The Japanese language is spoken by the approximately 120 million inhabitants of Japan, and by the Japanese living in Hawaii and on the North and South American mainlands. It is also spoken as a second language by the Chinese and the Korean people who lived under Japanese occupation earlier this century. Japanese has an open-syllable sound pattern so that most syllables end in a vowel — the syllable may be composed solely of the vowel. Unlike English, which has a stress accent, Japanese has a pitch accent, which means that after an accented syllable, the pitch falls.
Japanese can be a tough language to get into. Not because it’s a hard language to learn, necessarily, but because there are a bunch of mental barriers and misconceptions. Japanese has a reputation for being hard to learn. You have to learn all these brand new characters, grammatical structures, and – there’s kanji. Nothing scares off a potential Japanese student like kanji. People tend to build up Japanese as an impossible language to learn but, in my experience, Japanese is straight-forward and easy to learn. In this blog, we’ll talk about if learning Japanese is easy or difficult. So without any further delay, let’s dive deep into the discussion:
What will help you learning Japanese
- Sounds – Japanese phonology (the sounds that make up the language) is really simple. There are only five basic vowel sounds (most of which are common in other languages), and the consonants are pretty basic as well. Compare that to English phonology. English phonology, especially vowels, is much more complex than Japanese. In Japanese, the pitch of your voice does matter a bit, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as in tonal languages.
- Kanji – Even kanji is actually pretty easy. Technology has not only made it a lot easier to learn kanji but a lot easier to read and write kanji too. You no longer have to memorize the stroke order of each kanji; now, you can just type it in! And if you don’t know a kanji, it’s incredibly easy to look it up on a phone or electronic dictionary. Much nicer than lugging around a thick kanji dictionary.
- Grammar – Anybody who has tried to learn a Romance language knows that subjunctive tense will make you want to rip your hair out. What is subjunctive tense? Basically, it’s expressing a future desire. In Japanese, it’s really, really easy to do. But in other languages, well…let’s just say that I’m a native English speaker and, to be honest, I don’t have a clue how subjunctive tense works in English. In Japanese, you don’t have to deal with any of this. At all. The chair isn’t male and the library isn’t female. You will never have to guess the gender of an inanimate object.
- Learn to Read Hiragana – Learning Japanese for beginners may seem like a huge step—and it is, but it’s a wonderful step to take! One of the fundamental topics to cover when you start to learn Japanese is learning to read hiragana. Hiragana is one of the elements of the Japanese writing system so it’s a pretty important skill to learn. The good news is that this isn’t a difficult skill to learn. There are some excellent resources available for beginning learners.
Japanese can definitely be a struggle for new learners. Different people learn differently, there are no two ways about it. But learning Japanese might not be as insurmountable a task as you think. Give it a shot – you may even find that Japanese is a breeze for you.