My penpal Dina assured me that if I learned Korean, Japanese would be easy. LIES! Strangely enough, I know a lot of Korean learners who struggle with Japanese and vice versa. I can’t pinpoint what my problem is with Japanese but I know that it started before I started learning Korean.
I tried to teach myself Japanese in high school but only got as far as learning hiragana and the basic “AはBです” type sentences before I got sidetracked with Kanji. Kanji was a whole other beast… I got so into trying to learn Kanji that I forgot that I actually had to understand some Japanese grammar before I could use it. Then, I stumbled into Korean (with no intention of learning it!) and it came so naturally to me that I abandoned Japanese until last year.
I thought maybe formal instruction would help me with Japanese but it doesn’t. It’s not that my grades are bad; I just feel sluggish. It takes me a long time to memorize things and I forget sentence patterns easily – stuff I’ve never had a problem with in Korean. Why can’t I seem to find my momentum with Japanese? These might be some of the reasons:
- The regularity of Japanese frightens me. (Only 2 irregular verbs?!) This is probably a positive thing for most people but… I don’t know, it just seems unnatural to me. It’s easier for me to deal with irregularities in Korean because I liken them to English.
- It’s hard to look up Kanji. I don’t know how to look up Kanji using radicals (is that how you do it?) so when I encounter Kanji that I can’t read, I’m stuck. Even simple sentences like 今晩は時間がありません becomes hard when you don’t know what all that Kanji is! (Incidentally, yes, I do know those particular ones.) In Korean, I learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary just by reading stuff that’s beyond my level. But Kanji prevents me from taking this approach in Japanese.
- I have a weird inability to recall and write Kanji. I can recognize Kanji with no difficulty. Give me Kanji that look similar – like 読 and 話 I have no difficulty distinguishing them in meaning. But then ask me to write sentences using that Kanji and… I can’t remember how they look exactly. Like yesterday, I forgot how to write 金 as in 金曜日!! I mean, I learned days of the week years ago and I have no problem recognizing that 金曜日 = きんようび but I couldn’t remember the strokes for 金 and 曜! So frustrating!
- There are 3 types of verbs and 2 types of adjectives. Korean has really spoiled me. I REALLY love the fact that adjectives are pretty much verbs in Korean. I hate how much Japanese grammar patterns change based on the type of verb and type of adjective you want to use. It’s really hard to memorize.
- I can never remember て-form. Guess more practice is the solution for this but, seriously, we learned this last semester and I STILL have to keep looking up how to make the て-form of う-verbs. If you can’t master て-form and plain form, you’re pretty much screwed for more advanced grammar.
- Plain form is more complicated than polite form. And I need to master plain form if I want to understand anime, dammit! No, but seriously. I always have to pause and think when I want to use plain form. It’s embarrassing.
- Japanese seems more rigid. This is just based on the two semesters of beginning Japanese that I’ve taken, but I guess with regularity comes rigidity. With Korean, I love the fact that you can move around different words in a sentence and choose to omit certain particles without greatly affecting the meaning of the sentence (obviously this doesn’t work in all cases). But with Japanese, the sentence patterns seem fixed and you will be struck down if you leave off a particle! (Or at least that’s how my textbook makes it out to be.)
- My mouth feels funny when I speak Japanese. Is it the consonants that are tripping me up? I don’t know. A lot of people find Korean, which is a relatively vowel-heavy language (all those i, eu, eo, yeo, yo, yu, u, o sounds), more difficult. To my untrained ear, Korean has a more gliding, guttural sound than Japanese which sounds very crisp and staccato. But for some reason, the consonants make it harder for me to speak fast in Japanese. It’s like the words just get stuck in my mouth.
- I just wanna study what I wanna study. This is more my gripe with formal instruction. Every chapter in our textbook (and most language texts out there) is “themed” so we learn a lot of related vocabulary at the same time. Next chapter, for example, we’ll be learning about seasons and weather. My immediate thought was, I’m not going to be a meteorologist in Japanese, why do I need to learn this? (Rain, snow, etc. is fine but why do we have to learn stuff like “the air pressure is rising”??) My brain shuts off when I see vocabulary that I’m not interested in.
Calling all Japanese learners out there! Did you have similar issues when you were starting out with Japanese? How did you overcome them and hit your stride? Do leave me a comment and let me know.