tell me about learning Japanese

is it hard?

Well, yes. It is considered very difficult for English speakers.

An NSA report concluded that Japanese is the only commonly taught language which differs from English in all features that they analyzed (phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon, stylistics, and writing system). They conclude it is the most difficult language for a native English speaker to learn.

Then again, who cares how hard it is? If you want to, do it. I studied Russian in college (which is considered up there in difficulty) and it was a great experience. The students had that sense of togetherness that generally arises from sharing a common disaster. :slight_smile:

I’d think it would depend on how motivated you are. When I was stationed in Okinawa, I liked to go off base. I also liked to eat. I didn’t really need to learn to speak Japanese, most of the shopkeepers knew some english and pointing and waving money was enough for many of my friends. I wanted more. I was a guest in their land and thought it was my responsibility to learn their language.

By the end of my 13 month tour, I was able to have conversations with the locals. There were many funny moments, but the locals liked that I was trying and would help me out and laugh with me. I think that my experience was much richer because I crossed the language barrier.

Total immersion is the way to go when learning a new language, IMHO. Currently, I live in Arizona. I don’t speak spanish. I could learn, I’m exposed to enough of it, but I’m not motivated.

I’d say that Russian and all those other languages with gender inflections are more difficult than Japanese. But what do I know? I was just the barest beginner at Japanese lessons, and only took 8 weeks of lessons. Mind you, those lessons were at a school that teaches by total immersion, and at the end of them, we were taking notes in Japanese and had a good idea of basic sentence structure.

Here’s the thread in which I describe my experiences taking the lessons.

I don’t really know what I want to do. I like learning languages and want to learn more,but then it always seems like such a daunting task. I can read Latin and ancient Greek but that’s different to learning a modern spoken language, but it helps to know some grammatical stuff and things about language in general. Also I know some German and I like that because I can speak it. But I want to be able to learn another language. Now I’ve got one more year left in college and I’ve already done a lot of my requirements so I have space to learn another language and I’ve been debating what to do. Thinking about ancient Hebrew which would be easier since you don’t have to learn to speak it. Also I think Russian would be cool, although hard. Or maybe Persian I think that would be cool to learn. But Japanese is not indo-european and would be too hard and I hear bad stories about how many thousands of characters there are; that is too hard I don’t understand how anyone could do that.

There are 5 year old kids in Japan who speak it; how hard can it be?

Seriously, why not challenge yourself?

I made the mistake of trying to learn kanji before the actual language. Learn to speak it to some degree and learning kanji will become much easier, because then you can plug them into sentences and learn by context.

If you’d like to take the Japanese language out for a test drive, Radio Japan has lessons (both broadcast and on-line):

TV is better than radio IMO. Most TV shows are the same, so when you see a dog running off to save someone, you get the “did Timmy fall down a well” context.

I’m currently learning Latin. For me, there is a BIG disconnect from written and spoken words.

Back to Japanese, its really not that hard if you just want to speak it. Learning Kanji is a totally different thing. I can write my name. While I was in Okinawa, I could recognize street names and knew what the stores were selling. I never got the connection from Kanji to what I was saying.

I’m having the some of the same problems with Latin. I understand the word when I read it. I understand the word when I hear or speak it. I just don’t make the connection with the written word and spoken word.

I don’t know what to tell you. Japanese is a hard language to become proficient in. You either want to or you don’t. So… if you think it’s “too” hard then don’t. The world won’t crash to a halt if you study something else instead. Don’t forget that language courses, if you get anything out of them at all, are rather time intensive for the credit hours.

I think with your latin background, you would not find Russian as difficult as most – it uses cases and declentions which English speakers find befuddling but you would be more familiar with the concepts.

However, there is no language in which you will approach fluency in one year of college-level non-immersive study. So if you are realistic what you can actually learn in the time you have, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just for kicks. I would just choose whatever fits more conveniently into your schedule.

Why Japanese?

I guess I have the same question as Autolycus. Do you have a reason for wanting to learn Japanese? Do you anticipate using it in some way? Or is it simply a diversion of some sort?

It’s not that Japanese is really all that difficult to learn, but it is significantly different than English.

As far as the character sets are concerned, there are three main sylibaries; hirigana, katakana, and kanji. Some consider hirigana and katakana alphabets of a kind, although they’re really not. Also, although hirigana and katakana are considered the cursive and non-cursive forms of the same silibary, (a) they’re used for different purposes, and (b) while Hirigana has 46 main characters that are in normal usage, katakana has 45 as the ヲ (wo) character, which is the 46th, is never used. There are also an additional 48 characters in both the hirigana and katakana sylibaries that are created by adding diacritics and by combining a sub set of main charactera with ya (や or ヤ), yu (ゆ or ユ), or yo (よ or ヨ). To make things even a little more complex, you can also somewhat loosely think of Romaji as a fourth silibary, but it is mainly used for translation and typing. There are many thousand kanji, but the average Japanese person only ever uses around 2000 of them.

One thing to consider when attempting to learn Japanese is that to truly grasp the language it is important to learn to read, write, and speak it all at the same time. With languages like French or Spanish, the inability to read or write it doesn’t impede one’s ability to learn and use it. This is not the case with modern Japanese.

What do you want to know?

yeah I know I won’t become fluent in just a year. Whatever I do, I wanna keep it up on my own after college, but I think it’ll be easier on my own if I learn the basics in a class. Because starting to learn it seems like such a daunting task, but I think I can do it on my own once I have a foundation.

I don’t even wanna learn Japanese I was just watching anime theme songs on youtube yesterday and got the impulse that I would wanna learn it. But I don’t really know what I would do with it, nor do I really have any interest in it.
I would be much more interested in learning Russian.

It is more difficult than other languages I’ve studied, and can be frustrating. If you don’t wanna learn it, don’t know what you would do with it, and have no interest in it, it would be a colossal waste of time and I can’t imagine why you would do it even if it were easy.

I know
I have changed my mind since yesterday

I think that’s a smart decision. Like learning any language, if you put in the time, you’ll reap the rewards, however, learning Japanese takes a level of dedicated concentration many are not willing to commit to. Also, it’s very easy to become discouraged, especially if you have no passion for it, or reason to learn it.

My advice to first-second-language learners is to learn Spanish or (if you insist) French.

It takes a very special kind of person to learn a language “just because it’s neat,” and if you aren’t already a polyglot it’s likely that you are not that kind of person- which is fine, most aren’t. The rest of us can learn language, but our ability to really succeed is going to depend directly on how we are able to use that language as a tool. 90% of the second language learners I know manage to learn exactly as much as they need to get by in whatever context they are in, or to achieve whatever secondary result (survive a year in France, communicate with the in-laws, etc.) they need the language for. I know very few people who were able to take a class or pick up a book and, without any other need for it, retain more than an extremely basic knowledge.

The only language you are really going to be able to get that level of practicality out of in the United States is Spanish. Furthermore, there are tons of resources out there for Spanish learners- meetup groups, conversation groups, etc. Finally, travel to Latin America is fairly accessible. It’s the language you are most likely to actually be able to use.

If you want to learn another language later- your brain has plenty of space, and each language gets easier and easier to learn. Start easy, and work your way up.

Anyway, in my experience, character based languages are extremely difficult because even with dedicated study, there is going to be a long period of time where you just can’t read enough words to decode any meaningful text, meaning you end up just having to learn words without any of the reward. Your knowledge doesn’t build up slowly on itself- it stays basically at “0” until suddenly- months into things- start being able to read sentences and not just recognize individual characters.

I think I’m learning Japanese, I think I’m learning Japanese, I really think so.


Yappari. In that case, spend a few hours studying Japanese phonology and you are all set. You can learn how to say Japanese words very fastly…err…quickly.

For real, or have you been watching The Hunt for Red October on laserdisc?

no I don’t know what it is; I’ve just always had an interest in Russia and its history. I haven’t seen The Hunt For Red October, but I do like some Cold War movies and find the period interesting. Also I have been reading about Lee Harvey Oswald and wanted to learn Russian too. And watching some Russian songs on youtube and it sounds pretty. But I have an interest in foreign languages in general, and want to learn more, and Russian seems cool. But really daunting with a new alphabet and I heard it has weird sounds. I want to take a class to learn the beginnings before trying to go on on my own.