Japanese Language Blog

Why is Japanese so hard to learn? Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 in Culture, Grammar

Many foreigners say that Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn. Everyone has their own opinion as to why it is a challenge to learn Japanese. Perhaps, the way the words are pronounced? or maybe the 3 writing styles (hiragana, katakana, kanji) that they use? Well, below, I have summarized the key points of learning Japanese, explaining why it might be hard to learn but how we can tackle the difficulties.

Don’t worry about Kanji’s!

In my opinion, if you are just getting started learning Japanese, it will be a good idea to learn how to speak in Japanese first. Don’t worry about how to write or read yet, but focus on communicating in Japanese first or rather memorizing key conversational sentences to start with. Trying to learn how to read or write at an earlier stage will complicate your learning when you are new to Japanese. If your goal is to master Japanese, learning how to read or write can come later.  At the beginning, your learning might be in more like passive style; however, memorizing some common conversational sentences is the key. Achieving a decent speaking level in Japanese is not as hard as you might think.

If you have access to TV Japan, or Japanese Podcast, listen to them as long as you can during the day in your background to increase your understanding.

If you currently live in Japan and learning the language, it is great that you can immerse yourself in Japanese, but if you live outside of Japan, let’s face it, it is hard to put yourself into an environment where everyone speaks Japanese.

When you are just getting started to learn Japanese, I am sure real conversation sounds super fast that you might not even understand much of it. That’s because you are new to Japanese, and don’t have enough vocabulary yet. My advise is to first, get used to hearing Japanese on a daily basis. You will not have to watch TV Japan or listen to the Podcast all the time, but don’t turn it off.  If you can pick up some words here and there, it is doing its job. The more you get used to hearing Japanese, the better you will understand it!  Eventually, you will even learn to understand common expressions that are often used in a certain situations. In my opinion, it is best to learn how to communicate by listening actual conversations rather than by reading off of the books.  Come to think of it, that’s how children learn how to speak.

Find your favorite song and memorize it. 

Learning Japanese has to be enjoyable otherwise, it will be hard to keep going. So, my advise is to start learning Japanese based on your favorites! Pick any Japanese song you like based on your interest. It could be anime song or J-Pop, or anything. As long as it has lyrics, listen to them over and over while you are driving or taking a break, and memorize the lyrics.  It is a good start on learning how to pronounce Japanese words.

Watch Your favorite movie over and over. 

It is a passive way of learning Japanese, but this could be another effective way of learning conversational Japanese. Pick a movie or animation of your choice, ideally with subtitles, and watch it as often as possible.  Again, this will be a good exposure to native Japanese conversations.  Perhaps, if you are into baseball, pick an animation series based on baseball. If you are into soccer, likewise. There are so many kinds of Japanese animations out there based on almost every major sport. Watch until you memorize the phrases or expressions, starting with a few of them, and increase them as you watch over and over.

Learn the Japanese translations for your favorites.

Make a list of your favorite animals, vegetables, fruits, sports, colors, countries etc..   Find a Japanese translation for each of your favorite item one at a time.  You can use online dictionary or traditional English to Japanese dictionary. Don’t worry about writing each of these in Japanese. Use Roman alphabet. The important thing here is to build your vocabulary.

Write one sentence a day using your own knowledge of Japanese vocabulary.

If you would like to add more to your learning, start a diary to keep track of your progress. This can be once a day or once a week, at your own pace. It doesn’t even have to be a sentence if you can’t think of any. Start with your favorite word, again, using Roman alphabet is just fine. The idea is to get used to using the words you are learning.  You could start with the easy sentences,  such as “I went to park today.” (今日、公園へ行った。きょう、こうえん へ いった。)or “I ate bananas today.” (今日、バナナを食べた。きょう、バナナをたべた。) etc.. Once you learn a simple sentence, you can substitute the vocabulary in the sentence and grow from there until you learn a new sentence.  Don’t make this a chore, but rather try to think that this is something you look forward to doing.  Writing Japanese diary will be a relaxing time. You can do this, perhaps the first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day. If you are not crazy about writing, you can also voice record your words or sentences. That might be easier to do and more fun for listening back to what you have recorded in the past.

There are just a few of the advices that came to my mind for novice Japanese learners. I remember when I first started learning English, I had a hard time myself, and every conversation sounded so fast and that I couldn’t even comprehend any of the words spoken to me. However, as you know, “no pain, no gain”. If you spend even 10 minutes a day to listen to Japanese radio, Podcast, Internet, TV, etc.. it will add up! Please don’t give up on learning!  Every bit of your effort is worth it! Good luck!


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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.


  1. Marco:

    Hi Keiko,

    I read your blog and it’s very interesting. Lately I’m so interested in learn this language. Japanese culture, I think, is pretty good. I’m from Mexico and the culture here is too diverse, but sadly it has been lost through the time and the incoming times more. The corruption here is too bad. I just want to be in peace and have a good wife for my future 🙂 Maybe a japanese woman :)…

    Hope you’re doing fine. Regards.

    If someone is interested in learn spanish I can help. Also to improve your english…


    • keiko:

      @Marco Hi Marco,

      Thank you for your comments! I am glad to hear that you are interested in Japanese culture. It is true that over here in the US, we often forget to stick to our culture. It’s one of my challenges to retell and pass onto our tradition to my children. If you are interested in any particular subject, please let me know. I always like to listen to what our readers have in mind and reflect it in my articles. Thanks!

  2. LJ:

    Hi Keiko,

    Normally, I’m not a fan of passive learning… but I will agree on “Watch Your favorite movie over and over.” This is fairly easy to do, and if done once a week for a while… much of the Japanese gets stuck in my head. I’ve been doing that with 1 episode of Orange Days. Moving onto other episodes is still a bit of a hassle.

    • keiko:

      @LJ Hi LJ,

      Thanks for your comments. I think incorporating passive learning is sometimes good when you can’t be in the active learning environment. Or if you are just simply tired, sit back and enjoy watching something in Japanese (of course you have to be interested in it or like it)! Good luck on learning Japanese! Every bit of your effort counts!