I’ve always believed that the Kanji would be the main challenge when learning Japanese. That’s why I have been prioritizing and devoting all of my Japanese study time to them. As a matter of fact, I haven’t started to learn any grammar besides the first few chapters of Genki I and the first book of Japanese from Zero. And for now, I don’t intend to continue with grammar until I reach at least LV20 in WK. (I used to be LV27 before restarting).
Somehow, I have the assumption that once I know enough Kanji, the rest will come easily. Am I mistaken? From what I’ve seen so far, the grammar doesn’t seem too hard. I speak 7 languages and I am a language teacher, so I usually grasp grammar very quickly. Also, some of the languages I know seem to have far more difficult grammar than Japanese (e.g. German or Croatian). However, Japanese is my first Asian language, so I might be mistaken. Maybe it gets reeeaaaally hard later on?
In any case, I’m curious to hear from advanced or proficient Japanese students whether Kanji was the hardest aspect of the language! Or did another aspect of the language cause more problems? (e.g. vocab in general, pronunciation, grammar)
Seems you have a lot of experience learning languages, so the technical part should be taken care for the most part.
Actually for me the most difficult part is the pace. I feel the time investment pays soooo slowly. I’m doing more and for longer than what i’ve done in a lot of other interests I’ve persued, and yet this feels so slow … Progressing through reading, listening, etc it’s slow … No matter what.
It’s not necessarily the hardest, but it is the longest. In fact, as far as languages go, I think you will find that learning Japanese is not necessarily difficult, but rather is just time consuming. Japanese grammar is pretty straight forward and has few exceptions, but if you have not dealt with an SOV language before, or context-based language, it can take a little while to wrap your head and mouth around. Vocabulary is a little difficult as Japanese is in it’s own linguistic family, so outside of foreign loanwords, you won’t have any help from any of the languages that you already know (unlike English & French for example). And of course, like with any language, you will likely find that speaking is the most difficult part of learning the language.
I’ve found understanding the spoken word and comfortably speaking to be much more of a challenge, at least now that I’ve been using WaniKani for kanji learning. When I first started, I was certain that learning kanji would be the hardest part for me. Once I started delving into grammar, though, I found that while I understand the constructs and can read more than I expected to be able to do at this point, I really struggle understanding spoken Japanese. A lot of that has to do with Japanese being post-positional rather than prepositional. It’s hard for me to listen for the right cues within the sentence, whereas with the written word you can kind of skim to the end and backtrack if you need to. I also haven’t had enough practice with speaking yet, so I feel like I’ve got a kind of mental block when I’m trying to speak. It will come in time, but personally I need to seek out more opportunities to use what I’m learning.
I agree with you that Japanese grammar is not specifically hard. No genders, no declensions, no verb conjugations going rampant… It does have some constructions that might feel awkward at first from an Indo-European point of view, but it’s still way more regular than most European languages. If you expose yourself enough to it, those patterns and constructions will slowly get into your mind. I’ve never found Japanese grammar specially difficult.
About vocabulary, yes there is a lot. But honestly, the true key for a good Japanese vocabulary is… you guess… a solid Kanji knowledge. There is no magic, Japanese words are made (most of the time) of Kanji. The more you know Kanji more you will be able to guess the meaning of new words or even correctly combine kanji into words you haven’t really seen yet, but all the patterns suggest they should exist, so yup, they do exist.
Japanese pronunciation is pretty simple, phoneme-wise. The pitch accent can be a bit troublesome depending on your L1, but (most of the time) Japanese people can understand what you say pretty well even if your pitch is wrong, so I would say it is easier adjusting it with time once you can use Japanese to a decent level and can keep conversation with natives. Stressing with pitch early in your studies seems a bit pointless.
That being said, I do think Kanji is one of the hardest parts, because not mastering it will hamper your reading, writing, vocabulary, pretty much everything… But there is a ton of them, so “mastering it” can be harder and take a lot longer than expected.
Other commonly mentioned hard aspects are Keigo (which can, indeed, be a pain), dialects (which can get in your way if you are planning on consuming pop culture) and the fact that Japanese people tend to be pretty vague even if the language itself does not require it.
Imo the hardest part even before WK made kanji easier was never kanji. It has always been the usage of words in a native aspect. As we learn 助ける is to help right, but it really means more like “save.” So we could say “please save me learning Japanese” instead of “please assist me in learning Japanese.” So you have to learn words that better mean assist, like 援助する. That is the hardest bit imo cuz without it your command of the language won’t truly be complete.
For me Kanji is more time consuming but grammar is more difficult. Kanji is all input but grammar involves input and output. It is involved in listening, reading and speaking. If you are like me and do live or work in a Japanese speaking environment, grammar be even more time consuming than Kanji. I studied grammar up until JLPT level 4 then took a break to focus almost exclusively on Kanji. When it comes to grammar you have to understand it verbally, comprehend it in written form and be able recall it when speaking. This makes it the most difficult to me.
WK (and vocab in general) has certainly been the most time-consuming part for me but the hardest part is without question listening comprehension. Even now my ears totally glaze over when I hear 2 or more kango words in the same sentence, all こうs and しんs and たいs.
The definition of what is hard when learning a new language is really subjective. It’s better to study things in the order that makes you want to continue. For most people, just studying kanji before knowing any grammar, or how to say simple sentences, is simply too boring. Learning to read and speak gradually helps to boost the motivation to continue.
But if in your case you’re happy to study just kanji for over a year, and that’s enough of a motivation to continue, then definitely continue this way.
I think that language learning is a skill, just like anything else. And know a wide variety of languages helps you not get hung up on comparing everything to English (or whatever your native language is)
Hi there ! Thank you for your question. In my opinion, learning a new language is just like a baby trying to learn and understand a language. May be at first, you don't understand anything but it takes quite long time for you to understand like your own mother tongue. You should listen to the language everyday and DO NOT read the title in your language, you can try to learn the vocabularies through the title and describe it by Japanese. It might take 1 to 3 years to learn fluency Japanese. Kanji is not a big problem, the problem is that your thinking, it thought Kanji was scary while looking at the super long list of Kanji but don't be scare, it's easy to learn if you try your best and learn by your passion. Good Luck ! :wink:
Waiting until level 20 to start studying grammar seems like a huge amount of overkill to me, but if you can actually speak as many languages as you claim, it sounds like you’re probably pretty aware of your capabilities. It’s just… getting to level 20 is going to take you months even if you work really hard at wanikani every day (like to the point where you’re excluding all your other Japanese study) and you should be able to read thru most of both the Genki books after a few levels. Also if my memory serves me correctly, they give furigana for most stuff unless it’s an exercise specifically for helping with reading kanji.
If you want to (in my opinion) needlessly restrict yourself from being able to start actually using the language, that’s up to you.
I personally don’t find kanji that hard, it takes a lot of time and at the beginning it sounds crazy but once you get into it you kind of just deal with it (or quit Japanese ); it takes the most time to learn and the fact that you will have to learn 2000+ characters with different readings and meanings is the hardest to wrap your head around, but it’s just a matter of practice.
The hardest part for me so far are nuances, grammar is easy, but nuances are often hard to grasp. And along the same line, the cultural aspects of the language (like with whom and when to use keigo, differet levels of formality/honorific/whatever, femenine/masculine speech, when/how to soften what you want to say, what things you’re suppose to leave out of the sentence, figuring out whether the other person mean what they’re saying or they’re just softening it or leaving something out or saying something completely different from what they mean but I’m supposed to know that some way, grammar structures that are used to convey emotions, etc, etc, etc). I guess this comes with time and practice (interaction with native speakers), but sometimes it’s discouraging to realize that I know the grammar and the vocab and I can “make sentences” and I still don’t know what the heck is going on in a situation or if they can understand what I mean with what I’m saying.
For you I would say it probably will be, just based on your experience.
For most others who aren’t familiar with language learning I would say that it would be hearing Japanese being spoken to them in a natural environment and being able to respond appropriately. As I’m sure you know, the way you learn language through texts and programs is extremely different to how it is used in a natural environment. Having to listen to others “lazy” speech and grammar and still being able to understand not only what they are saying, but also their intent is very challenging, throw on top of that the different levels of formality based on interpersonal social structures and to me learning Kanji is a breeze in comparison, but if you are already aware of such nuances, then yes Kanji will likely be the most challenging aspect.
Luckily Kanji is Kanji, it doesn’t get drunk or emotional and suddenly change the rules!