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What makes Japanese so difficult?

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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby CajunCoder » Sat 05.23.2009 9:29 am

When people say Japanese is difficult, I think they are referring to the amount of work, effort, and time required. Learning Japanese in and of itself is not all that difficult, but it requires far more time and motivation than most other languages. It has a more complex grammar system, larger vocabulary, and all kinds of ways to express different levels of politeness and familiarity. Furthermore, it's very unlike most other languages in existence, so you kind of have to "start from the ground up" when learning how things are said and done.

If the language is interesting to you, and you want to and enjoy learning, however, it shouldn't be "hard." Just know that reaching any degree of fluency is going to be a long term goal.

In contrast, I recently took a Spanish class for the first time. In comparison to when I first began studying Japanese, it was unbelievably easy. I hardly had to study (at least, in comparison to the way I drilled myself with Japanese). However, I actually found it harder to study, and impossible to learn (unless I were forced to do so). Not because the material was hard, but rather, because I made an important discovery: I don't like Spanish, and I don't care to learn it. I was just taking it because it's popular, and I thought it would be an easy course. It was, and I made a good grade, but I don't think I'll ever come back to it. I just didn't find it interesting in the way that I did Japanese, and I don't enjoy the feel of the language, or the associated culture.

So, my true point here is that learning anything (especially something such as a language), the true difficulty or ease of it is based on you -- how you go about learning, how much you put into it, and above all, how much you're genuinely interested in it. A lot of people say they want to learn or do something, but in practice, don't. Others go into the same thing with no expectations, and find they love it, and over time, become very good at it. So, don't force yourself to learn Japanese if you're not truly interested in it, but if you are, you'll find whatever level of technical difficulty that exists to be irrelevant, and moreover, you'll most likely find the pursuit of learning it to be one of the most rewarding things you've done.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby jcdietz03 » Tue 05.26.2009 9:23 pm

This has been said before, but it is the kanji.
The beginning student must first learn kana. With kana, each character has only one syllable and only one pronunciation (almost). The student will learn (fairly quickly) to read it. Then kanji are introduced.

Kanji: It has a meaning which the student should learn. Sometimes there is more than one meaning. There is usually more than one reading for each kanji as well. Though there are only around 100 kana, there are around 2000 kanji the student must learn. Textbook authors get around this by introducing a few at a time, but it greatly contributes to the difficulty (of reading) by making it very difficult to read. Even if the symbols are recognized, it may not be possible to read the text aloud. Even if the text can be read aloud, it may not be understood. This last step (of understanding meaning) is all that is necessary in an alphabetic language.

Every language has several verb conjugations that must be learned. Japanese is easier than the typical language because verb conjugation exceptions are quite rare. At least that's what the teacher tells me. Every language has grammar patterns one must learn and Japanese is no different.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby astaroth » Tue 05.26.2009 9:52 pm

jcdietz03 wrote:Even if the symbols are recognized, it may not be possible to read the text aloud.

Honestly that's a trouble with an 'alphabetic' language like English too. Think of the pronunciation of the town of Falmouth in Mass for instance ... it drives me insane at times not the town, the pronunciation of English.
jcdietz03 wrote:This last step (of understanding meaning) is all that is necessary in an alphabetic language.

True, though at times kanji help because they carry much more information than a word. For instance, first time I saw 救急車 I didn't know what it was but I knew it was some kind of vehicle working or around during an emergency ... this amount of information is nowhere to be found in the word 'ambulance'.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby furrykef » Tue 05.26.2009 10:25 pm

astaroth wrote:Think of the pronunciation of the town of Falmouth in Mass for instance


Well, I'm a native American English speaker and I've never heard of the town before, so I don't know how it's pronounced either. :lol: It seems to me that it could rhyme either with "south" or "booth"...

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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby astaroth » Tue 05.26.2009 10:27 pm

The latter ... when I read it first time out loud I went to obvious (to me) falmouth = fal + mouth, my friends laughed and I was like 'for everyone's sake, clear the messed-up pronunciation already!' :D
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 05.26.2009 10:34 pm

My first guess was to pronounce it like the "mouth" in "Plymouth". Is it really "Falmooth"?

Place names are difficult in many languages, though -- as hard as English place names can be, they do not approach the utter horror of Japanese place names.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby Sairana » Wed 05.27.2009 12:38 am

astaroth wrote:Think of the pronunciation of the town of Falmouth in Mass for instance


I used to work telephone reservations for American Airlines. Had someone call in once asking for a plane ticket to 'Wuster, MA'. I argued with them forever about how we don't service Wuster. Having never even visited the northeast, how was I to know he meant Worchester? There's a town near where I live called "Norfolk". It's pronounced "Norfork" because the town =used= to be called "North Fork". Sometimes, I hate English and the people who use it. :P
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby ILuvEire » Wed 05.27.2009 1:29 am

Syntax throws me off a lot. It took a while for my mind to fit into the idea of a language that puts the verb last. Also, many times I forget to conjugate adjectives, that frequently throws me off.

Something else, pronouns and keigo language. There are so many ways to just say "I." Watashi, watakushi, boku, ware, ore, atashi, jibun etc. etc. etc. Then there are a bunch of verbs that have distinct polite and humble forms. Then you have the pronoun dropping, "nemui" looks like "sleepy" but could mean "I am sleepy" or "you are sleepy" or "the dog is sleepy" all depending on what you're talking about.

Then, once you think you can understand spoken Japanese decently, literature throws you for a loop! It's like starting right back at the beginning.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby astaroth » Wed 05.27.2009 8:34 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:My first guess was to pronounce it like the "mouth" in "Plymouth". Is it really "Falmooth"?

Isn't Plymouth rhyming with booth?
Sairana wrote:I argued with them forever about how we don't service Wuster. Having never even visited the northeast, how was I to know he meant Worchester?

I know that feeling! Once I had to pick up a package at a UPS store somewhere in NYC where I lived for few years, the woman told me the address and she said Houston St, pronouncing Houston as in Houston TX and not as Houston St, NY -- I argue with her than there is no street in NYC called after a town in TX and so she spelled the name out for me. Only once I saw it written it came to me she meant Houston St!
That's one of the reason I used to tell my friends who were visiting me what the right pronunciation of Houston St is so not to sound too touristy. :)
ILuvEire wrote:Then you have the pronoun dropping,

That's something I totally love of Japanese, finally I'm studying a language in which I'm not forced to unnecessarily say the pronoun in every single sentence!
Also adjective conjugation is just the least ... after all Japanese has only one past tense ;)
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 05.27.2009 9:25 am

astaroth wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:My first guess was to pronounce it like the "mouth" in "Plymouth". Is it really "Falmooth"?

Isn't Plymouth rhyming with booth?


No; the second syllable is unstressed so it's a short vowel. Hard to explain...
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby JaySee » Wed 05.27.2009 10:03 am

Plymouth is pronounced /ˈplɪməθ/, if you know IPA.

British place names really are the worst when it comes to their pronunciation. Salisbury, Leicester, Greenwich, Worcester, Gloucester, Plymouth, Reading... and there's tons more.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby astaroth » Wed 05.27.2009 10:59 am

Sorry my bad, Falmouth rhymes with Plymouth.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby CajunCoder » Wed 05.27.2009 1:25 pm

I don't actually find Kanji to be as big of an issue as everyone makes it out to be. In comparison to the number of words you need to know to speak with any degree of "fluency", kanji are a drop in the bucket. You just have to read and write -- use them -- which most students seem afraid to try doing.

The only two things that I find really inconvenient about kanji are: #1. looking them up in a dictionary, which can be time consuming, and #2. recalling how to write them from memory, which is hard if all you ever do is type and don't hand-write much. I routinely forget how to write even the most basic of characters, such as 族 or 探. You'd think after reading them a couple of thousand times you'd know what they look like, but I find myself just blanking. Even if I can recognize them at a glance, almost habitually, when I need to remember how to write them, I can't bring up the image in my memory.

I suppose that just goes to show how the huge difference between "active" and "passive" memory.
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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby furrykef » Wed 05.27.2009 1:28 pm

astaroth wrote:Sorry my bad, Falmouth rhymes with Plymouth.


So then both of my guesses were wrong! :lol: But that just drives the point home: it confounds us natives, too. So you don't need to worry too much about mangling weird words and names now and then, 'cause we sometimes make the same mistakes. :)

BTW, the absolute worst name in terms of pronunciation versus spelling is probably Featherstonehaugh... pronounced "Fanshaw"! That name isn't known to many Americans (it's a British name), so we're guaranteed to mangle it unless we've come across it before for some reason.

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Re: What makes Japanese so difficult?

Postby astaroth » Wed 05.27.2009 1:47 pm

As it is that if there is a question, then there is a wiki page here an interesting wiki article I just found.

furrykef wrote:So you don't need to worry too much about mangling weird words and names now and then, 'cause we sometimes make the same mistakes.

What's most counter intuitive is that to me the main axiom in my native tongue is it is spelled as it is pronounced.
A pair of words that was driving nuts was: infinite/finite ... doing Physics they both come up quite often ...
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