Japanese is notorious for being a difficult language to learn, especially for English speakers. While some aspects of Japanese, such as its writing system, are admittedly challenging, there are plenty of other features of the language that are surprisingly simple! In fact, in many ways, Japanese is less grammatically complex than English. Here are some reasons why the Japanese language’s reputation as impossibly difficult is unfounded.
1. Nouns aren’t inflected
First of all, people studying Japanese don’t have to worry correcting assigning gender to inanimate objects: like English, Japanese nouns don’t have any kind of gender inflection. Further, you don’t even have to worry about adding prefixes or suffixes for plural inflections, either (as you do in English). Singular and plural nouns take the same form, and are instead disambiguated by context or the use of numerical quantifiers. For example, in Japanese, “dog” is 犬. To say “three dogs”, you simply add the word “three” (三) without making any changes to “dog”: 三犬.
2. Verbs don’t have to agree with the subject
One of the biggest headaches about learning Romance languages is memorizing all of the ways that verbs are conjugated to agree with the person and number status of the subject. Japanese verbs, however, feature none of these pesky conjugations: once you’ve learned how to say “to eat” (食う), you’ve also learned how to say “I eat”, “he eats”, “they eat”, etc.
3. No pesky consonant clusters
Slowly pronounce the word “strengths”: it’s pretty hard, isn’t it? That’s because there are four consonant sounds in a row: “n”, “g”, “th”, and “s”. Japanese phonology is much gentler on the tongue than that of English. Japanese syllables feature virtually no consonant clusters, and thus are generally easy to pronounce.
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4. Syllables are only pronounced one way
In English, the letter “s” can be pronounced in a variety of ways (think of words like “sun”, “wash”, “vision”, and “wise”). In contrast, each of the Japanese language’s 45 syllables are always pronounced exactly the same, regardless of context. Therefore, once you learn the alphabet, you’ll be able to correctly pronounce any Japanese word that you see (with the exception of kanji characters — but that’s an entirely different story).
5. You know more than you think
Given that English and Japanese are very distant languages, you might think that their vocabularies would have very little overlap. However, there are plenty of English loanwords — called gairaigo (外来語) — that have snuck their way into the Japanese lexicon. The Japanese words for “internet”, “ice cream”, and “table”, for instance, have been borrowed from English, and sound very similar to their English-language counterparts.
So the next time that you find yourself struggling to memorize your kanji, take a deep breath and remember: at least you don’t have to deal with pesky verb conjugations or tricky pronunciations! Of course, learning Japanese isn’t easy, but the right native-speaking Japanese teacher can help you learn as quickly and efficiently as possible. Contact us to find out how we can best help you reach your Japanese language goals.