I’ve covered before why Japanese isn’t impossible to learn and isn’t the monstrosity of a language that people try to make it out to be. However, I would like to briefly mention what makes it so difficult, and how to overcome this. How many times have you heard Japanese people say the following irritating phrase:
“Japanese is harder to learn for a native English speaker than English is to learn for a native Japanese speaker.”
Now this is usually one of those phrases that annoys Japanese learners everywhere when they hear it. I know it always made my stomach churn. Why is there such a strong desire to mystify Japanese and other Asian languages as impossible for foreigners to learn.
But I am going to flip sides, and say what I never thought I would. I agree with the above statement. I take back my claim of “ignorance” upon those who utter this horrible phrase.
However! The reasoning behind my change of heart is quite different than that which causes Japanese people to chant this. No, it’s not the kanji, levels of politeness, grammar, pronunciation, or genetics (?) that makes Japanese harder than English. Yeah, Japanese has its peculiarities and unique features that can be a handful at times, but trust me, so does English.
I think you may already know the real reason:
The world is obsessed with learning English.
Of course its harder to learn Japanese than English. It’s always a challenge to find Japanese people to speak Japanese with you. You’re in America: you speak Japanese, they answer in English. You’re in Japan: you speak Japanese, they answer in English. Something is wrong, right?
Sometimes it makes me think about this news article I read recently off the Huffington Post titled “Last 2 Speakers Of Dying Language Won’t Speak To Each Other.”
Learning a language when no one speaks it to you no matter where you are can act like a giant roadblock on your journey. Not to mention the frustration that inevitably befalls you when you get into the Japanese-English conversation tango with a Japanese person.
Don’t let this get you down.
Complaining is not productive, and the purpose of this post isn’t too preach to what you already know, but to make you realize this important fact, and figure out how you will overcome it.
First, I want you to remember this. Since learning Japanese is harder than learning English for the above stated reason, consider learning Japanese that much more of an accomplishment. You have worked so much harder than any Japanese person studying English. You mastering Japanese is special. You have a skill that you have to obtain through painstaking trials.
Second, use methods to get around this:
– Prove yourself as quick as possible when you speak.
– Find people to talk to on Mixi who have no interest/ability to speak English.
– If you are in Japan, tell people you are from Russia and don’t speak English.
Finally, keep in mind the one advantage that you do have. Because you have less opportunities to speak in Japanese, you are less likely to build up bad speaking habits. If you focus mostly on reading and listening, your speaking skills will naturally improve. Without forcing output too fast, like must English-studiers do, you are much more likely to eventually end up with better sounding Japanese.
And when nothing works I resort to the following thought process. Your Japanese is awesome but you aren’t showing it off. Real masters don’t show off abilities. You can’t just suddenly pull out your legendary Japanese to any random person. You know that the most badass character of any TV show/video game/anime/manga is always the one that has the incredible powers, but doesn’t reveal them until the appropriate moment.
People have mentioned before in comments that this isn’t always the case. Yes, there are exceptions. Some people don’t mind this issue. Some people sympathize that Japanese are just trying to learn English as well and are really excited to use it. But this doesn’t change the general situation, and to those who face this problem the way I always did, hopefully this post will resonate with you.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.