Why is there such a defeatist attitude around learning japanese?

I try to keep far away from most forums, but this one seems kind, so I felt like sharing my thoughts.
Why is there such a defeatist attitude around learning japanese? I noticed this in my college classes, everyone keeps complaining about how hard it is, how non-sensical the grammar is and how nothing makes sense (to be fair, the average textbook doesn’t explain things in japanese terms and makes it more complicated than it has to be)

Then you go to other forums, people asking innocent questions, only to be berated by people who judge from their high horse claiming that the other person WILL NEVER reach the fluency they strife for in that specific amount of time, when they couldn’t possibly know how much time the other person can invest. People act like they have to suffer to study japanese, and at that point I ask myself, why do they even do it? Nothing wrong with challenge and being a bit frustrated at making mistakes, but making mistakes is what makes you become better at it.

I have never seen any such negativity in any other skill or language circle. Not in chinese, not in korean, not in english, not in any other language. Not when people learn to play an instrument, not when people learn to cook, not when people learn to programm.
I’m not sure if it’s just a mindless meme that people have come to accept, that if you don’t think Japanese is the most difficult and arduous journey you can take, something is wrong with you, you will never make it and you might as well give up.


I have read something that goes like this:

If an old/experienced person says “Something is possible”. They are most likely correct.

If an old/experienced person says “Something is impossible”. They are most likely wrong.

The members on this forum are kind and awesome as you said. As for the defeatist attitude, it is not limited to Japanese. I have dabbled in multiple languages and every community has something like that, and I do agree Asian languages such as Chinese/Japanese seems to have more of them probably due to the difficulty of learning a new alphabet.

As a rule of thumb, remember the quote mentioned above. As long as you do not give up, you win :slight_smile:


Mhh, I definitely know what you mean, even though I haven’t seen it to the extent you describe :thinking:

From my experience it comes down to these things:

  • Japanese learners can be a bit elitist about studying (I’m no exception tbh :see_no_evil:)
  • People in general don’t like the idea of someone managing to do something they couldn’t do.
  • A lot of people start learning Japanese with lofty goals just to give up pretty soon.
  • Some new language learners have pretty brutal goals :see_no_evil: (e.g. that statistically require +60h/week study time)

So I’d say it’s a mixture of hurt feelings and the expectations we’ve developed over time :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
Obviously this is no excuse to be rude, but when I’m reading things like “From scratch to N1 in a year” I definitely feel like giving some cautionary words.


Those are great points!


Eh, I’ve definitely encountered some shitty attitudes when learning to program. There are naysayers in every field of life for sure. Best just to not listen to them.

Anyway, welcome to the Wanikani forums, it’s certainly one of the best places on the internet :slightly_smiling_face:


i think it just depends where you look. i can’t say a lot about forums but depending on the topic i’ll see people be kind of down about how hard learning can be BUT i tend to see more positive people here then negative. I just think it might seem like a lot since most people studying here are moving from a Romanic language over to an asian one but that’s just part of it i think.

I know some personal friends that study off and on and have a hard time keeping up with spanish even though its one of the “easier” languages to learn from already knowing english.

I think there’s a good way to go about it but some people that learn Japanese set up extremely high goals that long time learners want them to backtrack on because they might not realize how hard they are. like someone else said- learning N1 in a year alone or things like translationing a whole game or book. you learn by making mistakes but making goals soooo huge like that can make mental burning set in faster. though if someone brings this up they should be nice about it- but its a real concern. just something to think about.


well I have never gotten more compliments from native speakers for my language fluency than Japanese. I guess it’s a victory.


Haha, I experience that too.
One time me and two friends got a “日本語が上手ですねぇ” for saying nothing more than こんばんは. After that the nice lady proceeded to explain the rules of her guesthouse in great detail. We understood about 1% (this was 1.5 years ago).

As for the defeatist attitude: I studied about one hour every day now for 1.5 years and still feel like I can barely have a conversation. So I can totally understand when experienced people tell you it might be very difficult (but that should never be a reason to not try something!).


I know that I’m gonna get flak for this but the notion that Japanese is “nonsensical” and “doesn’t make sense” is just plain racism, positing English as the norm and as “a language that makes sense” (it REALLY DOESN’T if you stop to think about it for a couple of seconds) and assuming that any language concept that doesn’t exist in English is nonsense.

Yes, there are concepts in Japanese that are very difficult and often very arbitrary (cough rendaku) but those things have grown naturally because Japanese is a natural language, and EVERY natural language has its arbitrary bullshit. Of course as a native speaker you tend to be less aware of those.

But I do agree to some extent that Japanese is very tough. This is the fifth language I am trying to learn (English, French, Italian at school, Chinese at uni for a very short while and Japanese on my own time now) and the Kanji system is and always will be a big hurdle for anybody (and keep in mind that native speakers need about a decade to learn all their kanji!).

There is also comparatively little reward to learning Japanese - after all, it is only spoken in a single country, which is well-known for its highly restrictive immigration policies. I assume that most people who are willing to put in the effort to learn Han characters will decide to learn Chinese, simply because it is spoken by more people and more relevant to the world economy.

I think the “elitism” stems partly out of that - for most of us, learning Japanese is something we do out of enthusiasm and/or curiosity, not for career prospects or anything like that.

There is also possibly an aspect of language learning being harder for adults than for children, so those of us who have learned a language at school will naturally have a harder time learning Japanese as an adult.

And, again: I do think that Japanese is really hard to learn as a secondary language, I just think that some of the reasons given for that are misleading.

(Oh, and let’s face it: Learning a language is ALWAYS really, really hard. I had ten years of English classes at school, have consumed lots of English-language media in the decade since my graduation, participated in lots and lots of English-language social media and forums, even played with a British World of Tanks clan for a while, and I still make stupid mistakes in writing and have a horrible accent when speaking.)


Somehow rendaku has never given me much trouble. Most of them feel pretty “organic and natural” to me, but of course they can also be very random.
A much bigger issue for me is that so many words sound the same or very similar, so when I mispronounce just slightly I am not understood (my z and s sound basically the same unfortunately…)


Ah, the wording’s a bit strong, but the argument is sound - Japanese makes perfect sense; it’s just a different sense to English.



1 Like

Most people want to be fluent immediately without putting in the work. I have heard people say Spanish is too hard after spending 5 months just using an app like duo-lingo and giving up. The defeatist attitude is because learning any language to where you don’t sound sound like a beginner takes a long term commitment and a lot of effort. There is no instant gratification when you learn something challenging like a language, guitar, math, etc.

On a completely different (but personal) example of putting in the effort, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from a hillbilly no-name university and everyone I knew said it was impossible to have good paying career with my degree. I was told, “quit wasting your time” or “someone is always better than you.” I hustled, learned new techniques, learned any graphic applications I could get my hands on and got a job right out of school. I have never stopped hustling, learning, pushing limits of my brain and 20 years later I am still working in the field of my dreams.

I use to hold a believe that math was impossible due in part to some stupid “right brain/left brain” theory some gatekeeper, somewhere thought up. In reality, I realized the need to understand math to improve my understanding in color theory and I started teaching myself programing. It took time, but I’m not afraid of math anymore.


I believe that looking at Japanese with the mindset that ‘it doesn’t make sense’ in comparison with our native tongue helps in learning it (though absolutely insane that sounds).

Looking at it with an open mind and thinking about it being purely different kind of helps. Then you aren’t getting tangled up trying to constantly compare it to another language.

(Learning FIVE languages? *phew*)


I heard many comments that learning Japanese is a huge time investment and if you aren’t ready to dedicate some study time every day for 5-10 years you might as well give up on becoming fluent. And then many would also argue that you don’t even need to learn it: wasting 10 years to be able to watch anime in Japanese, really?!

But that’s the attitude people have towards every everything if it can’t be learned in a short time period. Especially once you’re an “adult”.


I think it is the reading and the writing that make Japanese (and quite a few other languages) so mysterious and hard to crack. I mean, you can give an English speaker an Italian newspaper, and they will be able to ‘read’ and ‘speak’ without understanding much. Just the fact that the same characters are used to express similar sounds makes the language accessible.

To get to the same rudimentary level (pronouncing written characters) in Japanese takes a whole lot more effort.

To get to the same nuanced fluency probably takes very similar effort.

I speak five languages (including Japanese), three of them professionally at work. I also read about four more. Out of all those, I do find Japanese the hardest, because I cannot easily pick up some material, read it and turn it into sound (whether that’s the correct sound or not). And I joke that I have studied Japanese for more than 25 years, and still haven’t reached a good level of proficiency. I also despair sometimes - will I ever get there?

Actually, what is the ‘there’? When I travel to Japan, I can hold conversations with people quite nicely. Now that I am slowly deciphering the kanji better, I realize that I can speak quite well, and I understand a lot.

For me, reading is the easiest way of language immersion. If i want to improve my French or Italian, I just pick up a book and read. I don’t know why I avoided learning Kanji for such a long time, because I now think it is an important key to learning this language. No point avoiding it any longer. My motto is now: learn the kanji and read every day a few pages.

When it comes to speaking a language, there are so many different levels. I have lived in England for 20 years, but it is not my native language. I speak it very well, with better grammar and spelling than a lot of native speakers, yet when it comes to pronunciation I will always be the inferior speaker. But does is matter? What matters is understanding and expressing. And whether we are native speakers or not, we often do not find the right words, and we often misunderstand things. If its the native language, we don’t doubt our abilities, but if it is the acquired language, we do.

The main thing is that learning these languages (be it English, French or Japanese) has not lost its fascination for me. I hope I will never tire of the beauty of language learning.


We should put this on the front of the website.


Because Japanese really requires consistency and commitment, and many people overestimate how committed they are to learning it. I have found in all my time researching “how to actually study Japanese to become fluent” the #1 thing I encountered was a lack of insight on how it would realistically fit into their lives. I think everyone who is committed to learning Japanese has hope that it will be:

  • a lifelong hobby
  • allow them to enjoy Japanese media
  • improve their lives in Japan
  • Enable them to teach/speak to their children, spouses or relatives
  • Useful for work or for working in Japan
  • Useful for research
  • Allow them to move to Japan
  • Make their vacations more enjoyable

Or something of the sort. People who have hope and vision for how Japanese fits in their lives are more inclined to find the costs (time, effort, consistency, commitment, sacrifice, etc) of learning Japanese to be totally worth it.

I unilaterally agree that I have never come across such a defeatist attitude around learning anything else other than Japanese, and I also have never come across so much elitism in language learning communities outside of Japanese. Like you, WK is the only online community I’ve found so far where defeatism (and elitism) is not an issue.


Possibly relevant topic that I wrote up before: https://community.wanikani.com/t/to-encourage-or-not-to-encourage-when-someone-tells-you-their-lofty-goals-and-your-immediate-reaction-is-negative/46688?u=namazurider

The contents of this thread were helpful for me. In fact, I recently encouraged a friend who exclaimed that they wanted to watch anime without subs and understand 70% after six months of study from zero.


Yeah, sure…
Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard