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Author Topic: Is Japanese hard to learn?  (Read 2779 times)

pianohombre

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Is Japanese hard to learn?
« on: February 03, 2021, 03:10:46 pm »
I have studied Chinese (Mandarin), but don't have very much use for it. There's a lot of video games, anime, and manga in Japanese though. I believe they use "kanji" instead of hanzi as their script.
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730

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2021, 04:59:36 pm »
Yes it's hard. 
Though if you know Traditional Chinese (I don't really know much about the different languages in the family, just that there's simplified characters and traditional characters) then you'll have surpassed much of the kanji barrier from the start, since Japanese mostly inherits traditional Chinese characters (though the pronunciations are completely different, and as far as I know, the meanings can vary pretty often). 
 
Here are some helpful guides on learning Japanese that get as straight to the point as possible: 
https://itazuraneko.neocities.org/learn/guide.html 
https://learnjapanese.moe/guide/ 
https://animecards.site/
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RetroGameFan

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2021, 09:52:29 am »
@pianohombre - On second thought, I don't think either Chinese or Japanese would be that hard to learn, considering you have the right tools and methods within your reach. Have you ever tried Rosetta Stone? It's both an online and offline language learning software designed to teach you a new language the same way you learned your first language. If you haven't tried it yet, I'd suggest you do.

730

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2021, 01:10:56 pm »
Rosetta Stone is bad and so tends to be every software tailored to softly teaching you a language instead of relying on your own will and effort. 
Also, you're not 3 years old, so your brain is not plastic anymore and you won't absorb language by pure osmosis. On the other hand, you are able to understand explanations and comprehend context through intellect. 
Read a grammar guide (like Tae Kim's), do your Anki reviews every day, and read and listen a lot through games, anime, manga, what have you (and add words to Anki), and if your effort is constant, in a few years (or less?!) you'll have a more or less fluent comprehension level (speaking is another matter entirely, though you do end up acquiring it to some degree eventually). 
And don't ever pay money for knowledge that is available for free (which is all you need).  Learning programs and textbooks will never get you to a level where you can pick up a game and play it understanding everything it says, if they can even get you to understanding any text outside of a stiff textbook format, that is. Better get exposed to what real Japanese looks like from the very start instead of being lied to then being afraid of reading anything else because you can't understand it.
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Psyklax

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2021, 01:27:11 pm »
The short answer to "is Japanese hard to learn" is "depends". Kanji and hanzi are the same (or at least Traditional Chinese characters, as mentioned, since Simplified are not the same), but reading kanji (for the purposes of video game translation) is not the main issue. Kanji is problematic in real life but if you have the script dumped then it's not really the main problem for translation since you can just look them up automatically.

People just look at kanji and say "I guess Japanese is hard" but they completely ignore grammar and vocabulary and all the other things that make a language what it is. Japanese has extremely regular verbs, not as simple as Chinese but still way simpler than European languages; adjectives are the same; nouns are virtually never conjugated for number, gender or case, so in terms of grammar, Japanese is delightfully simple by comparison. The main problem with Japanese grammar is that it's so radically different to European languages that you basically have to break the mold in your brain for what grammar is, and just learn from scratch.

The writing system is also not that tricky at all in the digital realm, because hiragana and katakana, with some concerted effort, is easy to learn and once you've got it, you can read everything except kanji, and 8-bit games usually use only kana. This, however, makes it harder to translate, because of the insane amount of homophones and ambiguities, which are removed when you use kanji. Translating games with kanji is many times easier than with kana, because you don't need to make educated guesses.

So, is it hard to learn? Sort of, yes, maybe, it depends. I'm not very good but I've managed to translate a few games. :)

cccmar

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2021, 03:08:31 pm »
I'd argue one could easily learn two major European languages from one family (say, French/Spanish, Spanish/Portuguese and so on) in the same time it would take you just to learn Japanese, or maybe even faster due to proximity in terms of writing/vocabulary/tense usage, whereas with Japanese you're learning everything from scratch. However, you have some background in Chinese, so that might help you somewhat with regards to reading, and if that's all you care about, the process may end up being more pleasant (there are still plenty of differences). You can find a lot of useful stuff online, including tons of vocabulary lists, podcasts, channels, grammar books etc. - all for free. When it comes to top 10/top 20 world languages, you can easily find people to talk to/study materials without any effort, so it's mostly up to you whether you choose to give it a shot. I'd still say Japanese is likely in the top 5 of the hardest world languages to learn, but it's also really fascinating, so perhaps it will be right up your alley.

Sanedan56

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2021, 03:47:07 pm »
The difficulty depends on what style is used.

Japanese consist of 3 writings, Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji(Hanzi).

Katakana and Hiragana are similar to western characters. The alphabet consist of 26 letters, while Japanese has almost double the amount. Katakana is mostly used for words. Hiragana is used for names(of foreign things/people, etc) and emphasis.

Kanji is essentially Hanzi characters.

Some games (both 8-bit and some games to this very day) use all Hiragana/Katakana. On one hand, this doesn't require any knowledge Kanji. On the other hand, this makes it difficult to understand without context.

aqualung

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2021, 07:26:04 pm »
Katakana is mostly used for words. Hiragana is used for names(of foreign things/people, etc) and emphasis.


I'm not intending to be "that guy" but... isn't it the other way around?  ;)

pianohombre

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2021, 08:22:55 pm »
People just look at kanji and say "I guess Japanese is hard" but they completely ignore grammar and vocabulary and all the other things that make a language what it is. Japanese has extremely regular verbs, not as simple as Chinese but still way simpler than European languages; adjectives are the same; nouns are virtually never conjugated for number, gender or case, so in terms of grammar, Japanese is delightfully simple by comparison. The main problem with Japanese grammar is that it's so radically different to European languages that you basically have to break the mold in your brain for what grammar is, and just learn from scratch.

So, is it hard to learn? Sort of, yes, maybe, it depends. I'm not very good but I've managed to translate a few games. :)

Hi, thanks. I think in kanji there is only 50 characters compared to over 80,000 in Chinese. Unfortunately, it's not on Babbel. Rosetta Stone can be pretty expensive costing around $300 per level. (On a side note I did spend today in Little Tokyo, although most of the area was shutdown due to the epidemic.)
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Miles

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2021, 01:04:45 am »
OP, if you consider studying Japanese, then get "ANKI" on your PC and mobile phone as a learning tool. It's a free flash card system and you can find plenty of beginner sets there to study. It's my go-to learn program for everything.

Sanedan56

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2021, 03:09:23 pm »
Hi, thanks. I think in kanji there is only 50 characters compared to over 80,000 in Chinese.

Actually, Kanji is much more than just 50 characters.

I'm not intending to be "that guy" but... isn't it the other way around?  ;)

Thank you, I meant to say the other way around.

RadioTails

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2021, 04:22:06 pm »
Hi, thanks. I think in kanji there is only 50 characters compared to over 80,000 in Chinese. Unfortunately, it's not on Babbel. Rosetta Stone can be pretty expensive costing around $300 per level. (On a side note I did spend today in Little Tokyo, although most of the area was shutdown due to the epidemic.)

There isn't an exact known number of Kanji (Chinese) characters, but there are over 50,000. Japanese speakers need to know around 2,000 before their compulsory school ends. Here is a list of what they are taught during each grade: https://kanjicards.org/kanji-list-by-grade.html
« Last Edit: February 06, 2021, 07:20:42 am by RadioTails »
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Psyklax

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2021, 05:44:29 pm »
Japanese speakers need to know around 20,000 before their compulsory school ends

Just for clarification, to quote Wikipedia, "The jōyō kanji system of representing written Japanese consists of 2,136 characters", not 20,000. The page you linked to clearly doesn't have 20,000 kanji anyhow. :)

Also to expand on what Sanedan56 said, there are 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, each representing the same sounds - kana is a syllabary rather than an alphabet, so you have "ka ki ku ke ko", "ma mi mu me mo" and so on. They mostly look different though some are vaguely similar, with hiragana being more curved and katakana being more angular. I'm quite comfortable reading normal Japanese in hiragana but since katakana is USUALLY used for foreign terms, it drives me crazy when characters in games - or on very old computers, entire games - use katakana to write normal Japanese. Kanji are harder to learn but they help enormously with understanding due to the limited Japanese phonetic system creating endless homonyms.

As mentioned throughout the thread, Japanese is such a popular language choice that you can learn a hell of a lot for free, but of course, if you're serious, you could find a proper human teacher.

Lord Igniz

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2021, 05:53:56 pm »
Having lived in Japan for about 6 months in my life, I would say the language is extremely difficult- especially when it comes to kanji and reading/writing. Since you have a grasp on Chinese already, you have a significant advantage over most people- but it's still no walk in the park. I know 3 languages fluently (English, Spanish, and Hebrew) but Japanese is a complete other ball park (again, if you're coming from a Indo-European language background). I know simple phrases and words and can understand basics as well; but I wouldn't recommend it unless you plan on living in Japan long-term. Most big name manga/anime/videogames have been translated to English already- so if that's your reason I don't think it justifies the amount of time and effort it takes into learning the language. Just my $.02.

goldenband

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2021, 06:25:26 pm »
There's also a world of difference between learning a language well enough to interact in real time with native speakers who aren't simplifying and slowing down their speech for your benefit, vs. learning it well enough to read video game scripts with close to 100% comprehension with the aid of a dictionary and Google.

The former takes many years and pretty much requires you to live in the target country, but the latter can be done with 12-24 months of focused and consistent study.

Maybe add a year for Japanese's innate difficulty, and another year if you're not good at languages, and another if you're looking to be able to understand the spoken language in movies and FMVs. Maybe subtract six months if you have no need to learn how to (physically) write the language, especially kanji with the correct stroke order.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2021, 06:31:04 pm by goldenband »

RetroGameFan

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #15 on: February 06, 2021, 12:44:08 pm »
Rosetta Stone is bad and so tends to be every software tailored to softly teaching you a language instead of relying on your own will and effort.
I bet you that a lot of people, especially most of those who have reviewed Rosetta Stone, would disagree with you on that one. It may or may not be the best way to learn another language, but even if it's not, it's still much better learning that way than through memorization, translation, or drills.

Quote
Also, you're not 3 years old, so your brain is not plastic anymore and you won't absorb language by pure osmosis.
True, I'm not 3 years old, but people who are much older than that can learn another language easier with Rosetta Stone than with other methods. And while it is true that youngsters often tend to learn languages easier than older people, and Rosetta Stone might be rather expensive, I think it's definitely a good place to start.

AhiruTaicho

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #16 on: February 06, 2021, 03:05:01 pm »
I've learned Japanese beginning at at age 18 and eventually becoming fluent enough to pass the JLPT N1 (Japanese Language Proficiency test) and work in International Relations with the Japanese government (I'm 36 now, btw). I'll try to give you some info.

I wouldn't say Japanese is harder to learn than other languages. True, it has a reputation for being difficult, but I think that's mainly due to it's convoluted writing system (I have heard linguists refer to it as the most difficult in the world). In addition to 2 phonetic systems, it also uses around 2000 Chinese characters (Kanji), which have been adapted, altered, and reinterpreted to fit the Japanese language (while also adopting the Chinese pronunciations and meanings on top of it), so most of the Kanji has multiple pronunciations and meanings depending on how it's used and what characters they are combined with, and the only way to know is through hard memorization. There are no mnemonics or rules to help you, just repetition and memorization. Japanese people formally study Kanji all through high school, and that's in addition to a lifetime of natural exposure to it, so you can imagine  how daunting it would be for a non-native learner. I still need to look up words when I read.

This is why I would recommend to not worry about learning Kanji, at least not right away. Hiragana and Katakana (the phonetic systems) are pretty simple and easy to get down. Learn those first and look up the kanji as you encounter them. A lot of literature aimed at youth (i.e. manga) has the reading for Kanji written above it in hiragana, which makes reading and learning much easier. Nowadays it's shouldn't be too difficult to find libraries or stores that have manga in Japanese.

Anyway, while reading is admittedly a challenge, I honestly think speaking is not all that bad. Pronunciation is pretty simple. Japanese actually has a very small variety of sounds compared to other languages (I learned in linguistics class that it has roughly 1/10 of the sounds that can be produced in English). Every sound in Japanese exists in English in some form, so you don't  have to train yourself to make new sounds or anything. People seem to have the most trouble with the Japanese "R," as it's not really close to the English "R," or "L" for that matter; it's a unique sound that's actually closer to an English "D" than an "R" or "L" (Imagine positioning your tongue like you're making an "L" sound but instead making a "D" sound (if that makes sense, it's a crappy explanation)). Grammar is not that bad to get down, either. It seems confusing and "backwards" at first, but I had a much easier time once I realized how consistent and easy the sentence structure is (i.e the main verb comes at the end of the sentence).

Textbooks like "Genki" (https://www.amazon.com/GENKI-Integrated-Elementary-Japanese-English/dp/4789014401) are so good you could learn a lot all by yourself. I began self-learning with a book called "Japanese for Everyone" (https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Everyone-Functional-Approach-Communication/dp/4889962344) and learned enough to test into 2nd year Japanese when I started college classes.
Duolingo is a simple, easy, and free. That wouldn't hurt to try. Rosetta Stone is good to help you remember and retain words and phrases, but it doesn't become practically useful until you get pretty deep into it, so you need to stay motivated and stick with it if you want to get something out of it.

I lost track, so I'm going to end here for now. Hopefully this was a bit helpful. Feel free to ask questions or send me a message.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2021, 06:30:07 pm by AhiruTaicho »

Recca

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #17 on: February 08, 2021, 01:46:12 am »
If you would like to take a look, I did translate an old book about Japanese grammar from Romanian to English a few years ago called "Japanese in 30 Days". You can find it at the Dynamic-Designs message board here:
http://www.dynamic-designs.us/d-dforum/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=1037&sid=c0b77447862f7fa24f6dfea49cde18d5

It's mainly a tourism guide that also covers basic grammatical structures as well as commonly used words, greetings, expressions, phrases, etc. There's also a full Hiragana and Katakana table, along with some dictionary sections at the end of various chapters, as well as a few common Kanji meanings. Hopefully, it will prove to be useful to you or anyone else who might be interested.
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pianohombre

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2021, 04:50:08 pm »
Hi, I did read your responses and it took a few days, but one thing important to notice is that Chinese characters are not called "kanji". That is Japanese. Chinese script uses "hanzi" (like the Han dynasty). A couple of you who have studied the language said it's not worth spending 1-2 years practicing it just for translation projects because there already is a big community. Although, I have probably studied Chinese for over 5 years and still not fluent. I don't think I could even pass the HSK Level A proficiency test lol.

There are a lot of good works in Japanese (such as Yu Gi Oh!, Pokemon, and Tokyo Ghoul) it would be a shame to see the projects fail to be transferred because the community is tired or lack of funding/demand.
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Naniyue

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Re: Is Japanese hard to learn?
« Reply #19 on: March 07, 2021, 02:35:56 am »
  Spoken Japanese is no harder than most languages, but as stated before, the written is a bit of a different story.  It's easy to learn the syllabaries, hiragana and katakana, as they are no more complex than a typical alphabet.  Kanji are tougher, but it gets easier as you learn more of them.

  The MSX has plenty of games that use hiragana or katakana only, making for easier reading.  My beloved PC Engine, though, has so many games chock full of kanji, that I admittedly need my kanji dictionary nearby.  :-\

  Here are just a few MSX titles that are relatively free of kanji:

  Deep Dungeon I
  Crimson I, II & III
  Deep Forest
  Green Crystal


  The PCE version of Ys IV has a full fan translation, including the voice acting.  You could play the original and the translated side by side and make study notes.  Digital comics on the system have many voiced lines, making for a sort of read-along effect.

   And of course, this is romhacking.net!  There are many of us from beginner to expert in Japanese, so feel free to ask further questions!