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