May 15

Is Japanese Difficult to Learn?


So you've decided to study Japanese, or you're at least considering it. Great! But, you're probably wondering – is Japanese difficult to learn? Is this going to be one of those things you start with great intentions, but then abandon when you don't see results? If this is your second language after English, the answer may surprise you...


Studying Japanese takes real mental effort

If you're used to finishing school or work, and then killing a few hours playing games or watching YouTube, you might find it hard to actually start studying Japanese. There are some really great game and video resources that will be useful to you, but only once you have the fundamentals covered. Luckily for you, we've put together a guide for you on exactly how you can start studying Japanese.

Going from "having free time" to essentially "not having free time" can be a real shock to the system. Studying any language takes effort and dedication, but more than anything, time. Those hours when you used to feel bored are no longer free to waste! If you have any hope of getting through the beginner stage, you're going to need to use your initial momentum to plow through some textbooks. This takes significantly more effort than throwing on the TV, so prepare yourself for that.

Is Japanese difficult to learn? Ask foreigners who live here...

I have met a number of foreigners in Tokyo who have lived here for years, but they still can't have a conversation in Japanese or read a menu. Imagine living your adult life in a foreign country, totally illiterate and unable to communicate your thoughts and opinions! This is why it's so vitally important to get a head start on your study before you come to Japan (if that's your end goal).

When you ask these people why they haven't improved their Japanese, there are always excuses:

  • Not enough time outside of work
  • No Japanese friends
  • Embarrassed to try speaking with locals

What a waste of an opportunity! I know for sure when I moved to Japan, my Japanese level was nowhere near "functional adult in society," but through dedicated effort I got to a comfortable level. Perfect? No. Can I live and work in Japanese? Fairly comfortably, 99% of the time.

What you need to do to begin

Nothing beats actually starting. Make a hiragana chart and make a katakana chart (or download ours for free). Make flashcards. Memorize all that over a week or two (shouldn't take much longer than that).

Then, get online and start googling "Japanese grammar". Seriously, pretty soon you'll be writing basic sentences. Pretty cool, right?

Don't worry about kanji yet (unless you want to, that's cool too). That will come. If you're at the stage where you're asking yourself "is Japanese difficult to learn," you likely haven't even started yet. My honest advice is that, though it may not be "easy" like learning a new game, it's valuable. If your life goals intersect with working in Japan in some way, this should be enough of a motivation to start.

The surprising truth

Humans are kind of amazing. Really. Given enough time and internal motivation, (almost) anyone can learn any skill.

When it comes to learning Japanese, the beginning stages actually pass much quicker than you might expect. Having studied Japanese for almost 15 years at this point, I would say that you could likely get to JLPT N4 level within 6 months with the right attitude.

It's kind of like going to the gym – asking "is Japanese difficult to learn?" is like asking "is it hard to work out?" The answer is a resounding yes, but to what degree? That's up to you and how much you put into it.

People don't like starting "hard work," but somehow I find that once you build a habit around it, it's difficult to stop.

Go start.

If you're considering starting to study Japanese, and what's stopping you is wondering "is Japanese difficult to learn," stop asking other people that and go find out yourself. "Difficult" is subjective, and ultimately unhelpful. If it's something you care about, or living/working in Japan is a goal of yours, get on it. Seriously, you'll thank yourself in two or three years.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.

The second best time is now.


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