How hard is it to learn Japanese? While some people may say it’s the most difficult language they have tried to learn, some people will tell you Japanese is not that hard to master. It all depends on your background and dedication in learning the language.
Speakers of Asian languages like Chinese and Korean may find Japanese easier to learn due to certain similarities across languages. For example, Chinese shares some written characters with the Japanese kanji writing system, making it easier for those who know Chinese to learn the meaning of kanji characters.
Even if you have no prior experience in languages that are similar to Japanese, learning the language can seem easy if you are highly motivated. The drive to master the language will help you stay committed and enjoy the learning process.
As some people will tell you, some parts of Japanese are easier to learn than others. Let’s walk through the different aspects and evaluate how challenging they truly are.
The pronunciation system of Japanese is not difficult, yet some key differences can be hard to grasp on the first try. Essentially, Japanese syllables are very simple – they are either a vowel (e.g. ‘a’) or a consonant plus vowel (e.g. ‘ya’). Never will you have consonant clusters like the ‘str-‘ sound in ‘strength’. By stringing up these simple syllables, you can easily make up words and sentences.
One sound that may trip you up at first is the ‘R’ or ‘L’ sound. In English, ‘R’ and ‘L’ have distinct sounds, but in Japanese, there is only one sound that is pronounced like an in-between of ‘R’ and ‘L’. In addition, Japanese has a ‘half-vowel’ sound commonly romanised as ‘u’, like in ‘gozaimasu’. This ‘u’ sound should not be a long ‘oo’ sound, but rather, pronounced like an extra beat of the ‘s’.
Overall, Japanese pronunciation should not be too tricky to master, save for those few exceptions. To pick up Japanese pronunciation readily, you should expose yourself to the sound of native Japanese speech through films, podcasts, or conversations with Japanese speakers. Practise goes a long way as well to refine your pronunciation, as, after all, pronunciation is a matter of muscle memory.
Japanese writing systems
You should know by now that Japanese has not one, but three distinct writing systems. This immediately makes the writing system of Japanese three times harder than that of other languages. However, with some practice, some of these writing systems are not as hard as you think.
Hiragana and Katana are the syllabic writing systems, meaning that each character corresponds to a fixed sound. Due to this straightforward mapping, all you have to do is memorise the characters and their sounds, much like how you would learn the alphabet. Learning them in the context of words will help you remember them better.
The bigger challenge comes in learning Kanji. These are borrowed characters from Chinese script, and are tricky because their use varies. For example, the character for ‘mountain’ can be pronounced in the native Japanese way ‘yama’ or in the Chinese adopted pronunciation ‘san’. While this will take some getting used to, the most critical aspect of Kanji will be to learn the meanings of these characters so that you can understand them in reading.
Depending on your native language, Japanese grammar can be extremely simple, or extremely confusing. If your native language shares grammatical similarities with Japanese, it won’t be hard to wrap your head around the word order in Japanese. However, if you come from an English-speaking background, for example, you will need to do some reverse engineering.
The most vital difference between English and Japanese grammar is the sentence structure. In Japanese, sentences have a subject-object-verb order, which means a sentence like ‘I like apples.’ will sound like ‘I apples like.’ In addition, you will need to learn how to mark tenses in Japanese using what is called ‘verb conjugation’, rather than in the English way where we add ‘-ed’ or ‘-s’ to words.
And that concludes it – does Japanese seem easy or difficult to you? If you think you need some help with learning Japanese, not to worry! In Singapore Japanese courses are not hard to come by. By enrolling in a well-reputed language class, you can be introduced to these aspects of Japanese in a step-by-step manner, ensuring you will get a good grasp of them in the most efficient way possible.