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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.)
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


  1. lyrynne says:

    I always have this interest with Japanese language long before I got into Korean but I just started learning Japanese 2 years ago, my friend from Japan and the US even helped me out by recommending & sending me Japanese textbooks. It seems like it hates me though or maybe it just the lack of passion and motivation? Interest didn’t drive me to learn. I guess having interest in one thing isn’t enough, you have to love it to be able to learn. I did took a semester of Japanese class but forgot it after.


    1. Archana says:

      You’re right. I think if you have a strong enough interest in a language, you’ll find a way to get over any problems you face while learning it. For me, I DO have an interest in Japanese… when I’m not actually sitting down and studying it. The instant I do that, I get discouraged. :(


  2. tochuu says:

    I actually laughed while reading this post.
    I agree with every point you made, only that the things you consider easy/simple I consider difficult and mind blowing, and vice versa.

    1. In my case, the irregularity of Korean frightens me.

    2. It is hard to look up Kanji at first, but once you learn the radicals it’s quite easy. Or you can look them up by stoke count in some cases. (Before I started learning Japanese I used to wonder how Japanese people looked up things in dictionaries x.x)

    I agree so much with you that when you don’t know the kanji it becomes harder to learn by just reading. I find Korean easier in that aspect because you can learn new words, grammar structures just by reading, without having to look up kanji. But on the other hand, sometimes you don’t know what a word means in Japanese and just by looking at the Kanji you can get an idea what it is about. I can’t do that with Korean, unless I learn the hanja equivalents, or maybe there’s another way but I just don’t know it yet.

    3. Same with me, it can be frustrating.

    4. When I read in my book that Korean adjectives are pretty much verbs (“descriptive verbs” as my book says) I almost fell off my chair. I thought “how am I going to know the difference?” In Japanese you can recognize adjectives even if you don’t know what they mean. Maybe with Korean it will get easier somewhere along the way, but at the moment I can’t know the difference between verbs and adjectives until I know the meaning.

    5. Korean verbs in general have that effect on me.

    6. I mess up all the forms in Korean anyway, I need to practice more.

    7. Yes, Japanese does seem a little bit more rigid than Korean, but you’ll see it’s not as rigid as textbooks make it out to be.

    8. My mouth feels funny when I speak Korean.

    9. I know right? I get bored in Japanese class sometimes. Self study is more fun, though it can be “dangerous” because there’s nobody there to correct you if you make a mistake, and you’re bound to keep making that same mistake over and over again. But you can get a pen-pal or a private tutor and ta-da!

    Sorry for the looong comment ;x


    1. Archana says:

      Don’t apologize, I love long comments!!

      With regards to (4), I don’t think there’s a way to tell if a verb is descriptive or active by just looking at it. One thing I suggest is to use the 국어 사전 (Korean-Korean dictionary) at Daum or Naver to look up words. You don’t have to understand the meaning yet, but you can use it to see if a verb is descriptive or active. If it’s descriptive, it will say [형용사] and if it’s active it will say [동사]. Hope that helps.

      For (6) and (8), you could try using Lang-8 or following Korean celebrities on Twitter to get a more natural feel for how and when certain verb constructions are used. I also read a lot of news articles. Hahahaha actually my mouth felt funny when I first tried to pronounce Korean but it’s gotten better. I guess I’m better at managing vowels than I am consonants. XDD

      Thanks again for the comment. ^^


      1. tochuu says:

        Thank you so much for the tips :) I’ll definitely try them out!

        I have a lang-8 account but I rarely use it, I never know what to write about so I just end up making corrections on people’s entries T.T. I do follow some celebrities on twitter but I rarely log in x.x (will try to do so more often). I haven’t tried reading articles yet because I know I will end up frustrated, but as I gain more confidence I will try reading them.

        Honestly, I’ve been trying to get into Korean for a while now, but was always too lazy or too… something to keep myself motivated. This week I started reading/using some of the textbooks I bought but never looked at twice. Who knew you could actually learn from them if you read past page 5! :P

        Thank you once again for the tips^^!


  3. Vina says:

    Oh dear god. This is a really really long time ago post but i just see it now?? And i really want to comment here bcs i feel you. I really do.
    Now i’m a sophomore, taking japanese language as my major (by accident) and yes all 9 of them, i feel you.


    1. Archana says:

      Haha, three years have passed since I wrote this post and those nine points still hold true! Thanks for the comment.


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