You’d think there would be some agreed hardest part of Japanese. Knowing this could help prepare you mentally for when you enter your toughest battle. If it’s difficult, it should be difficult for everyone equally. But when you take a deeper look at all the “difficult” things about Japanese, opinions are all over the place.
Take the typical breakdown of Japanese studying: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. How would you rank these? You might think ranking them based on frequency of use would be a good start, making easiest to hardest:
- Writing (Typing)
However you’ll find plenty of people who will arrange these in another way. And these are just the broad categories. You could easily then go into subcategories and have just as much trouble deciding which is the hardest within. For example, what would be the most difficult in each category?
- Reading: Manga? Literature? News?
- Listening: Anime? Variety shows? YouTube? News?
- Writing: Coming up with what to write? Grammar? Word Order?
- Speaking: Polite? Casual? Dialect?
The hardest part of learning Japanese
This is incredibly subjective, but I think it comes down to two words: The Unknown
You don’t know what is going to be hard for you and what will be easy. You don’t know if it will take you 3 years or 10 years to become fluent. You don’t know if you will ever actually become fluent at all. You don’t know if you are doing the right thing. You don’t know if you should be doing something else. You don’t know why your progress doesn’t look as good as someone else’s progress.
You don’t know and that makes you feel uneasy.
Enjoy the hardest parts – Enjoy the unexpected, jaw-dropping boss battles
Have you ever played a game where you faced a boss that just seemed so overwhelming, so ridiculously powerful, that you couldn’t help but gaze in wonder and say wow… this is nuts.
The final boss battle of Final Fantasy VII was one of those moments for me. Most battles in the game involved flashy physical and magic attacks. Then you get to the final boss, and he has an attack that summons a super nova that enters the solar system, destroys all the planets, and then reaches your feet.
I bring up this ridiculous scene because while it’s bad to visualize Japanese as some kind of insurmountable obstacle, it can be good to be left in awe by the vast power of the various hard bosses found in learning Japanese.
For example, a lot of people view kanji as some kind of impossible enemy that they dread approaching. But what if kanji was just a giant mountain sized octopus with 2,300 tentacles that you had to cut off one at a time before you could defeat the main body. How you frame the difficult parts of Japanese in your mind is how you set yourself up to overcome them.
A good boss battle makes a game worth playing – a game worth defeating. Do you not play a game because the bosses are too intimidating?
What do you find the hardest?
What part of Japanese do you find the hardest (and is your big boss battle)? In the comments leave the category (ex. reading) and subcategory (ex. the news).
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.