For many foreigners that are interested in Japan, the one thing that holds back their love and passion for Japan is the language.
How hard is Japanese?
From many different websites, Japanese is ranked as one of the hardest languages in the world. My friend from Indonesia believed that it was super hard for her to be passionate about Japan because the language is super hard and complex to understand.
Even for some Japanese people, they believed that some parts of their language are super confusing to understand. However, in my perspective, even though my Japanese is not the best but not the worst, it does beg the question: Is Japanese really that hard to learn?
So I am going to show you my entire perspective of the Japanese language, and what's the actual hardest thing to learn about the language.
My first steps with Japanese language
My very first steps with Japanese language was during my junior year in high school. There was a library book (or a random book) that I found that had Japanese on the left side and the English on the right side. So, I took a piece of paper and write the Japanese side.
At first..... It was a complete mess. I was constantly writing the strokes wrong, and because my eraser sucks and I constantly erased the same exact spot, the paper was messed up and I couldn't see anything. So, the first time writing Japanese was a complete disaster.
However, at that time, I didn't have the proper guidance to actually learn Japanese. I just wing it and see how it goes. And it went extremely bad... A lot worse than I expected it to be. It's one of those situations where you have a really high expectation on your first try, and then it went completely horrifying when you actually did it the first time.
But I learned that people learned how to start when they have an extremely bad first time.
Challenges of Learning Japanese Language
There are tons of people that had learned the language before in the past, but out of those people, only less than 5-10% of them would learn it to almost fluency. The rest are either still learning or just gave up because it was super hard and complex to understand. In my opinion, the biggest of the challenges of learning Japanese for the average learner is kanji characters.
In the Japanese language, there are literally over 50,000 different characters (according to the Dai-Kan-Wa Jiten "The Great Chinese-Japanese dictionary"), but in Japanese schools, the students are mostly taught over 2,000 since they're mostly used in Japan.
So, for Westerners, while most of them would go from one part of the language tree to another, 2000 characters are extremely difficult. With different wordings, strokes to master, pronunciation, and to put them in a sentence, kanji characters are a nightmare for the average Westerner learner.
The only way for Western learners to have a better chance is to improve their memory. The reason to improve on their memory so that you can combine your learning of Kanji characters with grammar at ease rather than going back to your books to remember what the meaning of the kanji.
Now the best (and cliche) way of improving your memory to Kanji characters is to constantly do it on a daily basis. What I mean by doing it on a daily basis, I mean try to speak to yourself in Japanese. Even whispering curse words in Japanese is a good start. The more you do it, the more you remember the words, and the "easier" Japanese language can be.
My Concern to the Japanese Language
Knowing about my abilities as a learner for a new language, I can be honest to myself. My biggest concern(s) for the Japanese language are two things:
I had a couple of Japanese friends that are always honest to me, and they believed that my grammar sucks so bad... And they're right. When I look back into my studies, I remembered that I would mostly focus on everything else except for grammar.
And the results were that I can know many kanji characters but I can't put them together in a sentence to save my life. Grammar is one of those underrated tasks to master in order to make the learning process of another language go more smoothly.
You can not know many kanji characters, but if your grammar skills are exceptional, then learning more kanji would be an easier task. Another thing I learned about my Japanese is that my speaking is kinda... shy and embarrassing...
Once I had tried to speak in Japanese, all of that training and lessons I learned went out of the window. Plus, I get super shy when I tried to talk in Japanese to non-Japanese people. It's like I make my Japanese teachings exclusively to Japanese people.
So to answer the question. Is Japanese really hard to understand? Yes and no.
While yeah, the Japanese language is really hard to understand but it's not impossible to master. Everyone that is passionate enough and dedicated enough to learn Japanese will have a chance to continue to fluency, even though they will make a ton of mistakes during their journey to the language.
In the Japanese language (or languages in general), it's not about the destination of fluency or trying to get to fluency the fastest. It's the journey to fluency and beyond that point. It's the adventure of learning a different language that's outside of your mother tongue.
And the misadventures, the trials, and the tribulations that any learner had to overcome in order to not just fulfill their goals, but to make their journey for more a lot more memorable!
If you are looking to learn Japanese for travel to Japan, make sure to read my article about 5 Misconceptions About Traveling To Japan.