How do we say difficult in Japanese

Difficulty learning the Japanese language

How difficult is it for a beginner to learn Japanese?


Who needs words when they can kiss?

Who needs words when he has eyes to see.

Who needs words when they can smell?

Who needs words when they have hands

when he has hands to feel.


(Philipp Poisel: Who needs words)

How difficult is it to learn Japanese?

The short answer in advance:Very difficult. So on to the next blog article?

No, wait, I'll be happy to explain why I feel that way.

Learn Japanese - just for fun

A little anecdote to start with:

When Uli and I did our first time in April 2019Japanese course for beginners in Munich visited, our study group consisted of a total of 9 people in the first lesson.

8 weeks later there were exactly 4 participants left. The course was not particularly cheap, on the contrary: All participants had paid a not inconsiderable contribution for 3 months in advance.

Of the 9 people from the first lesson, 4 were "obliged" to learn Japanese because they wanted to move to Japan or had to work professionally in Japan, the other 5 wanted to "ejust learn this way (Enthusiasm for Japanese mangas, enthusiasm for Japanese women, both, ...) I don't want to mess around with clichés here, but 4 of the 5 people were men with long hair.

You can guess 3x which 4 of the 9 people were left in the last hour ...

Right, the 5 are just-for-fun learners at some point didn't come along and dropped out of the course.

But what is the cause?

Difficulty # 1: Too many construction sites at once

With a language as unknown to us as Japanese, we not only come across a single learning area, but 3 at once:vocabulary, font and grammar. And each of these 3 areas has it all (see the individual articles). Above all, learning to write with the 3 different writing systems that you should not only be able to read but also write is a full-time job. And you don't just want to understand all three areas in theory, but also apply them correctly in reading, writing, listening and speaking.

If you then start at a language school with a classic textbook, that means that you must tackle all three construction sites at the same time:

  1. At least one font (Hiragana), often also katakana, usually forms the basis,
  2. without vocabulary no language comes out and
  3. In order to be able to embed the newly learned words correctly in sentences (as a language student you also want to be able to "say something in Japanese" quickly), a traditional language course does not come without it Grammar units out.

For our language course in Germany, which took place once a week, this meant: In your free time you had to really sit down and relax in order not to lose touch. Because without being able to read the Japanese script, one was in a fix in class because one had to read aloud in turn, and in order to be able to solve the grammar tasks (that also happened in turn), one needed the vocabulary knowledge (or a good technique, to be able to look them up quickly).

You really noticed how the students had set different learning priorities. One could read fluently relatively quickly, the other always had the right vocabulary on it. Gradually, however, those students left us who couldn't keep up with the rest in one of the three areas. Because none of the three areas is finite: Every week new characters, new words and new grammatical rules were added.

Maybe our teacher in Germany wasn't the best (which is quite possible), but of course you want to make progress in language learning and that only works in Japanese if you works on all three construction sites at the same time. But it can be quite overwhelming, especially at the beginning.

Difficulty # 2: Want to learn "simple", practical words and phrases

When you learn a new language, you actually want a few pretty quicklypractical tourist words like "yes", "thank you" or "my name is ..." and accordingly many textbooks begin with these seemingly simple phrases.

But unfortunately they are no terms that are as easy to express in Japanese as they are in other languages.

For example, in Japanese by nameto introduce, you first have to know that you don't actually use the subject "I" in Japanese because the context is already implied. So if you were to say "watashi wa ..." (= "I am ...") it wouldn't be particularly Japanese. But just saying his name wouldn't seem right to us either. And that's not how it works in Japanese either, because:The Japanese concept of self is extremely complex - both in terms of language and gestures (how deeply you bow, how to exchange business cards, ...). To introduce yourself in correct Japanese, use one special greeting formulawhich translates as: "It's the first time. My name is XY (the surname is mentioned first). Please be kind to me. "(Of course there is different politeness variants of this formula, depending on who is speaking to whom on which occasion.) And in Japanese the whole thing is called, for example, "Hajimemashite. Schaller Melanie to moo shimasu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu." So not exactly a "simple" term that comes off our lips as easily as "My name is ...".

There are also other "simple" everyday terms such as "yes" and thank you "in Japanesedifferent words that differ in their level of politeness. So if you learn in the first lesson that "thank you" means "arigatoo" in Japanese, that's true, but you don't know at this point that you are only using it in colloquial language and that it would be impolite to express it to strangers . Instead you would have to use "Arigatoo gozaimasu." say.

So at the beginning you either learn several variants for the same terms directly, which is almost impossible to remember, or you run the risk of using the "wrong" language the first time you use it in reality.

Difficulty # 3: Mastering both Japanese languages

The Differentiation between everyday language and polite language affects not only the Japanese vocabulary, but the complete grammar. Above all, this makes it difficult to use one's own Japanese skills in reality - whether in understanding or speaking.

The classic textbooks start with Courtesy language and have to expose themselves to the criticism that the "correct language" of the pupils is the everyday language after all, since this is used among friends, in films, in songs or on the Internet, etc.

But if you would only get the Everyday language dominate, for example as a tourist you would appear very rude to strangers (and that's all or at least most of the Japanese for you).

The language of courtesy was also started in the teaching books I used and it didn't hurt me, as it is always the right choice in a restaurant or similar place. The time when I also learned everyday Japanese language was (coincidentally) pretty much the same time as the moment I started watching English series with Japanese subtitles. This timing was perfect, otherwise I would have been very surprised what happened to all the grammatical endings I learned in theory in reality.

How to twist and turn it:Sooner or later you have to be able to handle both languages.

Difficulty No. 4: Not only linguistic, but also cultural differences

The example of the differentiation according to levels of politeness shows that too cultural peculiarities definitely influence the language can have. Therefore, there is no point in learning Japanese completely detached from Japanese culture.

Because in Japanese there are always situations that can only be understood through the cultural background. Take, for example, the word "chotto ...". According to the dictionary it translates as "a little." That's true, but (depending on context!) the term is used by the Japanese to politely say "no". When asked "Do you have a minute?" (which Uli asked a colleague, for example), it makes a difference whether the answer "chotto ..." as "yes, a little." or no." is interpreted. (Spoiler: Uli interpreted it as "a little"; but the Japanese colleague meant "No.")

For this reason, an additional learning area must actually be added to the above-mentioned elements of Japanese learning: cultural peculiarities.

Difficulty # 5: The reality shock

Then the time has finally come: you arrive in the land of the rising sun with your basic knowledge of Japanese!

And then, unfortunately, you have to find out that the Reality looks different and you won't get very far with your basic Japanese. Why?

  1. You can't read anything at all.Even if you have struggled through the hiragana and katakana and learned your first Kanji, you still can't read anything because in Japan everything is simply written in Kanji.
  2. You don't know any suitable words. After studying my textbooks, I could tell you a lot about life with a host family, the rules in a university or about pets, but unfortunately nobody wants to hear that. Instead, I lack the vocabulary that would enable me to ask how the air conditioning works in a hotel and understand the answer, or in the restaurant to find out whether one is at the Yakiniku The beef tongue, the chicken hearts or the fried leek were recommended.
  3. There are no possible uses. In addition to the lack of opportunities to discuss pets, I also lack situations in which it can use my brilliant grammatical skills, e.g. forbidding someone to do something, telling someone they have to do something or politely asking someone why they look so bad today, then give him advice and then call an ambulance.
  4. You always say the same things. Yes, I can now ask for a table for 2 people, then order two dishes, a beer and a lemon sour, then emphasize how delicious it was, and then ask for the bill. Unless there is a machine for ordering and paying. Then I can say "Hello", "Thank you" and "Bye".
  5. You can't find anyone to talk to.Anyone who (like us) is used to being talked to constantly and everywhere from their Asian vacations will experience a culture shock in Japan. There is no short chat with the taxi driver or the restaurant service about Bayern Munich or German beer. (Well, I've already had a conversation about Neuschwanstein Castle and several about the Oktoberfest.) The Japanese are much more polite and reserved than other cultures.

Difficulty No. 6 to 100: Learning a foreign language

In addition to these 5 special difficulties in learning Japanese, there are still others the normal hurdles when learning a foreign language to:

  • you forget a lot too quickly
  • lack of application possibilities
  • Laziness and laziness
  • too many index card towers (which one do you repeat when?)
  • Frustration because it's not going fast enough
  • Demotivation after too long a learning phase
  • Fear of making mistakes and therefore inhibited speaking
  • Oversupply of apps and textbooks
  • Overwhelming
  • bad teachers
  • bad work materials
  • wanting too much too fast
  • missing goal
  • ...

Tips for learning Japanese

Finally, I would like you guys a couple motivational tips for learning Japanese give, but I don't yet feel able to do so. I'm still looking for effective tips rather than being able to give them.

Sure, I could reproduce the general tips from the Internet and take it to heart: "Set yourself a goal!", "Just speak a lot of Japanese!", "Find a tandem partner!" "Watch Japanese TV Shows!", "There's this cool App XY!", But these tips are easier to read than they are to implement ...

I'm still waiting for that moment when I can say"Now it works by itself." and no longer have this constant fear of forgetting all of my Japanese again. Until then, I keep to the old mule rule: one step at a time.

Until then: "Ganbatte kudasai!"

Translated, this means: "Please make an effort!", But actually means (context!): "Good luck!"