I always hear from some foreign friends who say it is not difficult to speak fluent Japanese, but it takes a long time to master the reading part, which involves tons of kanji you have to comprehend if you want to read smoothly. Plenty of my Japanese friends, though, envy foreigners who can be excellent in Japanese speaking after one or two years of learning, or some Taiwanese who can master both reading and speaking parts well within 2 years, while general Japanese can’t speak English well after years of practice in their school life.
Young Japanese, surprisingly, think their native language is super difficult, according to the recent survey. Their perspective on difficulty, though, is not as same as foreigners’. Student Internet portal My Navi Gakusei no Madoguchi polled 269 Japanese university students (129 in male, 140 in female) about the areas of the language they felt hard. There are 5 main areas they always encounter with difficulty. Let’s take a look one by one!
Dialect is not an unusual communication problem for people who live in a big country. For instance, Tokyo people may not understand someone speaking with strong Hakata-dialect which is commonly spoken in Kyushu. ” you can’t chat with Tokyo people with your own dialect, for they completely don’t understand what you are talking,” said by a 22-year-old female student who seemed to encounter some unhappy experience in terms of communication problem in her first year of university life in Tokyo.
“It takes time to think of the exact meaning, ” by the final year student who is puzzled with comprehending some homonym, such as 早いと速い(はやい), 測ると計る(はかる), which have the same pronunciation and close meaning, but the use of context for each word is subtlety different. “It is quite hard of writing the report with the correct use of words, particularly words involved with homonym,” explained by 22-year-old female university student who has to look up the dictionary each time to clarify the exact meaning of the words before writing her paper. I really appreciate her learning attitude, and I think she will become a professional Japanese user very soon.
Keigo (Honorific speech)
Keigo is very vital in Japanese workplace. Some middle-aged Japanese once told me that they felt more comfortable with the use of Keigo in workplace setting. But for young Japanese, Keigo, though, is not their cup of tea. ” I always speak with wrong Keigo while serving for customers in the restaurant where I work”, expressed by a 21-year-old female student who struggles to use the right word at the right context in her part-time job. If you are interested in hanging around in bookstore in Japan, you can see a great deal of books about teaching people, not just for young people, the correct use of Keigo, which includes numerous phrases that you have to remember.
The use of respect form (尊敬語) and humble form (謙譲語）
Two forms are also part of Keigo. Respected form is used when you are talking about an action done by someone whom you have to show respect; and humble form is used for humbling yourself while talking with your superior about your action. It is not easy to use them naturally, as there are so so so many phrases to remember. One 20-year-old vocational school girl expressed her worry by saying that “it would not be possible to get a position in job hunting if poor in speaking Keigo.” It is true that if you want to work in a big company, proficiently mastering respect form and humble form is a must.
Each kanji basically has two or three pronunciations that trouble lots of Japanese to pronounce them correctly. One 19-year-old male university student expressed his frustration by saying ” sometimes, I can’t read the kanji in train station.” He is, indeed, not the only one, as the great number of survey takers responded by claiming that they occasionally can’t read some kanji in daily life. It can be well explained that for Japanese it is hard to master another language, for they are required to spend a great amount of time in learning their own language , at the expense of the rest of energy to learn a foreign language.
It seems it is not that easy to master this beautiful Asian language, but it is still worth learning it for understanding more of Japanese culture!
some photos by Japan Yabai Post