Top 5 myths about learning Japanese

Image: @sao954

TOKYO —

Even in this day and age of international awareness, for the average Westerner, the Japanese language still has an exotic and intimidating aura to it. Maybe it’s because it sounds so different from the languages we’re typically used to, or maybe it’s because the way many people come into contact with it is via 2-D anime characters.

As a Japanese tutor myself, I’ve heard a lot of myths out there about learning Japanese, and today is the day we finally set the score straight, which is why we’re counting down the top 5 myths about learning Japanese. Japanese already has more than enough insane things going on; it doesn’t need any of these falsehoods to make it seem more unique than it already is.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

Honorable Mention: Japanese is the hardest language in the world.

So let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat: Japanese isn’t special. It’s just another language spoken by humans with nouns, verbs and adjectives — there’s nothing alien about it.

However, the reason this is only an honorable mention is that there is some truth to it. Depending on your native language, it may take more time to become fluent in Japanese than it would in a language closer to your native one.

But there’s two other very important factors in learning a foreign language: (1) how passionate you are about learning it, and (2) how complicated the language is. If you want to learn Japanese, then it will be easier to learn than a language you don’t care about. And thankfully Japanese is a pretty logical language, with very few “exceptions to rules” — something learners of English are all too familiar with.

Every language has its hard parts. Japanese has some, but so do French and Spanish and all the others out there. And as someone who personally studied German but had to give up because it was way too hard, I can attest to the fact that Japanese can be easier to learn than one very close to my native English.

#5. You need to learn Japanese from a native speaker in a class with a textbook

This one is three myths rolled into one, but they’re all very pervasive, so let’s shut them down one at a time.

Learning Japanese from a native speaker is fine, but honestly as long as you learn from someone who has had experience living/working in Japan, you’ll be all set. They might not have a perfect accent and may make a few mistakes, but if you’re trying to be a perfectionist from the start, then you’re in the wrong mindset for learning a language.

Essentially, if you think learning Japanese from a non-native is a bad idea, then do you believe it’s impossible for a non-native to ever achieve a high level of fluency? If so, then why bother to learn Japanese in the first place if you’ll never become fluent enough to teach it? I call it the “Perfectionist’s Paradox,” and personally I don’t buy it.

If you like textbooks and classes, they can be a fine way to start things off. But you’ll never get beyond the beginner level with just books. Can you become a good basketball player just by sitting in a class and reading books about basketball? No, you have to get out there and play! And it’s the same thing with learning Japanese.

#4. You can’t learn Japanese through anime/manga

I’m not sure where this myth came from, but it’s one of the most popular ones among my students. Usually the first time I suggest we start getting out of the textbooks and into some real Japanese via manga or anime, they laugh and say: “But that’s not real Japanese!”

I don’t get it. Would you tell a person learning English that watching The Avengers or reading Deadpool comics isn’t “real English?”

The myth probably comes from the fact that there are so many people out there who watch lots of anime and read lots of manga who can’t speak any Japanese. But that’s not a problem with anime/manga, it’s a problem with their study method. You can’t learn just by passively watching/reading, you have to actively interact to learn.

If you want to learn from anime, just use Audacity or another sound-recording program to record 5-10 second clips and listen to them over and over again, until you can repeat them at native speed. If you want to learn from manga, just use Anki or another flashcard program to put in words and sentences that come up in your reading, and review them as often as you can.

There’s no better way to learn Japanese than from anime and manga, provided you go about it the right way. The Japanese that you’ll learn is far more “real” than anything from a textbook or classroom.

#3. You don’t need to learn hiragana/katakana right away.

So many students want to rush into learning how to speak Japanese that they often run right past one of the most important parts: learning the Japanese alphabets hiragana and katakana.

It would be bizarre to learn English by writing it in Japanese, and trying to learn Japanese without learning hiragana and katakana sets the student up for a similar disaster. Of course, the desire to skip past the alphabets is understandable; learning two whole new alphabets is pretty intimidating. They want to start speaking right away and feel like they’re making progress, not feel like they’re back in kindergarten.

But starting off learning hiragana and katakana is a good idea for two reasons: (1) It makes it easier to get down Japanese pronunciation, so you don’t have to rely on words spelled out weirdly using English letters. And (2), it only gets harder to learn the longer you wait. Don’t cower in fear from the scary Japanese alphabets, tackle them head-on and show them who’s boss!

And learning them doesn’t even have to be hard. You can get the first couple dozen hiragana right here in a fun (and ridiculous) way.

#2. You need to use native Japanese words instead of borrowed foreign words

As we all know, Japanese has a lot of borrowed words in it that range from perfectly understandable to rage-inducingly absurd.

But like it or not, those borrowed words are part of the Japanese language. Saying you don’t like them is the same as saying you don’t like the English words “admiral” (Arabic), “ketchup” (Chinese), or “jungle” (Hindi).

And yet so many students insist on using the native Japanese equivalents of words when there’s already a perfectly-fine borrowed word ready to use. They say to for “door” (instead of “doa”), “daidaiiro” for “orange” (instead of “orenji”), or “taku” for “table” (instead of “teeburu”). They think it sounds more “pure,” but really they just end up sounding silly or outright wrong.

Unless you think saying “Let’s eat seaweed-wrapped-rice-with-raw-fish” sounds better than “Let’s east sushi,” please don’t do this.

And the #1 myth about learning Japanese is…

1. Kanji is the hardest part of learning Japanese

This has to be the most pervasive myth, both among students and people who have never studied Japanese. It sort of makes sense though, since the Japanese written language is so completely different from English, most people assume it has to be the hardest part.

But if you talk to people who have become fluent in Japanese, you’ll usually find a different story. Sure, learning kanji isn’t easy, and it does take time, but here’s the thing: all you have to do is memorize them. Just make some flashcards every day, and within a year or two you can be a kanji master.

Instead, here’s a list of things that – in my opinion – are far harder than kanji, and can usually only be learned through years (potentially decades) of immersion in Japan:

● Learning when to use certain particles like “wa vs. ga” or “ni vs. de.”
● Learning the completely different way of expressing things in Japanese vs. English, such as knowing you’re supposed to reply “No that kind of situation does not exist” when you’re told “You’re good at Japanese!”
● Learning the extremely polite politeness level.
● Learning the extremely casual politeness level.
● Learning when it is appropriate to use each politeness level.
● Learning how to keep up with context so you know what’s being talked about even when it’s never mentioned.
● Knowing when to use “explanatory emphasis” particles like “nda” or “no desu.”
● Breaking down verbs that have been conjugated into multiples tenses.
● Mastering the “common sense” Japanese hierarchy of “inside vs. outside.”
● Mastering the nuance in difference between similar words and phrases. For example, in the sentence “Hyaku-en ___ fueta” (“Increased ___ 100 yen), what’s the difference between using “ni,” “nimade,” “he,” “heto,” “made,” “madeni” and “madeto” in the blank? They’re all slightly different!
● …and so much more that’s not kanji!

Personally, I find Japanese kanji very similar to English spelling. There are some patterns, but by and large you have to memorize how certain words are spelled. For every easy word like “dog,” there’s a monster like “colonel” or “Wednesday” or “laugh.”

But despite that, even native English speakers know that spelling our language is far from the hardest part of learning it: there’s “a vs. the,” our horrific past tense system, and the mind-boggling expression “I/he/she was like” to talk about when someone said something.

Every language has its crazy parts, but the writing system is usually the least crazy thing about it.

So there you have it, the top five myths about learning Japanese! Are there any Japanese language myths that you think need to be brought out into the light and shown for the frauds they are?

Read more stories from RocketNews24.
4 Japanese beauty fads that Westerners just don’t understand
The coolest figure collection you’ll see today: Space maids! 【Photos】
You’re not seeing things, that’s a cat selling roasted sweet potatoes

  • 11

    philly1

    Perhaps the hardest part of learning Japanese is understanding what is said or meant when something is not said. There are minefields in that silence.

  • 9

    Strangerland

    3. You don’t need to learn hiragana/katakana right away.

    It's also not that hard. I think I learned them both in a week.

    And yet so many students insist on using the native Japanese equivalents of words when there’s already a perfectly-fine borrowed word ready to use.

    I remember going into a restaurant and asking for a 寒いコーヒー(さみいコーヒー lit: cold coffee) instead of アイスコーヒー (ice coffee). They looked at me funny, but I got my cold coffee. It wasn't out of an insistence on using Japanese words though, I just didn't know how it was said!

  • 9

    Stephen Knight

    In my experience, a year or two of classroom learning makes a huge difference--it gives you a base for understanding everything else, for understanding the "why" as much as the "what." Simply diving in with anime and manga... well, you may learn anime and manga Japanese, but how useful that'll be in the real world will, I suppose, depend on the anime and manga you choose.

    As the writer notes, the language gets more difficult the deeper you go--levels of politeness, situational nuances, etc. take you to a place where book learning is definitely less helpful. And ironically, the better you get, the higher the expectation will be that you speak well and master those nuances.

  • 11

    cleo

    It's the homophones and nearly-but-not-quite similar words for me.

    I remember as a newbie startling my host family early one morning by running out of my room in a panic because there was a giant hairy kamo (duck) on the wall. They rushed in to find a 6-inch kumo (spider) sitting there.

  • 3

    Thunderbird

    3. You don’t need to learn hiragana/katakana/kanji right away.

    a common mistake many people do, they either totally neglect the ideograms at first (because they "heard" it's difficult to learn) or in some extreme cases, they start learning japanese using a book without any hiragana or katakana whatsoever. Japanese doesn't share any roots with any western language, while kanji gives you the context to learn the vocab (自 self+ 動moving+ 車vehicle= automobile) just memorizing "jidousha=automobile" can be extremely difficult and time consuming. Besides you don't want to know how illiterate people are treated in this country (fellow japanese brazilians fluent in japanese fooled by their company because they couldn't read the contract).

  • 6

    Strangerland

    I remember as a newbie startling my host family early one morning by running out of my room in a panic because there was a giant hairy kamo (duck) on the wall. They rushed in to find a 6-inch kumo (spider) sitting there.

    Haha, reminds me of the time I pointed out all bears (kuma) in the sky, when referring to the clouds (kumo)!

  • 4

    Brian Wheway

    I think that the counting forms stop a lot of people from carrying on with the Japanese language.

  • 4

    goldorak

    Interesting article and thread. As someone who has tried, and failed/given up, learning Japanese on a few occasions, learning katakana/hiragana always seemed quite daunting and in a way superfluous especially as i only wanted a decent conversational Japanese. Seems I was wrong. Will give hiragana/katakana a crack next time.

  • 5

    timtak

    1 That Japanese is difficult.
  • 0

    TheGodfather

    So "kumo" being "cloud" or "spider" depending on the context means that even native Japanese speakers do not understand what's being said.

    Just guess and hope you're right, that's what the Japanese do!!

  • 0

    Strangerland

    So "kumo" being "cloud" or "spider" depending on the context means that even native Japanese speakers do not understand what's being said.

    With context they understand. Without context they don't.

  • 3

    Leigh Ivan Quintellio Wighton

    The OP found Japanese easier than German? That's weird. For myself, and other native English speakers who studied German that I've talked to, I found German "sticks" so much easier than Japanese in that it's a cousin language of English. There are so many similar words in everyday German and English. If at first a German word or phrase doesn't seem similar, I found just thinking about it for a few seconds would reveal that they're just the same words spelled differently. German grammar is finicky though. I'll give the OP that. Germans are famous for following rules and regulations and their language seems to follow suit. Japanese grammar is pretty simple by comparison.

    I'm interested in the native words argument. Have to admit, I'd never really heard of it much when I was learning Japanese. Loan words are pretty commonplace in Japanese and it seems silly not to use them if they're considered standard. However, as time goes on, I notice that a part of me that finds katakana-ized loan words really grate on my ears. I'm not like one of those old codgers that complains that Japanese should be kept pure, but there are certain loan words, German ones in particular, that to me sound like nails on a chalkboard.

  • 4

    TheGodfather

    "With context they understand"

    And that's the biggest myth of them all...

  • -1

    Strangerland

    And that's the biggest myth of them all...

    Ridiculous.

  • 1

    Hellokitty123

    Personally, I did not find learning katakana to be so important. I did fine with hiragana and kanji for a long time, I just never really felt the need for katakana

  • 5

    choiwaruoyaji

    For me, paying for lessons was the key.

    All these volunteer lessons, language exchanges, studying on the train... just didn't work.

    But as soon as I started paying for regular lessons I got serious about it. The teachers were great too.

  • 4

    Laguna

    One difficulty I noted was the long and short vowels. Try saying 高所で胡椒を交渉しました。

  • -4

    Strangerland

    A Japanese child comes running out of her bedroom saying, "there's a 'kumo' (spider) in my room" so the father goes in to get it but runs out screaming "there's 'kyuu mou' (nine more)"

    1) kyuu mou is not correct Japanese 2) Those are not homonyms

    Japanese is not a language, it's just a big joke!!

    Maybe you should learn to speak it before claiming that.

    Personally, I did not find learning katakana to be so important. I did fine with hiragana and kanji for a long time, I just never really felt the need for katakana

    Katakana was for me one of the most helpful things I learned when I was starting out. All of a sudden I could figure out what was on menus, and so many more things. Hiragana didn't really help so much until I started getting serious about kanji.

    One difficulty I noted was the long and short vowels. Try saying 高所で胡椒を交渉しました。

    Haha! 東京特許許可局

  • 3

    Jimizo

    "Interesting article and thread. As someone who has tried, and failed/given up, learning Japanese on a few occasions, learning katakana/hiragana always seemed quite daunting and in a way superfluous especially as i only wanted a decent conversational Japanese. Seems I was wrong. Will give hiragana/katakana a crack next time."

    I'm not so sure. According to the Japanese staff at my place of work, the most natural speaker of Japanese was a Danish man ( married to a Japanese woman ) who couldn't read an izakaya menu. This really deflated those in the office who liked to show off their knowledge of Kanji and finer grammar points ( often to much eye-rolling from our translator after a obligatory compliment ). Like other Danes I've met, his spoken English was also almost indistinguishable from that of a native speaker. He said he also spoke 'reasonable' French and German. I think his definition of 'reasonable' wouldn't be the same as mine.

    I think a flair for languages is the main point. I wish I had it.

  • 3

    katsu78

    This has to be the most pervasive myth, both among students and people who have never studied Japanese. It sort of makes sense though, since the Japanese written language is so completely different from English, most people assume it has to be the hardest part...But if you talk to people who have become fluent in Japanese, you’ll usually find a different story.

    Ah, Wilson missed the most important myth when it comes to learning Japanese, or any other language for that matter: What is easy for one learner is not necessarily easy for another.

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    Language cannot be separated from culture, so unless you are open to the culture that the target language is part of it is always going to be 'difficult', if not downright impossible -- or at least, impossible to learn well. Part of 'fluency' comes from knowing HOW and WHEN to use certain things, more so than WHAT to use. And needless to say, how difficult any one language is, or language in general, is going to depend on the strengths and weaknesses of the learner -- and hence you have people who love and excel at elements like Kanji, and those who have shunned at and are terrible at it despite being considered 'fluent' (which, again, in my mind is not really possible if you don't incorporate elements of Kanji and the culture).

    I always find it funny when people boast proudly that their language is the hardest, or those who sulk if they hear that their language is 'easy' compared to others (both very simplistic views to begin with). There are elements that are incredibly simple with Japanese compared to other languages, like pronunciation and intonation. Again, if you point out that Japanese has five vowel sounds and English 25, some people honestly get offended, but then are somewhat mollified when you point out that the honorific in particular can be incredibly difficult for some (then become furious again if you point out Korean honorific is more difficult, though). Compared to learning thousands of Kanji, Roman characters are a breeze, as is Hangul, for example, or any other phonetic alphabet, but then there's slang to deal with, profanity, and heaps of others, that make English 'more difficult'.

    Anyway, you get my drift. The bottom line is, there's no point really debating on the whole if one's native tongue is more difficult than another's because it's entirely subjective. There are finer points you can debate in terms of general difficulties, but still.

    If it were simply a matter of ease or difficulty, and no other factors, translation software would be like it is in Science Fiction movies and language learning would be a thing of the past. But the fact is, such software will never be useful beyond translating simply words and characters -- it cannot have a conversation, and cannot translate meaning based on implication, nuance, or context without human input. Hence, my comments about culture and situation.

  • 2

    Jimizo

    "What is easy for one learner is not necessarily easy for another."

    Very true. I was glad to hear my old Japanese teacher telling me that my regional accent lends itself well to pronouncing Japanese vowels which really pissed-off a posh plummy-accented classmate.

    Ha!

  • 2

    kyushubill

    Cleo and Strangerland thanks for the chuckles. I thought I was the only one to make those mistakes. I shocked an old lady one day when I asked if she was waiting for the bicycle as me (densha as opposed to jitensha).

  • 3

    serendipitous

    Just hang around Japanese people who aren't interested in learning English and you'll get better quickly!

  • 10

    albaleo

    Interesting article and comments.

    I think that the counting forms stop a lot of people from carrying on with the Japanese language.

    It can have interesting consequences. My wife sent me to buy some batterazushi at the sushi counter of the local supermarket in Osaka. It's sold in "slabs" of five individual pieces. I managed to buy 10 slabs instead of 10 individual pieces. After being called an idiot by my wife, we later made friends with the neighbors who we shared it with.

  • 1

    Nobusaki

    I m learning Japanese right now in University and the hardest part I find in learning Japanese is formulating dialogue. It only comes through practice and experience! Don't give up!

  • 0

    Akula

    I must admit once I got level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I stopped studying Japanese, so although I use it every day, there are still plenty of gaps in my knowledge.

    Japanese though if you are starting from scratch entails slow progress at first until you start to get a grip on the written language.

    Started with katakana and hiragana and then the more pictographic of the kanji. Language ability in my view is more about word power. Memorising 20000 vocab items along with grammar takes time. Having some good strategies around memorisation is very important.

  • 0

    sf2k

    the best is having a motivated and engaging teacher no matter the language. I stopped learning German due to work pressures but my teachers were fun, the library assistant was cute, and I learned to ask her out for tea! I don't think the OP had a positive experience. Actions can only follow reasons.

    Even lately with Esperanto on the Duolingo tree, it was the community around it, in the comments on Duo or on Facebook, that really made the course hilarious (in a geeky language grammar joking way) and something to stay engaged with. It made all the difference. I have a bunch of languages turned on from Duolingo, Esperanto was the first I actually finished.

    Language is a human skill. We can all do it. Much of our barriers are saying "I can't" immediately which puts up mental barriers which we meet, versus not believing it and just having fun with it. Let the force flow....

    I'll get back to learning Japanese again, I lost a lot but I'm always happy to hear it and try it. Interestingly the Kanji was never a barrier to me, always a point of interest to use a symbol to contain the meaning via some arbitrary sound. Discovering Heisig later who who broke up the study into meaning and sound as two separate ideas put that notion to practice.

    One turnoff was the borrowing of so much English that did nothing to make something clear when I was teaching and just makes English Kanji to also be a concept with an arbitrary sound. I think that's the real barrier to English training in Japan, hard to merge the idea if the concept doesn't exist in your language.

    Usually such a difference would be a point of interest in a new language. Oddly I found it not to be the case in Japan otherwise English wouldn't be replacing but adding vocabulary concepts. Some research possibilities there

  • 0

    Educator60

    Strangerland, "I remember going into a restaurant and asking for a 寒いコーヒー(さみいコーヒー lit: cold coffee) instead of アイスコーヒー (ice coffee). They looked at me funny, but I got my cold coffee."

    Got a chuckle from this as the image came to mind of a coffee needing a sweater as it's cold. They might not have looked at you funny at all if you'd asked for 冷めたいコーヒー sumetai coffee.

    My grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation are good enough that on the phone most people are shocked when I have to give my name and they realize I'm maybe not Japanese. But I still struggle with the short/long vowels and hitting the appropriate level of politeness. After over four decades I don't expect to ever be "done" with learning the language.

  • 3

    philly1

    Strangerland, "I remember going into a restaurant and asking for a 寒いコーヒー(さみいコーヒー lit: cold coffee) instead of アイスコーヒー (ice coffee). They looked at me funny, but I got my cold coffee."

    And this is just the sort of thing that happens when anyone learns any new language. It's akin to landing squat on your diaper when learning to walk. It happens and you have to get over it if you are ever going to get anywhere. And the vowel/consonant mix-ups in Japanese or any other language are part of the fun if you can enjoy laughing at yourself or others in a non-judgemental way.

    Adding to the funny stories, I remember sitting in an elegant bar (probably the only native English speaker in the room) enjoying a beautiful jazz piano/vocal combo. I nearly choked and spurted (but managed to disemble and not give away what was really going on) when the Japanese singer launched into John Denver's "Country Roads" minus the "r" sound.

  • 5

    Strangerland

    And this is just the sort of thing that happens when anyone learns any new language.

    I found it kind of fun. I had a few screw-ups like that when I was first learning. For that matter, I still make the occasional screw up like that. They are always good for a laugh.

    Another I just recalled. Mormons came to my door and woke me up one morning. That evening I wanted to tell my friend that that I was woken up by Mormons in the morning. What I should have said was 今朝、モルモン教の人に起こされた (けさ、モルモンきょうのひとにおこされた) "I was woken up by Mormons this morning". What I actually said was 今朝、モルモン教の人に侵された (けさ、モルモンきょうのひとにおかされた) "I was violated/raped by Mormons this morning".

  • 2

    albaleo

    If you want to learn from anime, just use Audacity or another sound-recording program to record 5-10 second clips and listen to them over and over again, until you can repeat them at native speed.

    I think this is a very good tip, even if not for everyone. Some might criticize it as rote memorization, but I think it is much more. The anime provides the context and meaning. Hearing something again and again is a key point in learning a language if you can tag it to something meaningful. If you have to learn a language outside of a country where it is spoken, I'm sure this can help.

    My own experience... Three months after arriving in Tokyo, I was perfect at saying the Sangenjaya (Tokyo) platform announcement (for platform 3 only). As someone not that comfortable with languages, including his own, this was a major achievement. (I still have dreams of mastering the platform 2 announcement.)

  • 0

    jiji_bisous

    @stranger…. 東京特許許可局 now THAT'S clever…. or well-observed…. or both…. anyway a perfect example...

  • 2

    nadaku

    While there are probably some truths to the story, language learning is different for everyone.

    For me, as soon as I passed my JLPT N1 (after 2 years of intense study), I thought and went to study for the Business 実用日本語検定. 6 months later I tried the test and I was in for a whole world of pain... Suffice to say I didn't pass the test (though my listening was not so bad). So many things to left to learn I've decided to take a different approach by taking break from it all and just focus on the everyday listening and speaking.

  • 0

    6wings

    This article was much better than I expected it to be. Good work!

  • 1

    Angus McGillicuddy

    earning when to use “wa vs. ga” or “ni vs. de” is more difficult than learning kanji? What kind of joke is this? Anyone who tells you "all you have to do is memorize" kanji has no idea what they're talking about.

  • 1

    sourpuss

    These kinds of articles always crack me up. I mean it even outlines many of the hoops you have to jump through to even attempt to learn Japanese. Just look at #1 on the "myth" list. All of those things that are supposed to be harder than learning kanji. Harder??? Is that supposed to motivate people???

    I learned how to read and speak Spanish with ease in a matter of months. In a classroom. With a crappy teacher. Because I had a very slight interest, not because I was highly motivated. In a non-Spanish-speaking country. And yes, I was able to take that on the road in Latin America and be immediately communicative without having any prior experience living there.

    Japanese? It's been years, despite having lived here all of the while, and despite having taken classes, and I still have lots to learn. Sure, I am much better at Japanese now, but that's only because I've had to make studying it a kind of lifelong hobby.

    For native English speakers, Japanese is at least in the top tier of most difficult languages to learn, according to the U.S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/sls/orgoverview/languages/

    Articles like this don't really do anyone any good except for the point about motivation. And that is really the only thing you can say. When it boils down to it, the author could have ended it right there. Motivation: If you're not highly motivated to study Japanese, it's going to be a really long, really tough ride.

  • 3

    Reckless

    i just keep losing my motivation, for example, when someone in the office says a biased thing about "gaijin" I lose my motivation. When I use Japanese at a restaurant and they look at me and cannot process that I speak Japanese I lose my motivation. When I put in effort to read the news and come across articles of biased and racist viewpoints repeatedly I lose my motivation,,,,

  • 0

    michaelqtodd

    Yeah sourpuss and Reckless motivation is everything. I used to be pretty good at reading and writing Japanese (Level of JLPT 15 years ago) but am poor now because I married one who was brought up in America. I can converse about most things but can no longer write as whenever I need to she does it for me. I got lazy. You have to have a compelling reason to keep studying.

  • 6

    Mike L

    Japanese is really easy. Once you remember oishi, kawaii and sugoi, you can understand 99% of all conversations here.

  • 0

    goldorak

    Agree 100% re motivation or lack there of. And the thing is Japan (or any country I guess) is a very enjoyable place (at least temporarily say up to a year) for those who dont speak the language or much of it. I remember the sense of happiness I felt when I realised that 'my' Japan had no bogans/chavs, no swearing, no 'that's me car dude' or 'I don't like nobody'. Ppl could talk nonsense or abuse each other, tv could be awful etc I was in my own world.

    I actually think this 'comfort' was the main (de) motivating factor.

  • 0

    timtak

    Japanese is regular, genderless, without declension, or articles, and has an amazing structured vocabulary. The problem is that it is back to front compared to English, and adverbial clauses are back to front inside that forcing learners of each to tie their mind into a painful spiral.

    E.g. I spoke to the man who came from America is America from came man to spoke (アメリカから来た男に話した)

    This means that before making senses learners of both Japanese and English are required to say several words which do not make sense to themselves before receiving conformation from their interlocutor, who may not understand them, requiring them to say more (potentially and to themselves) gibberish.

    This long dive into non-meaning is the problem. Non-meaning is found to be as terrifying as death (Heine, Proulx, Vohs, 2006).

    I find that practising speaking gibberish, like Sid Ceasar https://youtu.be/iL7efWcaVnk?t=1m or me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2mI0X6p07o helps overcome this fear of non meaning. Please try it. Generally people agree that despite the fact that gibberish has no tenses, grammar, vocabulary, gender, articles, you name it, gibberish is more difficult than any foreign language. It is not the difficultly of the language, but the fear of non-meaning, chaos, mental death that is the barrier to language. This is why people who learn one can subsequently learn many more because they learn how to let go of their own language and dive in.

  • 0

    kohakuebisu

    I think English speakers should learn katakana before hiragana. Katakana is mostly used for loan words, so there is some chance that the word will be recognizable without having to look it up. Some items on menus, for example.

    Every book I saw when learning Japanese twenty years ago did hiragana first.

  • 0

    shonanftw

    Flashcards did NOT work for me. After I bought flashcards so I could get past the 500 or so kanji I already knew, about 3 weeks later I could proudly recite the words and meanings for 100 new kanji. So I asked my J-friend to write a kanji test for me using those kanji. I got about 30% right. Turned out I was a whiz at remembering the flashcards but once the context changed I was lost.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    earning when to use “wa vs. ga” or “ni vs. de” is more difficult than learning kanji? What kind of joke is this? Anyone who tells you "all you have to do is memorize" kanji has no idea what they're talking about.

    I'm inclined to agree. I figured out the particles years ago, but I still regularly learn new kanji and/or new readings for kanji I already know.

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    I have a lousy memory so unless I'm using it all the time I forget it within months... which is why when I go to Japan on holiday I forget the most basic Japanese. Doesn't help much when you ask how much something is in Japanese and off they go as if you're fluent. Yes it IS hard to learn.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    Doesn't help much when you ask how much something is in Japanese and off they go as if you're fluent.

    I had that problem a lot when I first came here, and in other countries where I know a small bit of the language. I know enough to ask a question, but not enough to understand the response to the question.

    After a point I found it switched though. Even now I can understand pretty much everything that is ever said to me, and everything on the news/tv etc, with the exception of a word here or there (which I can usually guess by context). But sometimes I can't express myself the way I want.

  • 0

    Educator60

    Michaelqtodd, "can no longer write as whenever I need to she does it for me. I got lazy. You have to have a compelling reason to keep studying."

    Not having to wait around, and imposing on others by relying on them to take care of things for me, was plenty of motivation for me. It would drive me around the bend to not be able to take care of my own business.

  • 1

    Stephen Denney

    Learning to read kanji might be fairly straightforward (a chore, but basically a matter of memorization and time.) Learning to write it is a whole other kettle of fish which you fail to mention.

  • 1

    Black Sabbath

    For me, white guy from the States, by far the hardest thing about learning Japanese was finding native speakers to speak with.

    In Japan.

    Because they all tried to 'practice their english on me.' And there was always, ALWAYS, one of them in almost any situation I found myself in.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    Because they all tried to 'practice their english on me.' And there was always, ALWAYS, one of them in almost any situation I found myself in.

    It may not only be that. Sometimes people will try to speak English with me, and I know my Japanese is better than their English, so for the sake of expedience I'll push Japanese on them. I could see the opposite happening at times too.

    I felt bad last week though when I was approached by a guy in halting English asking me where something was - I immediately answered in Japanese telling him where. He said 'I'm sorry, I'm Korean, I don't speak Japanese'!

    Oops.

  • 0

    Educator60

    Stephen Denney at Aug. 30, 2016 - 06:19AM JST "Learning to read kanji might be fairly straightforward (a chore, but basically a matter of memorization and time.) Learning to write it is a whole other kettle of fish which you fail to mention."

    Actually, nowadays, writing has become easy with computers/tablets/smart phones. Even if you have a form or something that must be filled out by hand, or want to hand write a letter, it's easy to first compose it on your phone for example, and then refer to that as you hand write. It's easier and quicker to check the meaning of kanji if you are unsure which one to use, etc. compared to looking up a kanji character in a paper or even electronic dictionary. Learning/using Japanese now is a whole other world compared to when I started in the 70s.

  • 0

    MsDelicious

    It's all about food. The key to learning any language.

  • 0

    thinkbefore

    It's a very tough language to master if your not raised speaking it. Whilst there are a lot more foreigners nowadays being able to speak and read it to various degrees due to the increase in interest in Japan, there would only about 10 to 15 percent who speak it at a high level. No surprises that 10 or 15 percent of people really studied the language. Years of study and living in Japan got them there. You don't necessarily have to live in Japan to master it. If you can find a native speaker in your home country and spend hours speaking Japanese with that person it can be done. One of the big obstacles you may find when learning Japanese is many of the Japanese people you run into it might want to speak English to you. It does you no good in learning their language. It is best to find a Japanese friend who will speak only Japanese to you. I highly recommend getting a Japanese teacher too. Many foreigners attempt to learn it without one which is not good in my opinion. Japanese language is not something you can just start and stop. I've seen many get very good at it and then stop learning and practicing it. Once you stop you will lose your skills quite rapidly particularly reading and writing. You have to see it as something that you will continue throughout your entire life.

Login to leave a comment

OR

Work
in Japan

Search the Largest English Job Board in Japan.

Find a Job Now!

More in Lifestyle

View all

View all

Japan Investment
Properties

Listings Updated Daily

Search