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Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

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Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Thu 01.08.2009 2:25 am

Hi there,

(Disclaimer: The **IS** a LONG post. No need to state what is obvious. Don't like, move on to shorter posts.)

Couldn't find a place to discuss linguistics specifically so this might be just as good as any other section.....

I would really like to get some WELL-FOUNDED thoughts on this matter, i.e. not mere speculations or opinions. I am not sure if there are any professional linguists around here, but people ACTUALLY having studied more languages than Japanese for more than two weeks are welcome :evil:

Considering the general recommendation from US Foreign Department Language Studies - at least something like that - Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic get the rating Very Hard To Learn, right? I have PLAYED around with Japanese for soon ten years and have studied Mandarin since last (this) summer.

I have never attempted to study Arabic, but I have a Teach Yourself book and can "read" Arabic, since I know the writing and can translate that into acceptable sounds. Of course I don't understand anything of what I say, but nevertheless.... It's a rather tricky grammar, compared with, say, Farsi ("Persian") which is a VERY EASY LANGUAGE, something I know since I have learned a bit a long time ago. Arabic is kind of difficult to pronounce, but not at all as difficult as Mandarin.

Mandarin is A VERY DIFFICULT language the first months or so, when you have to learn 1) pinyin (a monster compared with romaji/kana) and 2) the rather subtle and varied sounds and 3) the tones. This takes some SERIOUS work. But from there it's a fast ride towards literacy, **IF** you happen to know Kanji really well, as I do. If not, then you of course have to add the problem of learning Hanzi, which is roughly the same as learning Kanji, apart from the fact that MORE characters (3000+) are needed than in Japanese if you to be considered reasonably literate. (I am also very old fashioned since I also count HAND WRITING as a requirement to gain the status of FULLY LITERATE :-) )

When I stopped merely having Japanese as a hobby and recreational activity, and actually tried to STUDY Japanese in a serious and structured way, I had a rather humbling experience: I failed! And I failed miserably!What I did was to basically go for a modified AJATT method, i.e. adding sentences to a SRS program and repeating them until I new them well AND could go from English to Japanese without any effort. No problemo to learn the sentences in Japanese and be able to read them and understand them. BUT... And a MIGHTY BIG BUT: the other way around just didn't work! Soon I found that I had to spend 60-70% - probably more like 80-90 - of my time to repeat and repeat. Not much room to add new sentences.

OK, I thought, I am getting too old and dumb for this kind of Real Language Studies. [Nasty Word] Japanese!!! Then I needed something new to put my teeth into and picked Mandarin as the best candidate as another failure. And voila: I was neither dumb not too old to learn A VERY DIFFICULT LANGUAGE. I am rather shocked by the ease of Mandarin and the speed I manage to keep up. There might be some black hole waiting ahead, but I can't possible imagine what that could be. Mandarin grammar is so easy that many claim that "Mandarin has no grammar at all". It sure does, as proven by the one and only Mandarin grammar book I own (Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar), but as things look right now this single title will be enough for a couple of years.

Japanese seems to a particularly easy target for MERE OPINIONS; even among EXPERTS. Compare these two quotes from

1) Read Real Japanese Fiction, Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/977p3t
and
2) Read Real Japanese Essays, Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/94sbcg

both beautiful books I strongly recommend (like almost every title from Kodansha)!

1) Michael Emmerich:

The phrase "best-kept secret" gets on on my nerves [...] You have heard rumors, no doubt, that Japanese is an extremely difficult language for English speakers to master. Impossible, even! Well, rest assured, fellow students - these rumors are false. One of the best-kept secrets around, really and truly, is that Japanese is not actually that hard. [...] That's the rub, really - It's not that the language is hard, per se, you just have to take your time getting into it, and that's true of any language.


(My emphasis on the last sentence!!]

2) Janet Ashby:

[...] Yet Japanese remains a deeply frustrating language to study. So much so that I remember finding it positively encouraging when my Japanese professor remarked one day that it took seven years to learn the language - I had despaired pf ever being able to pick up up a Japanese magazine or newspaper and read it more or less easily.

The problem is not only the kanji barrier, high though that can be for Western learners of Japanese, but also the differences in the spoken and written language and the unfamiliar vocabulary, set expressions, sentence patterns, and even the way of thinking. And despite all the changes in the learning environment over the years, there still aren't many intermediate reading materials available, especially ones that can be used for independent study.


I quoted at length from Ashby since she summarized what would have taken me much more words very eloquently. I would like to add one point, though: There aren't very many text books for the beginner either. Genki, Japanese for Everyone (which I own) and the likes are excellent for maybe one year, but then they leave you in the dust. Mandarin have already passed Japanese by a wide margin with text book SERIES like A New Practical Chinese Reader offering material for a full three years of UNIVERSITY STUDIES. OK, it will, when the final volume 6 is published. There are quite a few alternatives, even if I don't think anything i FULLY as comprehensive as this one.

Back to Emmerich/Ashby ... Why the contrasting statements? Don't know. I think Emmerich is possibly playing with words. "Difficult" and "taking ages" are obviously not synonyms. Every bit and piece of Japanese is of course NOT DIFFICULT. The problem is that the NUMBER of pieces to keep track of, vastly exceeds any possible and impossible language I can think of. Just for fun, I will send a copy of this post to his Princeton email address, including a link to see if he will respond :-)

Enough for now. I'm all ears :-)
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Sairana » Thu 01.08.2009 2:53 am

This post (slightly modified), was nothing more than flamebait over on the Reviewing the Kanji forums. You have set up the wording on this to effectively dismantle anyone who responds to it, as all you need to do is accuse their responses of being "opinion" or "speculation". But I'll bite anyway.... sort of.

I would really like to get some WELL-FOUNDED thoughts on this matter, i.e. not mere speculations or opinions. I am not sure if there are any professional linguists around here, but people ACTUALLY having studied more languages than Japanese for more than two weeks are welcome


Your post is full of speculation, opinion, and anecdotes about your study of Japanese, contrasted with more anecdotes about your limited experience with Farsi and Mandarin Chinese. If you are not interested in speculation and opinion, I would think you'd have taken a more linguistic approach to the topic, rather than one based on "I sucked at Japanese, but not at Mandarin. What gives?"

I think the first order of business, in the interest of generating a meaningful discussion, would be to define exactly what elements make a language "difficult". What sorts of criterion do you use?
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Thu 01.08.2009 3:18 am

Sairana wrote:I think the first order of business, in the interest of generating a meaningful discussion, would be to define exactly what elements make a language "difficult". What sorts of criterion do you use?


I think my quote from Janet Ashby sums it up very neatly. The difficulty of a language must possibly be the object/subject of some sort of "scientific" evaluation. One criteria there could be THE AMOUNT OF INFORMATION NEEDED TO BECOME FLUENT.

IMHO - or IMNSHO, if you prefer - Japanese leaves all the languages I've sniffed on in the dust. There are so many different "variables" to keep in your head - or backbone - in Japanese: vocabulary, verb/adjective endings, levels of speech, particles, etc. that I personally find it rather intimidating when trying to speak and write (without the aid of dictionaries and reference books) with something that resembles EASE. But I could be a special exception. I just don't know. That is the main reason why I try TO DISCUSS THE MATTER.

On the contrary, my dear: The reason why I added all these "disclaimers" was to avoid the madness that took place at Reviewing the Kanji!!!! If something only a bit similar will happen here too, I will IMMEDIATELY DUMP THIS PLACE TOO!!! Not a second longer.

You "taking the bait" was not a very encouraging start. You obviously didn't care to read the entire post where I quoted Janet Ashby AT LENGTH, before replying, did you???
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby richvh » Thu 01.08.2009 8:27 am

Stop being so hostile; you're inviting hostile responses, so if this degenerates into a flamewar, you'll have only yourself to blame. And again, leave your experiences on the other forum out of your posts here. We don't have a dog in that fight.

Except for Chris Kern, we aren't professional educators, so (except for him) we basically don't have anything but opinion and speculation to offer. However, let's look at what you've succeeded with:

Farsi - an Indo-European language (of the Indo-Iranian branch of the family, so a distant cousin of your native Swedish and of English. I know basically nothing about Farsi, but I imagine that grammatically, there are more similarities than differences.

Mandarin - non-inflected, subject-verb-object language. Grammatically, very simple. Tony's stated that the grammar is the words, and I'll take his word for it (again, I know next to nothing about Chinese.)

Could it be that your major problem is that you are trying to learn the grammar by immersion, and it isn't working for you? Or that you are spending all your time with flashcards, rather than using the language to communicate? Perhaps some time spent learning the grammar, and putting it to practical use, will help. I am of the firm belief that my effort to write ゆきの物語 has been of great help in improving my Japanese, but this of course will not be everyone's cup of tea.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby JaySee » Thu 01.08.2009 9:36 am

Language complexity is a very controversial issue.

Let me first start by saying that if you define a complex language as a language that takes a long time to learn, that means it is very much a relative notion. Being Dutch, learning English or German for me is much easier than learning Japanese because the languages are very similar. For A Korean, learning Japanese would be much easier than learning German or English. As for 'absolute' complexity, there is no evidence that for example a Japanese child takes a longer time learning his/her own language than an English child does, or that such a thing even really exists at all, so I have great reservations when people start claiming that language X is inherently more difficult than language Y. I

The fact that you seem to be picking up Mandarin Chinese more readily than Japanese doesn't really say anything. I've studied Japanese for 7 years now, and while I agree that it is a difficult language (which is only to be expected since it's very different from my native language) I can't say that it has been near impossible to learn. I actually found the fact that the conjugations are very regular and nouns aren't inflected at all quite a nice break from the billions of paradigms I had to learn for languages like Latin in high school. As another example, I have studied Korean for 1,5 years now, and while it is very similar to Japanese, I found its morphology, pronunciation and honorifics comparatively quite a bit more difficult to get the hang of. The fact that there are quite a few people on this forum who have become (near) fluent in Japanese, shows that your claims about the almost insurmountable difficulty of Japanese are very much a personal thing.

I don't really consider the writing system to be part of the complexity of a language, because while of course you do have to know it in order to become fully proficient in a language, it is much more of a cultural thing and not inherent to the language itself (you could write any language using more or less any writing system if you wanted to). Also, the fact that according to you there aren't any good Japanese textbooks for students at intermediate level and beyond (with which I disagree) is not really related to the language itself.
Last edited by JaySee on Thu 01.08.2009 9:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.08.2009 9:39 am

Well, "professional educator" may be a bit おおげさ as I'm just a teaching assistant, but I suppose I do have teaching experience.

There's really no way to quantify the difficulty of a language. You can do it a little better with a writing system, but in general the best you can do is talk about relative difficulties for speakers of certain languages. For instance, a native Cantonese speaker will probably find Mandarin easier to learn than English, but that's not really "proof" that Mandarin is easier than English. Writing systems are easier to quantify as harder or easier; I think it is self-evident that the Chinese writing system is considerably more difficult than Western alphabet-based scripts.

It's also difficult to talk about difficulty of a language because of the tendency to conflate languages and writing systems, and to consider a language merely as the sum of vocabulary items and ignore cultural factors. The politeness system of Japanese is enormously complicated and by far one of the most difficult parts of the language to master well.

Speaking from an objective linguistic standpoint, all languages are equally complex. There's nothing in one language that cannot be expressed in another one, and losses in complexity in certain areas tend to result in gains in other areas. For instance, English has a much poorer (and simpler) system of inflection and conjugation than Greek or Latin. But English's prepositions and semi-fixed word order are more complex than Greek and Latin.

Chinese grammar is deceptively simple, but has complexities. Y. R. Chao's "Grammar of Spoken Chinese" is 850 pages, which is a similar length to Martin's Reference Grammar of Japanese.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby two_heads_talking » Thu 01.08.2009 10:19 am

From my linguistical background, Language difficulty can only be determined by the person/origin language.

In other words to a Chinese speaker, Mandarin, Cantonese or any other dialect of Chinese will not be very difficult. However, to an English speaker, it will be more difficult. An Italian speaker will pick up Spanish much easier than a Scandinavian speaker would. So, to say one language is the toughest to learn, is like saying that only one food is the most disgusting to taste. It's all subjective and relative to where you originate from.

Now, from my English perspective, and the Language apptitude testing from the US military, I believe Finnish is the most difficult language to learn and along with that would be Navaho, Apache, and Hopi Indian.

I believe Hungarian, due to its complex grammar structure is very difficult to pick up. As is Armenian. I also know that for non-English speakers, that English is also a very complex language to learn.

I'd say the average Spaniard would have a very difficult time with German or Russian too.

Now, "The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages". Of the 63 languages analyzed, the 5 most difficult languages to reach proficiency in speaking and proficiency in reading (for native English speakers who already know other languages), requiring 88 weeks, are: "Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean", with Japanese being the most difficult.

In the Defense Language Institute of the US Department of Defense, Korean is seen as the hardest of the Category IV languages, which are Arabic, Chinese, and Korean. "Right now only 8 Languages are being taught (for Navy). Cat IV: Arabic, Chinese, Korean. Cat III: Persian, Serb-Croatian, Hebrew, Russian. Cat I: Spanish. ...Korean is the hardest language here (Navy), apparently it is 75 weeks long now, and they are trying to make it a Cat V language."

It's interesting that the DLI and the FLI seem to agree on category level but can't seem to agree on which language is most difficult. I think Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are given the nod, as they have kanji in them and the extra time to learn is due to the extra time to learn the "alphabets" of those languages.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby becki_kanou » Thu 01.08.2009 11:42 am

As others have said, the level of difficulty of any language varies widely depending upon what your native language is and what other languages you can speak with some degree of fluency. If your native language is English, odds are you're going to find Japanese pretty hard going, but Germanic or Romance languages much easier. On the other hand if you're a native speaker of Korean, Japanese will probably be easier for you than English or Spanish.

For myself, I've found that although kanji are obviously time-consuming to remember, the almost complete regularity of conjugation and the lack of gender and singular/plural, as well as comparatively easy pronunciation make Japanese easier (for me) than French (the only other language I can speak with any degree of proficiency).
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sat 01.10.2009 2:30 am

Sorry, but my internet connection worked really bad yesterday so I got no opportunity to continue here

richvh wrote:Stop being so hostile; you're inviting hostile responses


I am not being "Hostile", at least my ambition is the opposite: trying to be constructive. I am also being conservative. I try to conserve time, space, bandwidth and energy. If I was very explicit, it was with these aims in focus.

If you intend to stick that label on me, I seriously would like you to have some sort of foundation for that. Quote.

richvh wrote:And again, leave your experiences on the other forum out of your posts here. We don't have a dog in that fight.


Absolutely no dog. But I am such a conservative and old-fashioned guy, that I at least TRY to give a reason for my writing and acting. I am NOT AT ALL happy just kicking around in the sandbox and not telling WHY. No, I do not even like playing in a sandbox.

richvh wrote:Except for Chris Kern, we aren't professional educators, so (except for him) we basically don't have anything but opinion and speculation to offer.


I think you dismiss the most important part: everybody's experiences in studying and learning Japanese and other languages. Studying can be a more or less automatic process, but it can nevertheless be made the object for both introspective and retrospective analysis

richvh wrote:However, let's look at what you've succeeded with:

Farsi - an Indo-European language (of the Indo-Iranian branch of the family, so a distant cousin of your native Swedish and of English. I know basically nothing about Farsi, but I imagine that grammatically, there are more similarities than differences.


It has a very easy grammar, many words are even very close to the European languages: baradar - brother, madar - mother etc. Without any further comparison, think "Spanish" and you get some point of reference in terms of ease to learn. I have found Spanish to MUCH easier to learn than French, to take another example. (I only have very rudimentary knowledge in both Spanish and French, but poked around a bit in the past,)

richvh wrote:Mandarin - non-inflected, subject-verb-object language. Grammatically, very simple. Tony's stated that the grammar is the words, and I'll take his word for it (again, I know next to nothing about Chinese.)


Tony?? Where? It's not only grammar being very easy, but 'sentence patterns' are also much more clearly defined than in Japanese. Where you ADD stuff in Japanese to make a decent sentence from an English root, you reduce in Mandarin, i.e. you need less words to express yourself in perfectly OK Mandarin.

Since my "Japanese is very difficult" comes from a comparison between that language and Mandarin, I might add that I find Mandarin WORDS MUCH easier to memorize, once you have passed the sounds, pinyin and tones. Thanks to a wider palette of sounds AND the tones, the Mandarin words are much more varied than in Japanese.

Every word in Mandarin is a much more clearly defined entity, where Japanese words can sound like a bunch of not too different syllables. Again a strictly personal experience: I would guess I learn new words/vocabulary three times as fast in Mandarin than I've ever been a able to do in Japanese. This is a very important issue from my point of view.

richvh wrote:Could it be that your major problem is that you are trying to learn the grammar by immersion, and it isn't working for you?


No, on the contrary I've spent most of my time playing with Japanese through the bilingual Kodansha books. I simply tried to "Solve the Japanese Puzzle" by covering the kana and English parts of these books and see how much sense I could make of the purely Japanese sentences (kanji + kana). This gave me A LOT of exposure to grammar very early. I learned enough of verb/adjective endings, particles and the likes, to be able to READ Japanese fairly comfortably as long as I had a dictionary/translation of some sort to compensate for my really bad vocabulary.

richvh wrote:Or that you are spending all your time with flashcards, rather than using the language to communicate?


I DO spend a lot of time with "flashcards" since I use a SRS program (Anki) to learn/memorize new stuff. The last time, when I REALLY studied - and not merely played around for my pleasure - Japanese for quite a while, I put the emphasis on PRODUCING spoken/written Japanese. I had a lot of sentences from various books and had the requirement to be able to duplicate the Japanese translation from English. I would consider that as ONE way of communicating, as far as you can go without actually talking or writing your own texts, as you do etc.

richvh wrote:Perhaps some time spent learning the grammar, and putting it to practical use, will help. I am of the firm belief that my effort to write ゆきの物語 has been of great help in improving my Japanese, but this of course will not be everyone's cup of tea.


Yes, I looked at your story (now stories?) the last round of visits here, and that is of course an excellent method. My first step - the final round of SERIOUS STUDIES was to REALLY LEARN grammar - i.e. get it out of the way for once and all - and never more have to think about "What type of verb ending should I use when I SAY/WRITE this?" But as I've pointed out, it is really no accident that there are tons of books dealing with Japanese Verbs/Adjectives and ONLY that.

The best Japanese overall grammar I've seen - "Handbook of Modern Japanese Grammar" by Yoko McClain - spends pages 3-91 (of 290+ pages) on verb/adjectives endings and forms. May not sound much, but it is ONE-LINERS for almost every possible and impossible verb ending. When I find something I don't recognize at all - i.e. rather obscure - it's usually dealt with there. Excellent reference.

So, no. I am not tossing out some silly FLAME BAITS. On the contrary I am EXTREMELY SERIOUS in my desire TO DISCUSS this with people having more experience than I do myself.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sat 01.10.2009 2:32 am

Got a reply from Michael Emmerich, author/editor of Read Real Japanese Fiction (se above):

Dear 漢字 ・・ 汉字,

[ .... ]

And just for fun, here's a response:

Languages make sense. If parts of them don't make sense, don't work, are more work than they're worth, the people who use them change them. Japanese has a lot of moving pieces, it's true, and in the beginning it's hard to keep track of them all. It goes on being hard for a long time. Nonetheless, the pieces move together, and they move smoothly, easily. The difficulty is to learn to see how easily everything fits together. To learn to see what looks, at first, like confusion and disorder as a wonderful, overflowing richness. And that takes time. It takes work, too, of course, but I don't think the work we put into learning Japanese is essentially any more difficult than the work it takes to learn other languages, even those like French that are much, much closer to English. The reason French seems easier to English speakers, at first glance, is that we have already done a lot of the work it takes to learn to understand and produce French. We did this work when we learned Eng
lish. When English speakers start studying Japanese, we start almost from scratch. And that takes time.

The reason I wanted to insist, in my preface to Read Real Japanese, that Japanese is not as exceptionally difficult as people tend to think, is that I really believe, and know from experience, that if we students of Japanese give ourselves time, we can get where we are trying to go. At some point, after a long time, all the moving pieces begin to fall into place in our minds.

When we say that Japanese is a difficult language, do we mean something different from what we might mean if we said that it is slow going studying it? Isn't a large part of the problem the scarcity of study materials that are more fun than work, or, if that's too much to ask, as much fun as work? Would Japanese still be so difficult if we had many, many more books like Read Real Japanese? Will studying Japanese cease to seem difficult when it becomes fun?

Those, I hope, are two questions we may eventually learn the answers to . . .

Thanks and good luck with everything!

Best wishes,
Michael Emmerich
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sat 01.10.2009 2:33 am

And here is my reply to ME:

Thanks a lot, Michael!

Very kind of you to reply. And with such speed. What I am basically trying to do is to offer some "consumer info" to make it easier for people to pick a language - Japanese or Mandarin here - based on more solid facts, than I personally had when I more randomly picked Japanese instead of Mandarin, just because I had started to learn Chinese Character, just for pleasure.

I was not very young when I started learning and writing Kanji in 1999-2000 - and less so now when I REALLY want to LEARN - and there is no way I can invest the amount of time/patience it would take to become fluent in Japanese, SPEAKING without having to stop thinking about what part of speech to use. I simply find it utterly amazing that I am more confident with spoken Mandarin after a mere half year or less.

You were perfectly hones in your intro, emphasizing TIME several times :-) In my own settings here and now, TIME is VERY DIFFICULT, since I don't have enough time FULLY learn the extremely stimulating language called Japanese. Nevertheless I am doing something I had not thought about a couple of weeks ago: I spend a bit of time every day, practicing Japanese at JapanesePod101.com to keep up with what I've learned so far and perhaps become a bit better at spoken Japanese.

I really agree that the kind of books you and Janet have compiled are excellent and much needed for the student of Japanese. I also own those books Giles Murray has had Kodansha to publish:
Breaking into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text and Exploring Japanese Literature: Read Mishima, Tanizaki, and Kawabata in the Original. They are slightly easier to handle than Read Real... since all the information is on every fold, but OTH Murray uses some rather "free" translations to English which makes it a lot harder to REALLY see what thing in Japanese means WHAT thing in English, and vice verse. The language there is also ahead of my level, but I can still READ a lot and understand it, as long as I have the mini-dictionaries available. Again, the other way ....

Keep on publishing more stuff!

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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Dustin » Sat 01.10.2009 2:43 am

I'll just throw in a quick comment on the topic at hand.

Personally I find Japanese difficult, BUT I am not basin my choice of language on difficulty, but rather by interest, and I have been interested in Japan since I was quite young, for what reasons I do not fully remember.

My friends and I agree that the Chinese phonetic system with all the tone and such is much more difficult than the Japanese system that I was able to handle quite quickly.

Japanese grammar is much easier than English grammar, I have not looked at Chinese grammar, but both seem easy compared to ours so no real problem for me there.

Chinese uses more characters if I recall correctly, and that is the most difficult part of the language for me. I am going through RTK1 right now and I am finally seeing some progress with my worst component of kanji study, the characters themselves.

Availability of materials I think is the LARGEST handicap Japanese has against it, and if you think of the population using either materials it fully makes sense which language will have more readily available materials at our disposal to use, which I think makes finding something you enjoy and that fits your learning needs quite difficult in comparison.

This is just what I have come to discover over time, and is by no means fact or anything, just my opinion, and in fact once I have reached a decent level in Japanese Chinese will likely be the next language I decide to tackle!!

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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sat 01.10.2009 3:14 am

Dustin_Calgary wrote:I'll just throw in a quick comment on the topic at hand.


That's great. Now I can finally do this in real time and not 24 hours too later :D

Personally I find Japanese difficult, BUT I am not basin my choice of language on difficulty, but rather by interest, and I have been interested in Japan since I was quite young, for what reasons I do not fully remember.

Dustin_Calgary wrote:My friends and I agree that the Chinese phonetic system with all the tone and such is much more difficult than the Japanese system that I was able to handle quite quickly.


Yes, it is at first much more difficult than Japanese "sounds" and kana/romaji etc. But this is merely a matter of a few months of serious study to get through. I learned enough of this in two-three months to FEEL totally comfortable and don't experience much problems now than now and then automatically read "shi" as the "European" sound sh... (she etc.) instead of the very unique Mandarin sound. There ARE quite a bunch of sounds in Mandarin having no equivalent in our western tongues. ci, si and zi perhaps the most "weird".

Dustin_Calgary wrote:Japanese grammar is much easier than English grammar, I have not looked at Chinese grammar, but both seem easy compared to ours so no real problem for me there.


Now we are talking BUSINESS :twisted: It's EXACTLY that kind of statement that makes me wonder: Are we really studying the SAME language??? Since I can't possibly think of ANYTHING in Japanese grammar that is easier than English grammar, I am VERY interested in hearing an expanded version of this experience. Shoot! :shock:

Dustin_Calgary wrote:Chinese uses more characters if I recall correctly, and that is the most difficult part of the language for me. I am going through RTK1 right now and I am finally seeing some progress with my worst component of kanji study, the characters themselves.


Seems like a pretty good solution. Since I am more and more leaving the Strict Church of Heisig, I would suggest that you consider adding at least ONE on-reading to each Kanji when you learn it. It's not as fully consistent as in Mandarin/Chinese, but I found it to be EXTREMELY helpful to have the Mandarin readings when learning Hanzi now: YOu can GROUP characters according to the phonetic component. I can give more details, in case you are interested.

Dustin_Calgary wrote:Availability of materials I think is the LARGEST handicap Japanese has against it, and if you think of the population using either materials it fully makes sense which language will have more readily available materials at our disposal to use, which I think makes finding something you enjoy and that fits your learning needs quite difficult in comparison.


I spent a small fortune on Japanese books the last 8-9 years so I can assure there in lack of VERY GOOD stuff around. What is it you are looking for? Exactly?

Dustin_Calgary wrote:This is just what I have come to discover over time, and is by no means fact or anything, just my opinion, and in fact once I have reached a decent level in Japanese Chinese will likely be the next language I decide to tackle!! Dustin


One unwanted piece of advice I will repeatedly offer in days to come is: "In case you consider learning BOTH Japanese and Mandarin, by all means START with Mandarin!!" 1) It's very much THE source of much of Japanese today and 2) You will learn enough Mandarin in ONE year to decide if that's enough or if you want to further study it before moving on to Japanese. Or entirely jump off the Japanese train and fully learn Mandarin.

Thanks a lot for your comment, Dustin!
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sat 01.10.2009 3:21 am

two_heads_talking wrote:Now, "The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages". Of the 63 languages analyzed, the 5 most difficult languages to reach proficiency in speaking and proficiency in reading (for native English speakers who already know other languages), requiring 88 weeks, are: "Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean", with Japanese being the most difficult.


Thank you! Exactly what I had in mind when referring to it above.

Regarding Korean I am blissfully ignorant apart from two snippets: 1) The jury is still out where the Japanese language came from. Korean has been suggested as one possible grand-daddy. 2) I am always intrigued by the writing system in various language - I will actually devote an entire section on the HUB for this - and know as much that Korean no longer uses Kanji/Hanzi but a rather radical simplification of these characters.

Hmmm.... Looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul suggests that I was wrong there. Perhaps. Seems like it could be an entirely Korean "invention". It's nevertheless vastly more easy to learn than Kanji/Hanzi. Besides... It also uses ROUND shapes, totally forbidden in Chinese Characters, which gives the script a kind cure look and feel.

Will take a break here for some Mandarin studies, but will return later. If the Internet doesn't drop dead today too.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby richvh » Sat 01.10.2009 4:08 am

I am not being "Hostile", at least my ambition is the opposite: trying to be constructive. I am also being conservative. I try to conserve time, space, bandwidth and energy. If I was very explicit, it was with these aims in focus.


Well, for someone not trying to be hostile, you sure do a great imitation of one. This whole section of your second post comes off as hostile:

On the contrary, my dear: The reason why I added all these "disclaimers" was to avoid the madness that took place at Reviewing the Kanji!!!! If something only a bit similar will happen here too, I will IMMEDIATELY DUMP THIS PLACE TOO!!! Not a second longer.

You "taking the bait" was not a very encouraging start. You obviously didn't care to read the entire post where I quoted Janet Ashby AT LENGTH, before replying, did you???


I think perhaps what you need is more practice using the language (and not in isolation, trying to reproduce the sentences on your flashcards, but interactive.) Join http://lang-8.com and write in your chosen language(s), and get corrections from native speakers. Join the chat here, and chat as much as possible in Japanese. Find a language exchange partner, with whom you can exchange letters, emails, or chat with (either voice or text.)

To improve vocabulary, try typing Japanese texts into a word processor (I use JWPce by preference, as I don't need extensive word processing features, and the built in (edict-based) dictionary is handy.) This is much slower than reading, but helps cement readings into your mind. If copying from online sources, avoid copy and pasting except for lookups - the object isn't simply to reproduce the text, but to reproduce it through your own efforts.

Move beyond bilingual texts - start reading stuff that is aimed purely at a Japanese audience. This will broaden your horizons and vocabulary. The need to use a dictionary almost constantly at first can be intimidating, but if you have the grammar pretty much down, as you say, you shouldn't have too much trouble with the grammar.
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