Job ID : 7632

What are the difficulties of learning Japanese?

Japanese, like many other languages, is often a challenge to learn. In terms of pronunciation, it is arguably easier than most other languages. There is no grammatical gender and conjugation is arguably easier than say, the Romance languages or German. The challenge in Japanese, however, lies in the difficult and long list of kanji that one must learn in order to be able to fully comprehend. In addition, sentence patterns are different in the sense that most of the meaning or gist of a sentence lies at the end of each sentence, as opposed to the beginning. The Japanese grammar is also fairly tough to understand for most people. In this article, we will discuss those difficulties and several things you can do to alleviate those difficulties.

1. Kanji

If you don’t speak Chinese before learning Japanese, then kanji might be the first difficulty for you. While learning kanji is a natural process of learning Japanese, many people have trouble understanding kanji, especially how to write it. The number of kanji required in order to efficiently read newspapers is indicated in the joyo kanji list, in which 2136 kanji are represented. However, one can still read and understand many words by knowing around 1000 kanji. Yet, the fact that most words represented in Japanese are kanji can be a boon since they represent words semantically, so as long as you know the meaning of each kanji, then you can deduce word combinations and their meanings fairly accurately most of the time.

Generally speaking, kanji is something you learn over time, but a great way of learning kanji is through reading books and taking notes of each words. Refer to this article for a more detailed guide on how to tackle kanji:

2. Grammar

The grammatical structure of Japanese is different in the fact that it follows a SOV pattern (subject object verb) as opposed to SVO in English (subject verb order). When you first learn how to make sentences in Japanese, you are tempted to translate directly a phrase from your mother tongue into Japanese, but often times you will run into issues with how you are supposed to translate it into the SOV pattern.

Particle usage in Japanese is also a nightmare for many Japanese learners. Particles are words such as が, と, に that essentially connect two words and define the relationship between them. An example would be “田中さんくれました” (particles are highlighted in bold). In this sentence, 私に indicates that you are the recipient of the book (本), and that Tanaka is the one giving the book (田中さん). Understanding the meaning of each individual particles is difficult, especially in conversations when you are expected to understand the sentence within the span of a few seconds.

In addition, Japanese has a myriad of grammatical forms that one must learn. For example, the phrase “壊れやすい” means easily broken, but if you read that word for the first time without learning what the “-やすい” prefix indicates, then you might have a different impression of that word. This is actually one flaw of reading Japanese books without having a good enough understanding of the Japanese grammar and forms because of the prevalence of these words. For example, during my first few months of learning Japanese, I started reading light novels but I keep on running into issues with many forms. For example, I have no idea of the implications of “やられた” or “させられる”.

3. Keigo

One unique aspect of the Japanese language is the emphasis on politeness. While under everyday circumstances, you don’t necessarily use anything beyond the polite form (丁寧語,ていねいご) aside from a few phone calls as an exception, if you are planning to work in Japan, then it is imperative that you learn keigo (敬語). Keigo refers to a series of conjugations of words whose purpose is to elevate the status of someone, or to make oneself humble. Keigo is a necessary aspect of the office environment, as well as the senpai-kouhai relationships. Knowledge of keigo is important in maintaining harmony in the office environment.

Unfortunately, learning keigo is like learning a different language due to the difficulty of conjugating verbs and adding prefixes to certain nouns (the お and ご prefix for example). It is notoriously hard even for Japanese people. If you are planning to work in Japan and is forced to learn keigo, then your best bet is pursuing a job in Japan that makes use of keigo (jobs at the restaurant or at the office for example may make use of keigo).

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