Why is there such a defeatist attitude around learning japanese?

I agree. I think the perception of Japanese being hard is based on the fact that it is VERY different from English. I think the biggest obstacle in learning Japanese is English. just keep going and it will make sense.

塵も積もれば山となる (even dust becomes a mountain if piled together)


There’s a bit of selection bias there because the difference between a college student and a motivated adult learner is vast.

I hated taking physics lectures for 2 hours a week in college and yet I can happily watch 6 hours of PBS Spacetime in one sitting.

The vast majority of us are here because we want to be and that leads to a healthier environment. :smiley:


My humble point of view is: people who happen to speak and read japanese very well, are usually the ones who went to a school in Japan and lived there for a while, so learning japanese actually costed them a lot of money.
So they tend to say to newbies that they won’t learn anything by just using a book or an app, they have to suffer as they did (economically) as the only way to learn proper japanese.


Yes! This! This is exactly what I think too.


Studying for 10 years sounds like tons of work. But once the foundation is there the studying through immersion is a lot more fun.

I’ve studied English for a lot more than 10 years now and I’m still improving. Heck, reading and posting here could be considered “studying English”.


I have a (potentially unpopular) theory: of all of the upper difficulty languages for Westerners to learn, I think Japanese attracts a distinct demographic in the west, one that I think might have an unusually high distribution of males of a particular interest.

According to some research I was perusing some time ago, in some language learning communities there is the observation that females have higher motivation for learning a second language. Females, statistically, also score higher in Agreeableness (Big Five model). Agreeableness directly correlates with a person’s tendency to engage in publicly combative or negative behavior. These factors may explain why the other language learning communities have milder dispositions than the Japanese language learning community, especially if it’s found that the western Japanese language learning community has an unusually high distribution of males.

If we look at other online communities where males make up a higher population, you may notice a higher occurrence of publicly negative or toxic behavior. This doesn’t mean that the entire community is negative or toxic, or that males in general are negative or toxic. It indicates that males, in the extremes, tend to engage in negative discourse publicly more frequently than females. Since the internet is the modern source of nearly all information, this often colors our perception of certain communities. It probably takes less than 100 active posters with a terrible disposition to ruin a subreddit for everyone, even if the entire community isn’t that way as a whole.

I also believe that males have a tendency to desire to be seen as “knowledgeable” in something, and engaging in public criticism is something that people often conflate with “displaying expertise” or “wisdom”. You’ll even see that behavior here from time to time.

Because of factors like this, I try to remind people that it’s important that people take time away from the internet to maintain a healthy view of the world. It’s also probably another good reason to be intentional about encouraging positive discourse: we need to make communities comfortable for people with less combative personalities to participate in discussion, even if it’s the same topic for the millionth time.


Well tbf, comments like this fall in two categories:

People warning others of truly unrealistic expectations that they may have had for one reason or another (e.g. You can reach native like fluency in 3 years). Thats not possible no matter how much time you put in.

People assuming others wont be able to put in the work/reach a goal that actually is possible and putting them down.

The latter is bad, but the former can go either way. Personally, I would want to be warned of any terribly unrealistic goals I have sooner rather than later, so I don’t see any problem with it.

I’ve never really noticed this, but I’ve never taken a college class on japanese so maybe its more common in those. I do have a theory, though.

Japanese is “hard”. I mean, it actually IS a lot more work than someone who knows nothing about it might assume it to be. I expect there to be a lot of people learning Japanese with maybe a lot of focus on what they want to achieve in the language (like watching animu without subs) without a lot of consideration towards the actual work that will take. When they are forced to take their focus away from the goals and made to realize the work that they’ll need to put in (which is likely more than anticipated), complaining ensues.

What it boils down to imo is expectations, and the lower expectations you have for how much work you’re going to put in, the more you’re going to complain when you realize its more than what you expected. No one would willingly learn a learn a language with the expectation that its going to be a certain level of difficulty and complain if it were easier than that level. Well, maybe a few weirdos would.


The only thing that makes Japanese stand out for me, compared to other languages that you might have encountered in school where I live, is having to learn a whole new alphabet.

The fact that you will have to make a serious effort learning kanji is a bit off-putting, and might make some people complain about the process or give up before they even start (or give up half-way through).

But, I can’t say I’ve met much of a “defeatist attitude” even so. At least not here on WK.

I think this is a wonderfully supportive community. It’s a place to review my energy even when I don’t feel like doing my reviews. :slight_smile:

I believe as long as you have realistic expectations on the effort required to acquire the language, you’ll have an easier time with it. This is as true for Japanese as it is for anything you might wanna learn.


Japanese does not have an alphabet. /pedantry


Yeah, that’s definitely something I frequently see here regarding expectations. Fluency in 3 years? Nope

But with WK and some grammar, you can definitely learn to read Japanese comfortably in 2 years.


The main problem with Japanese is me not the language once I knew that I became better at fixing my faults.


Really the more subtle issue is that everyone has different ideas of what “fluency” and “comfortable reading” is. As a result, using those words to describe goals or things you have achieved may sort of actually distort the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

I know personally I have what a lot of people would consider to be a high bar for fluent. Other people who have a very low bar for fluent could tell me that they reached fluency in a year and be referring to them getting like N4 ish whereas I would think they could pass the N1 with ease. If we don’t clarify that their idea of “fluent” is my idea of “beginner level”, then misunderstandings are going to be made.


I feel like it’s because it’s such a different language. As humans, we naturally tend to overestimate the severity of something, whether it be high school drama or the difficulty of learning a language. Japanese is completely different from English in almost all aspects, so it would make sense for people to say “Japanese is difficult.” Over time, through a messy game of telephone, the phrase became “Japanese is impossible.” I know someone else already said something similar in this thread, but I thought I would still put my two cents in about that.

Then, making this even more personal: Some people find Japanese difficult because they don’t have the right resources. Everyone learns differently. Personally, I despise most SRS systems from a learning standpoint because I feel like I’m just being thrown into something without being taught the material. Learning new stuff on Anki or Kamesame is especially stressful for me for that reason. But Wanikani has you do lessons, where it teaches you the kanji and readings and then has you take a small quiz, then you have reviews. After that, then I can utilize Anki and Kamesame as a tool to help reinforce material.

I feel like the mix of the defeatist attitude and the different learning styles can create a very hostile environment. I haven’t been here for long, but I’m glad WK doesnt seem to be like that. I quite enjoy the people here honestly :smiley:


I think that was my opinion until I actually sat down and attempted to memorize hiragana / katakana. The “alien” way its written, the format, the sounds and etc… Is an immediate bulwark to most people that’re interested in Japanese for casual reasons. (Myself included).

I still get that kind of feeling when I started going into grammar and etc. I think its not reflected in other Asian languages / others so different from English / European languages because Japanese is probably the most popular to people?

I’m not quite sure I’d call this a “negativity” thing, more like defeatism? A lot of people go into Japanese as a fan of anime, or manga or general surface level culture and don’t expect it to be a challenge.


I’m kinda jealous :stuck_out_tongue: But yeah it just takes time. 2 years ago N2 would’ve looked impossible to me but now I’ll be going for N1 in June.


Because it feels good to complain and to share in our struggles.

I guess it depends on what you mean by “defeatest.” I’m not gonna give up any time soon, but I am gonna complain every, step, of, the, way. Please respect my individual learning process. :smile:

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Yeah, and a lot of learning resources take advantage of the ambiguity of “fluency” to convince people to use their product. They advertise fluency in a matter of months, knowing that they just mean “able to ask for directions or order food while on vacation” while not caring that many people will imagine a much higher level upon hearing “fluency.”


Exactly. And people complain about the JLPT, and I’m sure it has some problems, but at least one thing it offers is a very well understood benchmark where things can’t be lost in communication or blurred as easily. Its no surprise that the “polyglots” I see who claim to speak japanese and then say 日本語に行きます in their videos don’t talk about what jlpt levels they’ve been able to pass.

Tying back to the original point of the thread, I think a lot of people boast reaching “fluency” in short time spans like you said which really lowers expectations for the difficulty of the language. I’d imagine its those people expecting things to be that easy who are complaining the most.


I think typically, in my experience anyways, newbies often underestimate just how difficult learning Japanese is. When I was new to Japanese, I could also be counted among this group.

However, there is no reason to be discouraged if it is something you really want to do, and if you are being honest and realistic about the investment of time and effort which is needed to master this language. Aside from having raw talent, all military and governmental research seems to indicate that Japanese is one of THE hardest languages to learn for an English speaker. Rather than focusing on the term defeatist, which granted many who have tried and failed often do, it’s important to be a realist.

I will also mention that not only is this language insanely hard, but depending on who you are, adopting the culture and integrating yourself into Japanese society is even harder. However, almost every challenge in life (with obvious exception) is essentially determined by your attitude towards it. If you love Japanese language, and you love a challenge, go for it!!! Despite the many negative aspects and challenges I’ve come across in my several years of living here in Japan, I’ve come across many invaluable treasures, teachings, and humblings as well.

In closing, I will also offer another bit of perhaps unsolicited advice. Don’t worry about what other people think unless those people are your true allies. Those are people who are genuinely happy to share in your successes, and suffer along with you in your defeats. Those are the people who will give you honest advice, without taking a dump on all of your dreams. Everything else is just white noise, my friend.

Off my soapbox now…back to the kanji grind. Good luck to you!


I think that people who have seen studying for a long time get a bit burnt out or sometimes jaded because they’ve seen so many start studying Japanese, and so few people stick with it. For example, of my college Japanese classmates, we started with 230 students freshman year. Only 16 students completed all four years of Japanese classes, and of those 16, I only know four (myself and three others) who still study or use Japanese regularly. So, that’s 1.7% of students who started learning Japanese who still study it or regularly use it. Frankly, it’s depressing to constantly see others drop the language and to lose touch with those who started out with you.

After a while, I think a lot of people start thinking, “Why bother helping newbies? There’s almost no chance they’ll stick with it past one or two years.” I’m not like that, but I do sort of understand why they feel that way.

The fact of the matter is that Japanese generally takes a very long time to gain proficiency in, so seeing people frequently start with almost-impossible goals then quickly burn out or become discouraged is really hard. I frequently encourage people to set short-term goals rather than broad overreaching ones like “become fluent in two years,” because I would rather they set a series of moderate goals and be more likely to stick to (and achieve) them, all the while moving towards their true long-term goal.