanese. Discover the learning strategy that suits you the best and, once you do, persist using it. Use the Japanese classes offered at language schools to your advantage as you travel.
So, is learning Japanese difficult? – The answer will depend on your motivation and persistence. If you’re committed enough to learn, you’ll have no trouble picking up a language like Japanese.