Japanese is Impossible to Learn

Japanese is the hardest language in the world.  The writing system with its millions of characters,  the infinite levels of politeness, and the incomprehensible grammar are all too complex for Westerners to ever come close to understanding.  It is impossible for foreigners to learn Japanese to anywhere near proficiency.  You can try, but you will give up.

This is all true . . . if the year was 1990. Here is how I imagine people used to study Japanese:

Reading:
– Used the one or two published textbooks that were available to Western students.
– Had a Japanese Pen Pal. Maybe got a letter twice a month.

Writing:

– Spent a lot of time practicing writing by hand since there was no other way to produce characters.

Listening:
– Had 1 or 2 listening cassettes that came with textbooks.
– Watched a few classic samurai movies, and other big titles that happened to make it over.
– Maybe could buy a few bootleg VHS tapes if you lived in a big city like New York City.

Speaking:
– You spoke a little in your Japanese class. This is assuming that you go to a very big university, since Japanese is not taught at most schools.
– If you live in a big city, you could hunt out a few Japanese people and try to make friends with them.
– You could move to Japan.  Don’t expect to get there unless you work for a massive corporation that will send you over, are a diplomat, are in the military, or are super lucky and can land a spot in the newly founded JET program.

Yes, if this is the only way to study Japanese, it will be impossible to learn.

Now:

You do not realize how lucky you are to be studying Japanese in 2011.  There has been no better time in the entire history of the Japanese language to be learning it.  You are set up for success.  All the old stereotypes about Japanese are meaningless.  You have instant access to unlimited Japanese materials, tools, and people.

What does this mean to you?

People studying Japanese now will become part of a new generation of foreigners who can speak fluent Japanese.  Something that was really  impossible just 20 years ago.  However, most people don’t realize that all the difficulties of Japanese had absolutely nothing to do with the language itself, but solely to do with the access to the language.  This means that if you master Japanese, most people will still believe that you possess some elite ability.

Don’t miss out on the opportunities that being a fluent Japanese speaker will now present.  You will gain a very competitive advantage that has only recently become attainable.



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Japanese is Impossible to Learn — 8 Comments

  1. Good point, Adshap! As time goes on and more technology and resources become available, it’s definitely becoming easier and easier to study a foreign language (or just about any subject, for that matter). Japanese is a great example, as it’s a difficult language from a country very far away from us Western denizens.

    One minor knit-pick – I think JET was founded a few years before 1990, so you could possibly get a job teaching English back then.

    Good post!

  2. Japanese is still played as one of the most difficult languages to learn by linguists, at least according to the dictionary.reference.com’s articles I’ve seen. It’s really amazing what the general perception of Japanese is, because I think it’s one of the easier languages. Perhaps it was because the language was hard to access that linguists feel this way.

  3. Oh, and probably because linguists look at a foreign writing system like kana and kanji, and a system of grammar and syntax that is completely different than English, and analyze that as difficulty. I feel that the more different a language is, the easier it is to internalize it as separate, rather than directly translated over from English. If you’re really in love with the culture, it’s going to be easier to learn than any other language, because you’ll be more motivated and dedicated. That’s why Japanese is easier than French to me.

    • Well, how difficult a language is for someone to learn is rather subjective… I’m required to take German classes at school, and while I don’t really pay attention to them much, I suppose I’d pick up German faster than Japanese, if I were to really learn it – a lot of the words/syntax are similar to English (even if English isn’t my native language).

      I often find Japanese sentences hard to understand, even if I know all words in them, because the Japanese express their thoughts in a completely different way than we do in English. Still, I don’t think it’s as difficult as people make it out to be – if you really like Japanese and want to learn it, it’s just a hurdle that you’re going to climb on the way – and you’ll probably have a lot of fun doing so.

    • Yeah, even though I’m a native French, I find it hard as hell to learn.
      Japanese grammar feels eaaaaasy to me, and maybe because I’m older(I started self learning Engilsh at 9) I also find Japanese easier to learn than English but this may have nothing to do.

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