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Languages and Cultures
English to Japanese
Japanese Language and Culture
Learning a New Language

Is Japanese easy to learn?

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January 31, 2011 3:44AM

This is a very difficult question, because every person has their own individual learning styles and capability of retaining information; but, I would say, as a Westerner (I'm assuming you are because you asked the question in English), Japanese will be a challenge, but not am impossible task, by any means! You just have to be dedicated.

What is so hard about Japanese is that it is not phonetic. You don't sound out the words with letters like you do in many other languages. Not only that, but there are two alphabets that you have to learn (and rarely use), which puts a lot of people off at first!

First is Hiragana, the traditional Japanese alphabet. But the symbols, which you must learn how to draw, are not 'letters', they are sounds. They take the vowels and put them in front of the letters k, t, d, n, h, p, b, g, r, and w; each is a different picture you must memorize.

Then is Katakana. What is frustrating about this is that they are the exact same sounds, but they have different pictures to memorize. Katakana, or 'kana', is used for foreign words, so it's not used often. But it gets confusing when you've already made an association with a picture and a sound, and now you have to connect two pictures to a sound. It takes time to learn this.

However, once you get these two alphabets down it gets somewhat easier. The good thing is that you can start to learn vocabulary and grammar. The bad thing is that you really don't use the alphabet for much in real-world Japanese, and certainly not for nouns. There is an entirely different vocabulary, Kanji, to write nouns, adjectives, and verbs. And - you guessed it - the Kanji also has thousands of different pictures and sounds that you have to memorize, and none of them are remotely related to the alphabets you just learned! However, to make it easier on yourself so you won't quit on the language, I would suggest not dealing with Kanji until you absolutely have to. Buy an elementary Japanese textbook online or at a bookstore where it teaches you the vocabulary and grammar in Hiragana and Katakana first - that way, you'll at least have the sounds and the objects associated together. Once you complete this, Kanji won't be so daunting. It's really all just repetition.

So, no, Japanese isn't easy to learn, but if you take it step-by-step, it is manageable.