Every time someone sees me studying Japanese Kanji（漢字), characters the Japanese borrowed from the Chinese, and then used to represent Japanese ideas and pronunciation, I always get one or both of the following responses
1. Are you studying Chinese?
2. Is it hard?
In response to the first I always teach them and let them know that Chinese is significantly different than Japanese because Japanese people use three "alphabets" (they are in fact more like syllabaries), katakana, hiragana, and kanji, and because the grammar is substantially different.
The second though, is always a mixed bag. The U.S. Government states That Japanese, along with Arabic, and Chinese (and some other languages I forgot) are the languages that require the most time to learn for English speakers. But in my opinion, after having spent years studying on and off, Japanese is definitely one of the the World's toughest languages (at least considering it is actually spoken by over 100 million people) to become really fluent at (watch comedians, read adult-level literature, understand and differentiate slang and homonyms),but one of the easier languages to learn the basics to ( denoting location, modifiers, people, adjectives)
Why is this?
Well first Japanese is almost the complete opposite of English. for one, Japanese is highly agglutinative, in other words, words or morphemes with a certain key meanings or lexicons are seemingly tied together to represent ideas or add on meaning to the base word. In English differences in ideas are heavily based more on how the words interrelate and the use of prepositions.
In other words, a word in Japanese such as 食べなかった (tabenakatta) means I did not eat, which is a conjugation of 食べない(tabenai) , which means to not eat, and in turn 食べる (taberu) is the base meaning to eat. Furthermore Japanese only has somewhere around 120~ syllabic pronunciations while English has thousands, meaning Japanese has a crazy amount of homonyms. To make matters of pronunciations even worse, Japanese has a ton of anglicisms which have been morphed to fit into the Japanese phonemes, meaning sometimes the same pronunciation can be one of five Japanese words or one of three English loan words. To make matters even worse, Japanese people absolutely love to slur their words and make countless contractions, and since every single syllable is crucial for understanding and communicating in Japanese, (for example oKOsu means to wake up while oKAsu means to rape), it is hard to get used to.
In Japanese, the order in which the sentences are structured is usually subject-object-verb instead of English’s subject-verb-object. This small change makes a hell of a difference; unlike Spanish or English, in which you immediately get sense of the action the verb is undertaking, you instead get something like “boy ball throw”, very unnatural at first . This, combined with the constant omissions of words in the Japanese language, makes deciphering and structuring sentences a major barrier at the beginning.
Last but not least, Japanese Writing systems are extremely irregular and take a lot of getting used to, for one, almost every Kanji has both a native Chinese and Japanese reading, and some even have special readings. A kanji’s pronunciation can become something entirely different depending on what kanji is beside it and what part of speech it is being used to represent, but sometimes it doesn’t change. The only way to learn all the various irregularities and nuances behind the kanji requires a lot of time and exposure.
But even with all these negatives Japanese does have something's easy. For one, grammatically at least, there aren’t a whole lot of irregulars. Only around 3 verbs ( and occasionally some rare ones) have conjugations that fall outside the norm. There are, for the most part, no random or out of place irregular plurals. And everything is very easy to identify with as long as key particles are not omitted. The high amount of Anglicisms also hasten the learning of various modern words.
Last but not least, one of the greatest (and most intriguing) things about Japanese is the amount of resources available. free guides, such as Tae Kim’s extremely popular grammar guide, have lively community and offer tons of insights. Programs and extensions, such as anki and rikaikun make learning new words, kanjis, and pronunciations much, much easier. Due to the sheer amount and popularity of Japanese entertainment: video games, music, anime, manga, and movies, it is extremely easy to find something that interest you that you can practice with; and all these resources also means you are bound to find someone else who is also learning Japanese.
Overall, learning Japanese has been one of my goals for a very long time, but I always had this vague feeling where I was just obsessed with knowing the language instead of applying myself and learning it. Lately, after gathering good resources and becoming surrounded with more Japanese people, I have managed to rekindle my motivation and apply myself extensively
So what's your opinion on Japanese? are you currently learning it? are you interested in speaking it? Are you learning another language? what are the problems you are facing in learning that language? what do you think about Japanese, or any other language, at a glance?