“Is Japanese a difficult language to learn?”
This is a question that often comes up. If you want to learn Japanese, then this post will give you a rundown of how difficult it can be compared to other languages—beginner through advanced level.
We’ll also get into some information about the language itself and why studying it might be advantageous.
The hard stuff
To start off, let’s just firstly admit that Japanese is a relatively difficult language to learn for Westerners. It took me many years to become literate and able to read Japanese books and magazines for pleasure.
Japanese kanji are hard. There are thousands of kanji characters with different meanings and pronunciations that you must remember one by one. You can only truly master kanji after reading them thousands of times through extensive repetition. In my opinion, the kanji are definitely the hardest aspect of Japanese, but mostly because it takes a long time to remember them rather than the process being inherently difficult (for instance, Japanese is much easier for me than physics!).
English, Japanese sentence structures are longer and more complex than English. Japanese “grammar” is something quite otherworldly. Not to mention, the sentence order is the opposite to English!
Too many words that sound alike
Japanese has a relatively low number of sounds, but the meaning of those sounds is difficult to master due to many homophones (i.e., the same sound with different meanings). On this score, Japanese is more difficult than Chinese, which has less words with the same sounds.
Lack of shared vocabulary with English
Another argument for Japanese being a hard language to master is its lack of English cognates (words that are similar due to having a common root) compared to, say, Spanish. This means you’ll have to learn almost everything from scratch despite being able to read a few of the characters.
Politeness is challenging
You must use honorifics properly or else you risk offending your conversation partner. Keigo and teineigo are vital tools for doing business in Japan. On the other hand, the politeness isn’t such a huge concern if you’re just learning for fun. Japanese folk are also very forgiving as they know how difficult this all is, even for them!
The easier stuff
Ready to throw in the towel? Well don’t just yet! It’s not all bad news.
Although full literacy takes a long time, basic conversation is not all that difficult to pick up. I was reasonably conversational (with plenty of mistakes) after only about six months in Japan.
Japanese is actually easier than several other languages in certain aspects . For example, it uses fewer characters than Chinese. The hiragana and katakana syllabary are straightforward once you get used to them and allow you to write all words without the kanji. Moreover, Japanese words are built out of simple sounds instead of letters, which makes for MUCH easier pronunciation than, say, Arabic or Russian. Other languages such as English, French, and German have at least 40 sounds for non-native speakers to master.
Why do you want to learn Japanese?
Now we’ll get into the easier language to master depending on what you are trying to accomplish with it. Assuming you’re a native speaker of English (or close), and you want to read books, write articles or chat on social media sites, then a European language will probably be better for you. However, Japanese might be the better choice if you love anime or want to play video games in another language. It is also, of course, a good bet if you are simply curious about Japanese culture, which has a rich history and literary tradition.
Is learning Japanese worth it?
Finally, let’s look at how useful it is to master Japanese as a whole. You’ll find that it’s becoming more important for people working in technology. It is also incredibly useful in business if you ever want to open up a branch or market your services and products globally.
If you master Japanese, then, at the very least, people will see you as an interesting individual who stands out from the crowd. This could help you make some new friends. It also might be just what you need to take your career to the next level.
So yes, Japanese is difficult to master but it also has plenty of benefits for those who are willing to put in the effort. Learning Japanese opens up many opportunities, both personal and financial, that would otherwise be closed off. If that’s something you want, then Japanese may be worth learning after all!
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