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millie_bu

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Hi everyone!

Was unsure which thread to post this on so I hope this one is right :)

I'm currently a student in the UK and I'm writing a dissertation style essay on the difficulties that foreigners face when learning Japanese. I've already carried out some in depth research on the characteristics of the Japanese language, however I lack data to support these claims as since I am the only person I know personally who is learning Japanese; so it would be really helpful and I would be so grateful if some of you could share your experiences of what you think are the difficulties of learning Japanese. Or on the other hand why you think Japanese is not a hard language to learn.

Examples could include kanji or grammar, or any cultural differences that make it harder to learn, please share your opinions and experiences!

Thank you for taking the time to reply in advance, it will be really helpful to me and also interesting to read!

Thanks,
Millie
 

Mike Cash

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When is this due?
 

Transformer5

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Some of the main difficulties for me in learning Japanese are:

1. Getting used to the different usage of vocab and grammar/syntax in Japanese. English and French sentence structure, for example, are quite similar, and if you translate sentences word for word between those languages, it's going to make pretty good sense. Japanese is quite different. It takes some time to get your head around that.

2. Remembering kanji well enough to be able to write fluently, without a dictionary.
 

lanthas

 
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I've been learning Japanese by myself for close to five years now. These were my impressions when I started out.
  • The grammar was (of course) completely different from the four European languages I knew so far, but that didn't necessarily mean it was hard to learn. To the contrary - I found it to be surprisingly simple and regular. English, with its endless exceptions, looks like an utter mess by comparison.

    A few grammar points needed some thinking and asking around before I understood them, but in general, I didn't really face any difficulties or frustrations. In fact, it was interesting and refreshing to learn a system so different from the ones I was used to.
  • Vocabulary was (of course) also completely different from everything I knew so far. Still, by assigning mnemonics to syllables and paying special attention to similar-sounding words (odosu, otosu, orosu, okosu...), I managed to make them stick with relatively little repetition.
  • Kanji were the one thing that almost made me give up a few times. It's quite discouraging to be faced with a list of 1700 clusters of lines that look nothing like what they represent (球? Why not just ○?) - and knowing that this is only the beginning. This is the point where Japanese looks like an utter mess compared other languages... The component breakdown and mnemonic that were provided for each character helped a lot, but it still took me a year before I had that initial list memorized.

    That said, I don't doubt that the difficulty of learning kanji is related to your view on them. While it has lessened by now, I used to see them as nothing more than an annoying necessary evil for understanding the written language - and this made learning them needlessly frustrating. I know a few people who actually like kanji and am pretty sure they had an easier time. (I can only guess they managed to retain that feeling of magic and exoticness that you get from looking at foreign writing that you have no clue about. For me, it vanished the moment I started studying...)
  • Listening was quite the experience. It wasn't so much difficult as it caused a special kind of mental exhaustion I'd never quite felt before. Eventually it would stop occurring, but would then come back as soon as I switched to more difficult materials. It was like I could feel the language center in my brain expanding. :emoji_smile:
  • I can't say much about writing or speaking since my experience there doesn't go much further than writing the occasional chat message and reserving a karaoke room, respectively.
All in all, I can say it was worth it. Five years after deciding to learn Japanese to watch anime without subtitles, I've finally managed to do so for a whole series :emoji_smile:. (And read a few Japanese novels, and took the JLPT, and got into fan translation!)
 

Lothor

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Off the top of my head.

Easy - grammar (logical and regular with few tenses), pronunciation (as a native English speaker).
Enjoyable - getting to grips with a completely different reading and writing system. I also think the language sounds nice and it pleasant to speak.
Difficult - listening due to the subject often missing out, honorific language.
 

millie_bu

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  • Listening was quite the experience. It wasn't so much difficult as it caused a special kind of mental exhaustion I'd never quite felt before. Eventually it would stop occurring, but would then come back as soon as I switched to more difficult materials. It was like I could feel the language center in my brain expanding. :emoji_smile:
I can relate to this a lot actually, I find I have to really concentrate when I listen to my tutor in Japanese. I find it much harder than reading or writing!
 

Majestic

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One of the biggest difficulties is the concept of humility and deference that is hard-wired into the language; honorifics, nouns, verbs will change depending upon who you are talking to, and who you are talking about. So to speak properly you not only need to learn a new vocabulary and syntax, you need to learn a whole new concept of self. You need to have a constant awareness of hierarchy, and be aware of the liability for incorrectly acknowledging the hierarchy. For me this is ten times more difficult than memorizing kanji, which I always found kind of fun.

On a simpler note: I still struggle with catching the difference between short vowel sounds and long vowel sounds. For example, I still couldn't tell you off the top of my head if the word for Prime Minister is shusho or shushō.
 

Glenski

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I'm writing a dissertation style essay on the difficulties that foreigners face when learning Japanese.
I'm guessing that you don't differentiate among reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If you are really doing a dissertation style essay, that means a lot of pages and reference articles, but it also means that whatever data you get from people must be identified demographically. Age, gender, nationality, number of other languages they know, native tongue, how often / long they studied (and how), etc.

it would be really helpful and I would be so grateful if some of you could share your experiences of what you think are the difficulties of learning Japanese.
You couldn't be more specific, could you? Are you talking about work situations, casual situations? How one learns (formal schooling vs. self-study) will matter, as will whether that is done inside or outside Japan. The situation also matters. For example, is the point to make a business or research presentation, or just to get one's point across to buy a cell phone or order pizza? "Difficulties" is such a catch-all description as to be almost useless, IMO.

It might help to know what you have already claimed, and then some of us can confirm or deny that.
 

millie_bu

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You couldn't be more specific, could you? Are you talking about work situations, casual situations? How one learns (formal schooling vs. self-study) will matter, as will whether that is done inside or outside Japan. The situation also matters. For example, is the point to make a business or research presentation, or just to get one's point across to buy a cell phone or order pizza? "Difficulties" is such a catch-all description as to be almost useless, IMO.

It might help to know what you have already claimed, and then some of us can confirm or deny that.
For example I have looked at learning the three separate writing systems most particularly the complexity of kanji, as most kanji can have several readings such as kun yomi readings and on yomi readings. In terms of pronunciation I've concluded that its fairly simple apart from things like long or short vowel sounds etc. Also how the Japanese abbreviations of foreign words like pa-so-kon which actually means personal computer can actually confuse learners.
Using different terms or address using honorifics and suffixes and often knowing the right time and place to use them and acknowledging when someone is more superior to oneself.
The levels of politeness used and how there are many ways to say the same thing more politely and respectively and also how to say things more casually.
I've also looked at how Japanese can be more indirect when conversing and how it contrasts to the western style of conversation (more specifically American or English) which is far more direct and doesn't leave people to read between the lines.
I'm also going to compare the differences between western and Japanese societies and culture and how that impacts on learning the language as I believe that language in not culture free and therefore in order to learn a language effectively you have be mindful of cultural differences and practices.

I understand that the word "difficulties" is a broad term but I don't know how else to describe it? What else could I use? Would you call the things I've listed as "difficulties" or something else entirely?
 

Glenski

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There are grammatical barriers and social/contextual barriers. You might want to distinguish these.

You want to compare to western culture. Quaint though it may be, it is not the only comparison. A lot of business with Japanese companies takes place with SE Asian countries, for example.

Of the 3 written languages, it's a no-brainer to figure that kanji would be the most difficult. Tens of thousand of characters vs. a few dozen, for example. Stroke order, number of strokes, no real system to kanji pronunciation or placement (first kanji or second kanji in a pair?), that sort of thing.

Don't forget that honorifics are in written and spoken form, so you can deal with an office memo or a phone call or live person at a store and get confused. It's not just when to use it, but how to catch the different keigo words compared to the masu and desu forms. There are also words for common ideas (last year, everyone) that can be confusing because they are different in a more formal setting: sakunen vs. kyonen, minna vs. zennin.

With regard to pronunciation, I've also found it difficult to get certain combinations out, such as ryo, ryu, so it's not just long vs. short vowels.
 
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