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How difficult or easy is Japanese to learn, compared to other languages?

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Like with any other language, in order to be able to use it fluently you need to be able to use both the spoken and the written language. I find the spoken language relatively easy, but the written part is not so. If you don't read, however, you can't really master the language.

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I never found Japanese difficult to speak and hear, but I did study it for four years at university. What I have never been able to get good at is writing kanji. I also think having three writing systems makes Japanese appear more daunting than it is.

Listening to young people speak nowadays, especially the amount of foreign loan words that intersperse their conversation, I think students of the language will find it much easier than my generation did. If you forget a word, just use the English word and give it a Japanese pronunciation, and the chances are you will be understood. There are not many other languages in which you could get away with that.

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About the same, I'd say. Zybster makes a good point. Luckily, in every day speech Japanese people use a remarkably small vocabulary so it's pretty easy to get by, but very difficult to become fluent.

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the grammar is tough,and the different readings of kanji are also.I can read and write a lot of kanji using a PC or keitai,but writing by hand is out of the question these days.

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I'm a native English speaker, and found the spoken language relatively easy to master on the daily conversation level (standard level of politeness), but a little more difficult on the business level (more complex politeness rules). Pronunciation, verb conjugations, grammar, etc. I don't think are much more difficult than English, or Spanish, the other language I've studied.

But as Zybster notes, the written language deserves every bit of its reputation for being arbitrary and difficult. At some point it all starts to make sense, but I think a lot of casual students of the language never really get to that point, and end up frustrated. I've dealt with the written language on a daily basis for years, and I still haven't gotten to where I can appreciate it on anything much beyond a purely informational level (I can read and maybe enjoy a novel, but I probably wouldn't be able to tell a well-written one from something more mediocre).

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I learned English and Spanish as a child (French is my first language) and in my teens studied Italian and Portuguese and found it rather easy. Alphabet, common words (be careful of 'false friends' though), and similar culture made it easy to understand each language. Generally, I guess you could say that there is a similarity in the way of thinking that makes learning latin languages rather easy.

As for Japanese, I started studying in my mid-20s and was frustrated at first. I think part of the problem was that you need to approach learning Japanese in a different way from a latin language. Another problem I found, when I first came to Japan to seriously study, was that many people in big cities made an effort to speak to me in English which allowed me to be lazy. I never had that experience living in Europe. I guess the first step is always the most difficult. Once beyond that I found it somewhat easy to speak... writing however...

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Gotta write them kanjis. Heisig is the only way.

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I'd be interested in hearing from speakers of other East Asian languages. I have spent more time on Japanese than other languages. I am a native English speaker and found Mandarin much easier for grammar. Obviously there are more characters. Pronunciation wasn't bad either once I got used to it. Hangul is cake but the rest of Korean I didn't find that different from learning Japanese. I still don't speak Korean well enough to compare, except that learning the Korean pronunciation of kanji compounds common to the three languages makes vocabulary acquisition much quicker. Any Thai/Viet/Tagalog speakers? How was that?

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I'm Filipino, and English is my second language. It's easier to learn basic Japanese grammar if you put it side by side with Tagalog because the patterns are similar. Word-for-word substitution is possible in most cases. Word equivalents in the vocabulary also exists, unlike in English. But as the other posters stated, the writing system is another story.

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I find Japanese an easy language to learn, far easier than English.

The pronunciation is simple, the grammar is regular and the existance of Kanji (which computers will write and even read for you these days) allows even the vocabulary to be more systematic and regual, so about a thousand characters will allow the learner to read newspapers. Readin Japanese is so much easier than reading English is is unreal.

However, the formal language is difficult, even for Japanese. But in cross cultural communication situations desu-masu is usually sufficient.

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I don't think it is all that difficult, it mostly depends on your motivation and need to study. Many people I know say kanji is hard, but I really don't think so. All it is just making the time the study and then finding opportunities to use what you've learned.

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Of course, kanji themselves are mainly a matter of rote memorization. What throws a wrench into the wheel is the combination of three writing forms, approximately 3,000 kanji, and multiple ways to read each character depending on context. That makes it difficult to tell someone who is very popular (大人気=だいにんき)from someone who acts quite grown-up (大人気=おとなげ)!!

And who would ever guess the family name 「一」would be pronounced 「にのまえ」(ni no mae, or "the number before two").

But then, I suppose it's no different from trying to tell a knight from a night.

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All languages are equally difficult, but they have different hard parts and easy parts. The hard parts of Japanese are kanji and keigo. The easy part is the pronunciation. That means Japanese is relatively easy of Chinese speakers and relatively difficult for English speakers. Japanese is also easy for speakers of Persian and should be easy for speakers of Kanuri also, since Kanuri, Persian and Japanese are all SOV particle inflected languages.

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If you don't read, however, you can't really master the language.

Interestingly enough, there have been quite a few highly professional functioning illerates in the past in the states...

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People say Japanese is more difficult than English because of the keigo, but I don't think that's so. Maybe it's a bother to have to learn the different levels of deference/self-depreciation, but at least there are rules that can be written down and learned. English has keigo too - different ways of speaking to people depending on their status and the situation - but it's much more arbitrary and difficult to pin down.

Same with the writing systems - yes, having to learn three systems plus thousands of kanji is time-consuming, but English spelling with only 26 letters is a nightmare for the language learner. (Like the student who went and shot himself after seeing a theatrical newspaper heading that read 'Oklahoma pronounced success'....) The thing is, we're happy with what we know and what we're used to, and anything that differs from that is strange and difficult. Japanese is essentially no more difficult than English, but, like English, it needs some effort.

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I am now having the opportunity to see may baby daughter learning both Japanese and English. She is only 20 months old but she has already grasped the idea of both languages, using verbs, nouns correctly and so on. One thing that I have noticed is how easily the Japanese language is spoken in respect to babies. The phonetics of spoken Japanese are very basic and seem to roll off the tongue much more naturally when compared to English. Especially the verb conjugations. ...ta, ...ka, ...ru These sounds seem very natural for a baby to pronounce and therefore easier to learn. As one poster said, "speaking Japanese is not that difficult." Especially for babies. But writing on the other hand...

S

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The written language is a problem, no doubt. Consider the following situation: ask an average ability Japanese learner who has been studying English for one year to read from a college-level English text and he/she can do it, no problem--phonetically they may make a few mistakes in pronunciation, but at least they can do it. Now ask an American who has been studying Japanese for one year to do the same for a junior high school-level Japanese text: most likely they will be stopped within two sentences because of the difficult kanji. It's an intimidating obstacle.

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My father speaks Japanese and Mandarin and he says that... Mandarin is more difficult in the beginning, while Japanese is more difficult in the advance levels. Bong! ...enlightenment.

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It took me about 6 months to be almost fluent in Japanese using the "Japanese in 10 minutes a day" series of books.

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Japanese is all easy instead of kanji. I found keigo easy too. Kanji is simply hard because it's rote learning, and I've never been good at that. Plus, it feels like an unnecessary part of the language.

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Of course I meant "except for". I should hit myself right about now.

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Depends on your mother language.

To add to Cleo's notes, in a culture where sarcasm is common, excessive keigo can be downright dangerous. Doesn't mean English doesn't have keigo.

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For my bain used to "never memorise nothing" all the time "understand everything"... it is difficult. Practical, you have to master kanji (2000+... ) to can read. As a child I started to read books in the 2-nd grade after I learned alphabet, I was able to read books in 2 different languages. When I finished 5-th grade I started to read in the 3-rd language (accompanied by a dictionary). In my opinion reading a book in another language is already a help in learning that language. Now I understand (and I am able to communicate) in some 6 languages, also some japanese. Japanese was difficult for me (for my brain) because I had to learn by memorising so many words, so many signs, so many rules, that have no logical background, also I can not read easy, even if I have a dictionary next to me, without get borred or angry. How can my brain do this if he is not trained to memorize ?

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I am almost 100% certain that the people who find Japanese not difficult to learn are barely beginners or at best, mid-field.

Japanese is very easy at the beginning. More so than English.

However as soon as you get to even intermediate and then advanced levels, it is probably as difficult as French. Or even harder than French.

It is easy enough for people to say, who do not already speak or understand Japanese to a 100% native level to say Japanese isn't difficult. Its grammar becomes so complicated and illogical in some the advances cases, its nearly impossible to learn. Even for Japanese people.

In a way I agree with what ThreeTigers and his dad says.

So far, I've NEVER heard any foreigner in Japan, in real life or on TV, speak natively fluently like a Japanese. Its all Gaigin or Textbook style Japanese. Says a lot doesn't it?

I think I can comment because I learnt both English and Japanese the hard way. Japanese is much much much much much more harder as soon as you hit a certain level, as its no longer straight forwardly understandable and often 曖昧。

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Japanese speaking is easier then English

English Writing is easier then Japanese

And some morons learn fake languages from tv shows:)

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Some people learn language easily others find it difficult depends on how the brain is wired, how good your teachers are and how motivate you are. I find learning Japanese very boring so find it hard to learn.

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solarbuster.... You just need a hot Japanese woman in a sexy outfit teaching you and youll learn allot faster and not be so board:)-

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board=bored

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I agree with solar buster - I have been studying Japanese for about 12 years. I graduated from a JP UNI but have never really found the language that interesting. It is strictly a matter of economics and communication. However, I do love the JP people. I don't think it is as nearly as difficult as French, Spanish or Russian. But of course at an advanced level any language is challenging. I also think that it depends on motivation and finding something to motivate you to learn the language will help you along. Overall quite a dry language to learn but the benefits are substantial.

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babedolphin -

I think a lot of the gaijin on TV deliberately hobble themselves linguistically because they think (or they're told) it sounds cute.

I can pass myself off as a native Japanese on the phone. Sometimes I get asked things like, 'I can't place your accent, are you from Kyushu/Hokkaido?' - but no one ever twigs that I'm from far, far across the water, unless I fess up. Or maybe they're just too polite to blow my cover. :-) Salesmen and the like tend to fall over their ankles and start stammering when I open the door after talking with them on the door phone. (no, I don't have two heads...) So it isn't true that no foreigner can speak fluently like a Japanese. You simply haven't met any of us.

Can't comment on whether Japanese is easier or more difficult than French - all the stuff I learned at school, where I thought it was easy, has evaporated to the point where I can't even hold a simple conversation in French any more.

Whether a particular language is difficult depends on a person's linguistic background, their aptitude for language and their circumstances. A combination of formal study plus immersion is going to produce better results for most folk than book study only, or thrown-in-at-the-deep-end immersion.

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I agree with babedolphin.

I'm going to venture to guess that the there are not many Japanese experts on this site because, well, this site is in English and the articles lack essential information.

For me, reading and writing is not as difficult as speaking and listening are. Kanji is very easy for me. Just takes lots of repetition. The first 300 kanji were tough to get through, but once you get the basic shapes, the next 1500 are not so tough.

With kanji ability comes reading ability, but you have to supplement it with serious grammar studies to be able to understand what you read.

And here's why I don't believe those who say that speaking is easier than reading. You have to know the grammar to be able to make sentences. You won't learn these grammar points from daily conversation. You have to get a book for the 1st of 2nd JPLT tests and study from their. Then tell me Japanese is an easy language.

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Having learned both an intermediate level of French and an intermediate level of Japanese (going for JLPT2) I would say the Japanese is easier. But it is much bigger. Not only do you need to learn kanji, but I think the working vocabulary is quite a bit larger.

However, I have found that learning kanji makes learning vocabulary much easier. In fact, I can learn Japanese vocabulary much faster than French, for instance. Also, the grammar is much easier. I really don't understand the comment about advanced Japanese grammar being complicated. Maybe I haven't gotten there, but I haven't run into anything complicated at all. If it exists, it can't be used much because I can understand pretty much all the grammar people use when talking around me.

One thing I think is important for beginners is to learn plain form first. The grammar can definitely seem more difficult if you start with polite form. You start to think that there are millions of exceptions. But if you get a very solid base of plain form, polite form is simply an extension (and a large amount of new vocabulary).

Also, for reading, I highly recommend reading manga with furigana. It only takes a week or two to learn kana, and then you can read (potentially with perfect pronunciation). Even if you aren't in to comic books, you might be surprised at the variety of stories that you can find even with furigana (which are usually aimed at children).

Finally, I just want to comment on the idea of a Japanese person being able to pronounce a college level paper after 1 year of study. I can tell you that this is next to impossible. Even after many years of study, Japanese students have a very hard time pronouncing English text in a way that is at all understandable. English writing is very difficult to pronounce because of all the haphazard spelling and the variety of different ways to stress syllables. My high school students find it nigh on impossible. Honestly, I'll take kanji to English spelling any day (I regularly feel incredibly happy to have learned English as my native language, thereby sparing me the task of learning it later).

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Japanese appears to be a verb-based language. Seems learning those and the associated conjugations is where to start.

Also, vocabulary is important. When I first started leaning English it was through individual words (cat, dog, ball, etc.) and then built on that. It was the way I tackled Japanese. The only problem was based on who you were speaking to, different words meant the same thing. but there are plenty of native Japanese speakers around to correct me.

RR

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i learned japanesse and chinesse for 2 years each, first starting with japanesse. I found chinesse more difficult specially prononciation, and all those words you need to learn, but the good thing is that grammar is easier. I tended at times to get mixed up between chinesse and japanesse prononciation.

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Nihongo was kantan da! Soretomo muzukashii da! Ho ho ho!

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Tried it Nippon5 but they all want to practice their English so did not help

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Japanese is the easiest language in the world. Just learn 8 words and no more, and you'll get along fine. If you learn any more than that, all you will have is trouble and make lots of enemies before long. The eight magic words are "domo, dozo, sumimasen, gomen nasai, onegai shimasu, (domo) arigato." Domo can be used for ...both thanks and I'm sorry. Dozo for "please" and "please go ahead". (showing your immense sense of humility) sumimasen...I'm sorry. gomen nasai I'm sorry (2). Arigato gozaimasu...Thank you. Onegai shimasu...."Please help me." (Literally, I have a request.)

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I have found Japanese language to be a visual language. English is more of an auditory one. With such a small group of phonemes in Japanese, as compared to other languages, I believe that one must be actually passing the visual image (Kanji) of the word one is speaking in conversation. So if someone cannot read Kanji - I question their Japanese speaking and listening ability. If one hears a word for the first time and knows Kanji then he can "build" that word in his head. Similar to knowing Latin and being able to build a new word. I once knew an old farmer in Japan who was illiterate. Talking with him was difficult in the way that reading a children's book is. With only hiragana and no kanji to delineate the nouns/verbs etc, it was difficult separating his words.

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In my opinion, the difficulty of learning (and maintaining) Japanese to a certain level depends on what that level is and whether you are in an everyday environment or a learning environment to learn & maintain in. The upper intermediate-advanced style Japanese that I studied at University, just does not pop up in my every day life. Don't use it at home or at work, and no longer study/revise at school. So it just disappears. In contrast, my everyday Japanese and comprehension just gets better and better. I'd prefer a balance but not willing to study much more.

I've only every learnt one other language- Maori. Learnt it before Japanese and it made pronunciation a lot easier. But you can't compare learning a language which is largely static (and was never a written language) with one which continues to evolve...

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****isthistheend, you forgot one word: Kawaiiii. Oh...and the tag question, ne. Always needed in presence of an infant.

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oishii is another must.

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...and "ahhh" ...and "hmn?" ...and "un"

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While we're at it. how about "shhhhhh" (while inhaling)=hesitancy to express opinion, or "etooooo" (time to think of the next word) followed by "shhhh", and also in combination with "ano"(that is), and "maa" (you know) and the proverbial "so desu ne" (well, yes), and "so desu ka? (is that so?) " followed by that gem of apple polishing "oshatteru tori desu ne" (just as you say). Mataku desu ne (exactly!)

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****My first day in Japan during occupation I learned Japanese. Was easy. I got acquainted with onomotopaiea (spelling?) An old hand taught me "Oshiri moka moka naka naka jyoto". I didn't know what it meant but it sounded romantic so I used it a lot. It seemed to work pretty well. Every time I said it to some woman she took me home. After a tour there I came home dang nigh bara bara.

The most used word in Maebashi is "Bakayarrro! I learned that from cops and drunks wrestling around in the curbside azaleas.

Seriously, whatever language you're dedicated to learning would probably be the easiest for you.

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Japan is a land of myths. One of the greatest myths is that the Japanese language is difficult for foreigners to learn. The study of any language requires a desire to learn it, coupled with hard work. Learning Japanese is no different from learning any foreign language - it might just require a little more work. One of the things that makes it difficult is the fact that something like 65% of Japanese have no desire to speak to or associate with foreigners at all. Nakayama was right to some extent when he said that Japanese dont like foreigners.

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I've found the phrase "Sumimasen, ima isogashiindesuga" to be very useful when salespeople ring my doorbell.

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Compared to other languages, speaking Japanese is easier. However, learning how to read and write is more difficult.

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I was surprised to find so many Japanese who could read their writin' very well but couldn't write readin' worth a damn.

Sorta like English speakers who can't spell, I guess.

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I find that it's quite easy and all my close friends want to learn it as well so we like to have limited conversations. I like learning about customs more though so that when I go to Japan, I will not be disrespectful by accident. At least then I'd hope I wouldn't get too many bad looks if I'm following customs. I have fair skin and blond hair so I'd really be noticeable.

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Mandarin is more difficult in the beginning, while Japanese is more difficult in the advance levels.

The two languages pose different difficulties. Chinese grammar is a snap; compare "long time no see" with "I haven't seen you for a long time." But mastering the four tones is quite difficult for most people and without those, you will have difficulty making yourself understood.

Japanese pronunciation, by contrast, is easy but the hierarchy of deference difficult for those who didn't grow up in that culture.

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Here's a very interesting site for those interested in the relative difficulty levels of Chinese and Japanese: http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2008/06/25/learning-curves-chinese-vs-japanese#comment-362562 Here's another, in .pdf format, showing a report from the US Foreign Service Institute, ranking the relative difficulty of learning the major world languages for a native English speaker. Japanese comes in at no. 1 in difficulty. http://www.nsa.gov/public/pdf/foreign_language.pdf

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I have learned Japanese for 6 months. At first , I feel that it is too difficult to learn many words which are added from characters in 3 Japanese's alphabets, specially Kanji. Kanji is so hard with pictographic characters that I can't remember all. Sometimes , i want to give up but I stimulate myself and make a question"Why other people can speak Japanese fluently but I can't" and try my best to learn and it is better now.I feel that Japanese is so interesting and good for my life, my job in the future.

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I am a Filipino and I've been studying Japanese (nihonggo) from anime, textbooks and online resources for 4 months now, and so far..I think I'm doing good. Now I can carry out "simple" conversations in Japanese. As for the difficulty to learn, I'd say "easy to medium" for speaking and "hard like hell" as for their writing system (especially the kanji.). But like any other learning process, it requires dedication, as long as you enjoy what you're studying, you get the most out of it.

Gambatte kudasai co-learners!! :)

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"All languages are equally difficult" you are so wrong.

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First of all, no language is easy to learn. But the degree of difficulty will depend on your circumstances: How willing you are to learn, what materials are at your disposal, how competent your teacher is, or if you have any at all, are self-learning, what other languages do you know that can serve as background for your new language, also how often you practice. My son is learning Japanese as a second language and he's doing quite well, primarily because he knows Korean and Chinese, both of which are a bit similar to Japanese. He also meets with his tutor from Preply.com ( http://preply.com/en/japanese-by-skype ) regularly and has a Japanese friend he practices with.

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