Why Japanese Language is Difficult for Foreigners – Top 7 Reasons
There are reportedly 3 million Japanese language learners all over the world. It has been said that Japanese language – a vague language which contains Hiragana, Kanji and Katakana, 3 types of letters – is difficult to learn, however, what is so difficult about it?
In this article, we are going to see the “Top 7 Reasons” given by foreigners (excluding Chinese, Korean and other Asian countries) why Japanese is hard to learn. Especially westerners (English countries, Europe) tend to have these difficulties in common while learning Japanese.
Why Japanese Language is Difficult for Foreigners Top 7 Reasons
1. Kanji (Chinese Character) is hard to remember
The Kanji which Japanese use as a matter of course is a big trouble for foreigners. For countries using Chinese character, we have interacted with them since childhood and became able to recognize the shapes and structure of the Kanji even though sometimes we don’t know how to write it, we still can read it.
However, it’s a pain in the ass for foreigners who never saw Kanji in their whole life. Even the foreigners who have lived in Japan for more than 10 years, many of them still can’t take train without problems, or can’t read the sign on the street. Especially for alphabet-using countries people, Kanji is just like a piece of drawing. It’s very difficult for them to remember all the strokes and the meaning of the “drawing”.
2. There are many phrases that cannot be translated literally
There are many phrases in Japanese that are not able to be translated into English or Latin. For instance, “よろしくお願いします”, “恐れ入ります”, “お邪魔します”, “お疲れさまです”, if you translate these phrases literally into English, you will get a very strange meaning.
These phrases reflect the culture and custom of Japan. It’s very hard to figure out the real usage of the phrases if you haven’t spent times living in a local community in Japan, no matter how hard you try to work it out from your text book. In other words, you need to live with Japanese people to learn the usage of the phrases.
3. Keigo (Honorific) is complicated
One of the most annoying part of Japanese that foreigners would say is the “Keigo”. Of course there are “formal sentence” and “polite form” in English and Latin as well, the concept is different from Japanese Keigo. Even Japanese people, it’s still difficult for them to use “Sonkei-go” (尊敬語）, “Kenjyo-go” （謙譲語), “Teinei-go” (丁寧語) properly.
It’s easy to understand if someone says “行きます”, but if the expression is changed to “お伺いいたします”, in many cases, foreigners would get lost. It feels like a totally different term.
4. The nuance of the end of a sentence is hard to get
Compared to English which requires subject, verb, and object, Japanese is a very vague language. Because of that, the “nuance” of a word is very important for Japanese language learners. Especially at the end of a sentence, it shows the character, personality, emotions and etc of the person speaking.
For instance, when a Japanese tells you “わかってる”, there are different variation of expressions such as “わかってるよ”, “わかってるけど”, “わかってるもん” and etc. It takes time to learn how to catch the right nuance of each phrases. This kind of variation at the end of a sentence is a special trait of Japanese, we can say that it is a difficulty which is not taught in text book.
5. Japlish (an English term coined in Japan) is hard
There are many English terms coined in Japan which derive from foreign language, but have a different meaning from the original. It’s said to be a difficulty for Japanese language learner. The reason is that it confuses with the original term’s meaning.
If we haven’t learned English before, the Japlish term would not be a problem but for people who speak English, it’s likely to get confused. A very good example – the Japanese term “神風” and “Kamikaze” in English have different meanings.
6. The ways of counting changes all the time
The counting system of Japanese language is very complicated. For instance, Zarusoba is 1枚, Tarako is 1 hara, Cabbage is 1 tama, etc. Japanese language has different ways of counting things. Japanese people have learned it since childhood, of course for foreigners, we need to remember everything from the scratch.
Although Japanese language has no different uses of “article” and “male or female nouns”, it’s still a large amount of work to remember all the counting system.
7. Particle is difficult
Foreigners always complaint that it’s difficult to learn how to link the vocabularies with particles in a sentence. “Should I put が or は here”, “how to use に and で properly?”, etc. Even Japanese people, sometimes they don’t know how to explain why they are using certain particle in a sentence.
For instance, we should say “私が思うに~です”, but not “私は思うに~です”. But why? Many Japanese can’t explain. It would be more efficient to learn those particles from a conversation with Japanese people.