I’m only proficient in 2 languages, have a very meager understanding of another one, and know some Japanese. With that taken into account I’m not sure kanji is THE hardest aspect of the language, but it’s definitely the biggest problem as you start out.
When I studied other languages I could just go ahead and read most texts, even if I didn’t understand 90% of the contents. The fact that I needed less than 100 symbols to read anything sped up my learning, since what I had left was vocabulary and grammar. Reading with context (pictures, videogames, comics, etc.) made it easier to grasp the languages. I didn’t have to create new ‘dictionary entries’ in my head to burn a set of scratches / squiggles, like I have to in Japanese. Kanji definitely slows me down, quite a lot. It’s discouraging when it takes a long time to see some good results, which is why kanji may be considered a ‘hard’ aspect of the language even though in reality it’s just very time consuming.
That said, the languages I do know are all European so I only had to learn a handful of extra symbols.
I don’t have a main source of grammar. I see what to study next myself by checking Bunpro’s order and I navigate the internet/textbooks I have with me for explanations until I feel like I have it pretty solid. But my approach is different, since I’m writing my own textbook.
The biggest take I get is that you should focus on seeing which tools work better for you. No source is complete. They’re all missing relevant stuff, no matter if it’s the most sold Japanese textbook or the most expensive one (like the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar). That’s why it’s better to focus on something that actually puts you to study on a regular basis and that doesn’t seem like a chore.
Another thing is actually practicing what you learn, and that implies using the grammar. Making some example sentences after learning a grammar point won’t take you much time and it will help you figure out how well you actually know it (and if you don’t, then you’ll be able to identify what questions you have).
I’d say learning kanji is only “hard” until you’ve learned somewhere around 500 kanji or so. At that point you kind of get used to it and kanji is no longer some alien concept. It’s still no easy path, but in my opinion once you reach that stage it’s more about the time investment in learning the kanji more than the difficulty. This is purely based on my own experience so someone else may well think about it differently than I do.
I second Time’s answer. Kanji pose a real barrier in the beginning stages of learning Japanese, but after you get a decent enough command of the most common ones–say, maybe a good command of at least 1500 Kanji–you have to start diving into native nuance, for both vocab and grammar. You’ll find yourself saying a lot of things that, while not technically wrong, a native speaker just wouldn’t say. Read a lot, listen a lot. It’s knowing you can call garbage fresh, 生ゴミ. It’s knowing that 雪が降りそうにない is going to sound a lot more natural than 雪が降らなそうだ, even though the latter is what’s taught in a lot of textbooks.
I always thought kanji would be the most difficult but in the end it’s the easiest thanks to wanikani…
Everything else I struggle with a lot, because I don’t have a study method as consistent and effective as wanikani for any of the other skills
I mean, learning kanji takes time but I dont think its particularly hard, especially if you’re using WK. Its not hard to wrap your head around 私 means “I” and learning its on reading is し and its kun reading is わたし. You just memorize it. For many, its harder to actually wrap your head around some strange grammar points like when to use the passive form or something.
Now in terms of time? Kanji doesn’t hold a candle to vocab. Now thats kinda weird to say since kanji is the foundation that many words are built on, but just comparing the time it will take to learn kanji readings and meanings for every word you’ll come across (like WK has you doing) and comparing the time spent learning vocab meanings and readings…vocab wins by a landslide and a half.
Im sitting around the 11-12k vocab words learned range just like jpr and he’s not exaggerating when he says it feels like you need 20k+ words to feel comfy. But what’s really hard imo isnt learning vocab, kanji, or whatever…its sitting yourself down every single day to do it. If you can do that, you shouldn’t have any problems with learning japanese. It just takes a lot of time to memorize everything, really (or train your mouth in the case of pronunciation).
Like many Wanikanizens, I find kanji to be the easiest part (compared to the rest of Japanese). It even makes it easier in a way since it helps with intuiting the meaning of new words.
I struggle most with listening comprehension and the massive amount of unknown words.
Another big challenge has been the unfamiliarity of the grammar (meaning you have to start with zero intuition).
While I would agree with you that kanji learning is the hardest part of learning Japanese, it doesn’t mean that it should be the sole focus. After all, one of the most important reasons why you learn kanji is so you could read and write sentences. And this is impossible without good grammar.
As to why learning kanji is difficult, it’s because Japanese is (to my knowledge) the only language that uses both syllabaries and logograms, where the logograms themselves can have several readings based on context. In any other language, when you see e.g. a name of a person/city/company, you can read it (as long as you have learned to read that language). In Japanese, this is not guaranteed.
WK has changed things, I tried for a couple of years learning kanji by other methods but nothing stuck, now I’m finally making progress.
Now, particles - there’s a challenge
And that’s why Bunpro exists.
I used to think it was the hardest, but remembering/reading/learning them isn’t too bad.
However, I have no idea how to write in Kanji and can’t remember the stroke order.
This is because WK is my main Kanji study method.
So, while I can read Kanji, I wouldn’t be able to write them by hand.
If we don’t include writing Kanji, for me, the hardest part is remembering all the grammar points and how to use them.
Ultimately, the hardest thing to learn is that which doesn’t have an ordered system by which to do so. Most of us are self learning, and that itself takes a great deal of discipline (go us!), however we can only do so much on our own without the help of an organized system. If Koichi will forgive me for saying so, WK is nothing special, and neither is kanji. Koichi just put order to a chaotic mess by creating a system that helps us assimilate information easier and remember it more permanently.
All that said, kanji are definitely special and so is WK.
First off all, I want to say that you’re an inspiration for knowing seven languages!! I currently know English, Spanish, and (some ) Japanese, but I want to keep learning more.
I’ve been studying Japanese for about 3.5 years now, and I currently live and work in Japan as an English teacher. I started out the same way; the grammar was easy, and the kanji was really challenging. Personally, once I was used to studying the kanji, it became easier and easier and (honestly) kind of fun. Now, I think kanji is the easiest part of Japanese to learn.
The grammar, on the other hand, has become challenging. As another user mentioned, the nuances become so extreme. The grammar is fine in Genki I and II, but I’ve started using JLPT specific books to study the grammar and it’s quite frustrating when they introduce you to five different ways to express ～とき, each with slight variations in usage.
Also yeah, vocab is a whole other mountain to climb.
Wow, thanks for all the replies!!! I enjoyed reading through all of your comments, the different opinions and what causes most difficulties to you.
I am surprised that quite many have said that learning Kanji becomes one of the easiest aspects after a while. To me, the Kanji feel like a huge obstacle I have to overcome before I can really start learning the language. However, I realize this is the wrong attitude towards kanji. As they are an integral part of the language, learning them in isolation and seeing them as a burden is not how it should be. Funnily enough, I just realized I feel like some of you: the more Kanji I learn, the more I like them. And even after a year of break I can still remember and read most of the Kanji I learnt before, so getting to LV8 (I restarted in December) has been a breeze. In fact, what I enjoy most about kanji is the poetic aspect to them - how certain radicals are combined into a new meaning, i.e. 忘 (forget) reminds me of a dead heart - which is a very poetic way to express the notion of “forget”.
So yes, thanks to you all for reminding me that I should enjoy kanji learning. Also, it’s encouraging to hear that it’s not necessarily the hardest aspect of the language.
I will resume my grammar studies soon! Also, many of you struggle with productive skills such as speaking and writing. Don’t worry, these skills are usually much more demanding than the receptive ones (such as reading and listening), so it’s normal for them to develop more slowly than the others.
I would say Kanji is the most time consuming aspect, but the hardest is by far listening comprehension. There are so many words I have easily locked down when I read them, but when I hear them, I often still don’t recognize them just because my brain isn’t used to it yet. Also, even when I know and understand all the words, longer sentences can totally overload my brain and I don’t understand it. It’s going to be a long road…
I think it depends on what your goals are, because you can take any individual aspect and make that the focus of your studies. The farther you go into any one thing, the more finely detailed the nuances become, and the more difficult you can make it.
If you just want to be understood, pronunciation might be the easiest part of the language for you.
But if you want to be able to speak with great delivery, it will probably be one of the hardest things to master.
Whether to aim for that is up to the individual.
So, with regard to kanji, where you set the bar for yourself will have a big impact on how easy you think it is.
木 is an easy kanji to learn. So is 土.
But 土木 is a high level word that you can’t expect to know from just studying those two kanji alone. So are they actually really difficult? Well, if you don’t know 土木 it probably won’t matter, but eh.
kanji would be the first “hurdle” i encountered when picking up japanese; it was the biggest reason why i delayed picking the language for so long too! but now as i learn more kanji, i find the sentence structures of japanese language to be harder… i’m currently fluent in 2 languages (malay and english) and the way things are phrased in japanese is the opposite in the other languages that i know… so i always get myself in a bundle when i try to build sentences ^^;;
i’m hoping with more reading i’ll get used to it XD
English and Japanese have absolutely no relation, so the hardest thing about Japanese is understanding and learning to use the most natural expression for a given situation, most of which can only be picked up experiencing and using Japanese day in day out, something which the vast majority of people learning Japanese will never be able to experience.
Kanji is just memorisation and can be done in your bedroom without any interaction with anyone.
Depends. Kanji could be the most difficult, because learning it is not the most exciting thing ever and can be quite tedious at times with the volumes of similar looking kanji. In other words, the difficult part of kanji may not be comprehension, but rather the mental toll learning them takes.
Still, I think some media are unintentionally making kanji out to be worse than they actually are. Resulting in people postponing their kanji obligations, fearing the ‘horror’ stories surrounding the practice – or quitting before even learning ten of them.