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How hard is it to learn Japanese? A Simple Guide

Updated: Dec 3, 2023


How hard is it to learn Japanese?

Are you unsure if learning Japanese is too challenging? Don't worry, you're not alone! Japanese can appear intimidating because of its differences from English and other Western languages. However, in this blog post, we will break down the misconceptions about the difficulty of learning Japanese and provide you with tips to make it more manageable. You'll gain an understanding of the three types of characters—Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji—and also receive insights into Japanese grammar, politeness, and pronunciation techniques.


Understanding Characters; Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji


Let's begin by exploring the three alphabets used in Japanese writing. These include Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Familiarizing yourself with their purposes can significantly simplify your learning journey.


1. Hiragana; The Foundation


Hiragana serves as the building block of the alphabet and is often the first one individuals tackle while learning. It is commonly used for words and grammatical components such as verb endings. Hiragana proves straightforward due to its nature—each character represents a distinct sound. Consequently, once you commit to memory its 46 characters, both reading and writing become considerably easier.


2. Katakana: Embracing Foreign Vocabulary


Katakana primarily comes into play when dealing with words borrowed from other languages. Take, for instance, the word "コーヒー" (Kōhī), which means "coffee," and "インターネット" (Intānetto), which translates to "Internet." Katakana, just like Hiragana, is also phonetic but with a different appearance. Familiarity with Katakana proves useful when deciphering menu signs or writing your name in Japanese!


3. Kanji: The Intricate Characters


Kanji originates from Chinese and there are thousands of these characters to learn. Each Kanji character can represent a word or concept. Though it may seem daunting at a glance, starting with the commonly used Kanji makes reading and conversing in Japanese much more manageable.


Grasping Grammar


Grammar follows a unique structure. In English, we often employ Subject-Verb-Object order like "I eat apples." However, in Japanese, it typically follows a Subject-Object-Verb order—thus becoming "I apples eat." Additionally, Japanese incorporates particles known as markers that help show what is happening within a sentence. For example, "は" (wa) pertains to the topic at hand, while "を" (o) denotes the object. Of course, it might feel unfamiliar at first but, with practice, you'll become more comfortable!


Tips for Politeness in Japanese


In Japanese culture, it's important to adjust your level of politeness based on situations. The way you speak with friends will differ from how you address teachers or superiors. To show respect, there are honorifics like "さん" (san), which is similar to Mr. Or Ms. You may also come across honorifics like "さま" (sama) for higher levels of respect and "先生" (sensei) for addressing teachers and experts.


Mastery of Respectful Language; Keigo


"敬語", Keigo refers to a collection of extra-polite words in Japanese. There are two types; "尊敬語" (sonkeigo) for talking up others, and "謙譲語" (kenjougo) for talking down about yourself or your group. Even native Japanese speakers find this aspect challenging but, by mastering Keigo you really get the culture.


Correct Pronunciation Matters


The Japanese language has many different sounds, and some words can appear identical but carry meanings depending on pronunciation. For instance, the word "はし" can refer to either a "bridge" or "chopsticks," depending on how it's pronounced. Similarly, the term "あめ" can mean either "rain" or "candy," again based on pronunciation.

To master this skill, it's important to devote time to practicing both speaking and listening.


Understanding the Cultural Context and Idioms


Language and culture are closely intertwined. Simply translating idioms into English can sometimes miss their meaning. To truly grasp them, you should also have an understanding of culture.


7 Simple Tips for Learning Japanese


1. Stay Committed

Learning takes time, so it's important to stay dedicated and persistent.


2. Set Goals

Establish clear objectives such as being able to have conversations, read manga, or work in Japan.


3. Utilize Various Resources

Experiment with learning tools like textbooks, apps, and online courses.


4. Immerse Yourself in the culture

Watching Japanese shows and listening to Japanese music can greatly enhance your language comprehension.


5. Practice Daily

Consistency is key. Find ways to practice every day.


6. Find a Study Partner or Tutor

Having someone to guide you can greatly impact your progress.


7. Celebrate Small Achievements

Every little success motivates you to keep going.


In Summary


Learning Japanese may seem daunting due to its many characters, unique grammar rules, and cultural subtleties. However, don't be intimidated! With dedication and effective strategies in place, it can become an exciting journey rather than a frightening one. So go ahead. Embark on this learning adventure; savor each step along the way! がんばれ!Ganbare! (Keep up the work!)


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