These kind statistics are a kind of lie in themselves. You can say something like "omae wo aishiteimasu", but that's no more a normal way to say "I love you" than "I'm bonkers for that shithead". That has nothing to do with the grammar, it's lexical. "omae wo aishiteimasu" has a different meaning from "anata ga suki da yo".
But also, English has plenty of words for snow, here's 50: https://www.thoughtco.com/snow-terms-types-3010117
That's exactly the point being made - that there are lots of permutations whose individual words mean "I" and "love" and "you", but most of them wouldn't convey what the speaker wants to say, so it can be hard for the learner to choose correctly.
I mean, a set phrase like "I love you" is probably a bad example, since it's more or less idiomatic. But for the general case - a learner wants to say something involving "I" and "you" and a copula - I think the point being made in the article is valid.
But on the whole, no. Just no. I think what's said in the article on this is bullshit. As for wa/ga, one can not necessarily replace the other, so you'd lose a few permutations on that alone. Also, there are more personal pronouns to choose from if that's the game.
I also did not know that just because speech level is grammatically encoded in Japanese, one is not allowed to generate similar meaning in other languages.
Or rather: I'm sure I can find 248,026 ways to say "I love you" in some other language as well.
What is it with Japanese that triggers this kind of ignorance and Sapir-Whorf-ism...?
Here is Richard Feynman talking about the same problem:
While in Kyoto I tried to learn Japanese with a vengeance. I worked much harder at it, and got to a point where I could go around in taxis and do things. I took lessons from a Japanese man every day for an hour. One day he was teaching me the word for "see." "All right," he said. "You want to say, 'May I see your garden?' What do you say?" I made up a sentence with the word that I had just learned. "No, no!" he said. "When you say to someone, 'Would you like to see my garden? you use the first 'see.' But when you want to see someone else's garden, you must use another 'see,' which is more polite." "Would you like to glance at my lousy garden?" is essentially what you're saying in the first case, but when you want to look at the other fella's garden, you have to say something like, "May I observe your gorgeous garden?" So there's two different words you have to use. Then he gave me another one: "You go to a temple, and you want to look at the gardens..." I made up a sentence, this time with the polite "see." "No, no!" he said. "In the temple, the gardens are much more elegant. So you have to say something that would be equivalent to 'May I hang my eyes on your most exquisite gardens?" Three or four different words for one idea, because when I'm doing it, it's miserable; when you're doing it, it's elegant.
Japanese language is very tightly integrated with Japanese society, to the extent that I would cheekily argue it doesn't even count as speaking Japanese outside of the context of a Japanese social setting or structure.
To elaborate on your point regarding the proliferation of vocabulary from honorific synonyms, consider how much of the grammatical gamut is wrapped up in identifying the speaker's relationship with the listener. Who is the in-group? Who is the out-group? Is the speaker a man or woman? What is the relative social position of the speaker and listener? Is the utterance written or spoken?
Japanese is a language that identifies the answers to all of these questions with explicit grammar markers, while omitting number, case, conjugation, and employs only two tenses (realis and irrealis).
Learning Japanese in a classroom outside of Japan, or heaven forfend, through individual study alone, is an awkward and disconnected experience, since there is scarce opportunity to practice the major components of Japanese grammar in a real way.
Of course we all operated in Japanese in a professional setting daily, so knew the "correct" way to speak, but also had the ability to just drop all that when we wanted (which Japanese people basically never do). Totally different way to use the language, and if any Japanese people happened to overhear, it kind of blew their minds.
I found it very interesting to unpick all the different levels of linguistic, cultural, and social meanings and conventions in the language.
1. It is told in a sensationalist way that either is or is close to being orientalism. I believe Feynman was known for his story-telling skills (sometimes with some hyperbole for effect), and I think this case is no different.
2. That said, for someone doing a crash course in Japanese, I can see how this can come across as being confusing... but it's not terribly complicated for a smart person like Feynman. Maybe the teacher wasn't particularly skilled...
3. That said, if Japanese is learned in context over some period of time, using the wrong verb form in these contexts just intuitively sounds wrong to the point that it makes me (and others) reflexively wince.
4. That said, the deeper levels of keigo (not the minor stuff mentioned by Feynman) can actually be challenging to learn, even for Japanese people. This is mainly because the content is unfamiliar since the contexts are not experienced regularly (or ever)... until they are, then the keigo becomes natural.
5. That said, someone like Feynman (and in fact most westerners) would get a pass for using any form of "see" if it is in Japanese. Most Japanese I know have low expectations (rightly or wrongly) for foreigners speaking Japanese, so using the wrong verb form typically doesn't even raise an eyebrow.
The simple elementary school stuff isn't hard. But the highschool and college-level stuff? Ugh. Thousands of characters with multiple pronunciations each, sometimes with very tiny differences between them.
Picking the right pronunciation on the other hand...ends up being totally reliant on if I know the vocab word or not.
Each verb has different forms for formal/informal/very formal, but they're highly regular. For example "iku" is "go" and "ikimasu" is "go (polite)". "wakaru" is "understand" and "wakarimasu" is "understand (polite)". It's not like you have to learn four forms of each verb, you learn the basic one and then you know the rest. The ultra-formal versions, which are more rarely used, are also regular - they involve the infinitive of the verb plus a conjugated auxiliary verb IIRC, like saying "presume to go", "presume to understand" etc.
見る -> 見ます -> ご覧になる -> 拝見する
That is a lot different than just learning four different conjugations for 見る - it becomes an entirely different word!
I don't know the guy, but the app is simply amazing. Repetion, through fun methods, I learned hiragana as I rode the Tokyo metro and katakana too. (It also helped that everywhere was both Kanas)
Since we're all talking about how we all picked up some Japanese, I thought I'd throw it out there. I normally never donate to apps, but this is one app that is amazingly well polished, has a beautiful UI and the UX makes me guility that I don't sit down and do it daily.
Hell, thanks to it, I can transliterate japanese songs into kana and with the Kanji learning moudles I had fun translating last names into english and saying them. Nothing helped me more in making friends at random mixers or networking events then seeing someones Japanese name, properly addressing them and embarrassing myself by talking horrible Japanese.
But, Reading it, it's amazing. The manga too, I can read all the manga now if it has nice usage of furigana. Hentai manga, does not, though.
Really, I don't know the guy, the app is great and, without it my time in Japan would've been greatly not as quality. I made friends, thanks to this app, that I know I will know forever.
I've been using it in a similar manner on the train. 30 minutes per day and I'm holding my own ordering food, having basic conversation,.. (I live in tokyo)
- Jim Breen's JMDICT/EDICT. While very valuable, its "word priority marking" data is based on word frequency from old newspapers. That makes it both outdated and biased (newspapers don't use the same range of vocabulary as conversational japanese or books or other forms of expression)
- Jim Breen's KANJIDIC: It contains all sorts of readings for characters, some of which don't even appear in many japanese dictionaries, without any kind of differentiation whether they're rare or not. I also recently found that the Kang Xi radicals it contains don't all match the Kang Xi radicals contained in the Unihan database from the Unicode consortium (I reported the discrepancy to M. Breen).
- KanjiVG: Used in many apps, including Kanji Study, to show stroke order, and document radicals/kanji parts. Sadly, that last part is full of fantasy. To give a couple examples:
- The parts it gives for 息 are 自, 目, 心. Yeah, 目. Because, you know, if you remove the small stroke at the top of 自, you can see 目, but that's highly irrelevant. Furthermore, the only meaning listed for 自 is "one's self" except in characters like 息, 臭, 嗅, 鼻 it's "nose".
- The parts it gives for 専 are 寸 and a vertical stroke. Sure, there's barely a character for the top part of that character (many fonts don't have it, but it exists: http://glyphwiki.org/wiki/u24c14), but a vertical stroke? really?
Consequently, when looking at characters associated with a radical in Kanji Study, you end up with lists larger than they ought to be if you look at simple radicals like 目, because everything that contains 自 or 首 is listed as well.
Maybe that helps beginners in some ways, I don't know, but feeding them with useless information doesn't sound very useful on the long run.
Now, another problem I have with all these resources (and others you can find on the web) is that the most comprehensive data tends to be in English. Which is great for native English speakers, but really, studying a language in yet another language that is not native to you is not the greatest experience.
Finally, past a certain level of japanese (from my experience), it's better to use japanese-japanese resources. Because things don't map 1:1 between languages, and past a certain point, you get a sense of how some japanese words differ from what you would normally find in dictionaries to your native language. And it's then better to have other words defined in terms of those you already know than in terms of yet other not-quite-matching native words. Sadly, I haven't found good online (or in-app) japanese-japanese resources, except for Kanjipedia.
OTOH, I realized a while ago that I'm completely useless at translating japanese into my own native language. I'd take a japanese sentence I understand fully and be completely stuck trying to convey its meaning in my native language. This may or may not be related to the fact that my japanese abilities grew mostly through japanese than through non-japanese resources. Either way, translation is definitely a skill that is acquired separately.
Why should you possibly be interested: because not only did I learn Japanese and taught it, I also did a fair part of reading about the research on language acquisition and neurolinguistics as a part of my master's studies, so I know what I'm talking about.
It's been super effective for me at learning vocabulary and grammar (in context), and I much prefer that method over things like flashcards, Anki, supermemmo, etc.
1. It requires a healthy ego. Some people feel like it's childish since it is more like playing games than language learning. Other folks don't like making mistakes all the time.
2. It is great for languages that do not already have documented grammars and/or dictionaries. I believe the Summer Institute of Linguistics uses this method in some areas.
3. It naturally caps out in utility at around CEFR A2 / ACTFL intermediate. While many Americans call this level of proficiency "fluent", it really just scratches the surface of a language.
Regardless, I'm glad you found this method and that it works for you. Congrats!
I view it just a great way to jump start vocabulary and grammar learning and comprehension. TPR will need to be supplemented with other techniques, especially for production of spoken language, pronunciation, reading, writing, cultural sensitivity, social cues, etc. Also, in my experience, TPR has been most effective in one-on-one sessions with a tutor, while there's something to be said for classroom instruction where the student can interact with other students, and something to be said for interaction with native speakers of the languages outside any kind of formal instruction.
So, yeah, TPR is just another tool. A tool which I've found useful for certain purposes, but not the ultimate be-all-and-end-all of language learning. Is anything?
Btw. there's another good teaching method, which has a confusingly similar acronym: TPRS – Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.
Then there's "task-based teaching".
They all share some basic features: parsing input for meaning, context-dependence, concreteness, communicating to achieve some extralinguistic purpose instead of just "demonstrating/exemplifying this and that feature of the language", having a strong aural component and so on. This isn't by coincidence.
I think that language teachers should in general acquaint themselves more with the concurrent research results. Knowing the basic principles of how brain learns languages gives teacher the expertise to assess, tweak and choose teaching methods. Not to say that the researchers know everything about it either, but they certainly know a lot more than 50 years ago, yet I feel that much of the teachers' knowledge and preferred teaching methods are decades behind.
This is fine for similar languages. When you learn French you can learn that 'the' equals 'le' and 'la' and apply some extra rules to smooth over the differences.
It totally falls down on languages that have less in common. Almost all Japanese natives who speak English struggle with 'the' and 'a'. (this isn't a criticism, just a fact of life). I wonder if part of the problem is that most people learn languages on the sentence level. Read the following sentences:
The man went to the store.
A man went to the store.
Which one is correct? Well, there's certainly nothing grammatically wrong with either, but depending on the situation one or the other could be very misleading, confusing and unnatural. Most people, at least in Japan, learn from textbooks showing examples like this. It tells you absolutely nothing about 'the' and 'a'! So they end up reading huge explanations in their native language and come away thinking 'Wow, foreign languages are hard'.
The context or everyday interactions have to be learned in some other place like forums, conversations, movies, etc
If you're learning Japanese in school, or even if you're learning it on your own, I recommend the Genki I and Genki II books, and the corresponding workbooks. If you really enjoy it and want to come to Japan to use your newly acquired language skills, I'm confident that after getting through those 2 books you'll have enough Japanese to get by and you can have fun wandering around, reading signs, chatting with strangers, etc. Don't be discouraged by people saying that Japanese is so difficult to learn.
Edit: also, I hope this comment didn't come off as too negative. I think it's great that Duolingo is doing this, and if it gets more people to enjoy learning Japanese then that's fantastic.
Also IME, you barely need to speak any Japanese to wander around Japan and read the signs (because they're all in English anyway). Definitely recommended regardless of language proficiency.
That makes speaking the language easier, but it makes understanding sentences harder in the beginning, because you get a bucket of word soup dumped on your head and have to figure out what is supposed to go where.
Of course, articulating yourself correctly is the bigger (or more long-term) challenge when learning a second language, but in the case of Japanese you have a higher up-front learning curve than with most other languages.
The problem is all the words, and there are no cognates.
But it's still "the most difficult language to learn". So it's worth taking that difficulty into account. For example one can learn Spanish, Swedish and Vietnamese in around the same amount of time it would take to learn Japanese.
Phonologically, Japanese is easier. No tones, and no retroflex consonants to worry about as in Mandarin (unless you don't mind sounding southern/Taiwanese). There is a pitch accent in Japanese, but apparently it varies wildly from one end of the country to the other, and it's not generally critical to comprehension, unlike Mandarin tones.
Lexically, Japanese is easier, at least IME. Don't know a word? Given all the borrowing in Japanese, I've had very good luck just to mangle the English word into Japanese phonotactics, and 90% of the time, the person I've spoken to immediately knows what I mean.
Syntactically, there's a lot more similarity in Mandarin's basic SVO word order to English.
But Kanji. OMG. You need to learn roughly the same set of Kanji as hanzi to be high-school literate, but the Japanese set will generally have a minimum of two pronunciations per character, which vary wildly in context. Mandarin generally has one pronunciation per character, which becomes far simpler to learn.
Those are a mixture of my impressions, and the opinions of friends who speak the language (both learned and native). Overall, I think the most difficult part of mastering Chinese and Japanese is the same: Lack of shared cultural context, if you come from an English-speaking or European country.
But, there's an important distinction. Japanese is singled out as "somewhat more difficult for native English speakers to learn than other languages in the same category."
Spoken Japanese, though, is easy. Well, at least from a mechanical standpoint. Japanese grammar is dirt simple and minimalistic, and I found it shockingly easy to learn. However, as someone else mentioned elsewhere in the post, Japanese is very big on inferring as much as possible from context and only speaking what can't be inferred. It can honestly be a chore just to determine whether a sentence is in the first person, the second person, or the third person, because Japanese is so aggressively pro-drop that most of the time, that information has to be inferred from context. And if you intend on speaking Japanese yourself, there's a lot of subtlety when it comes to picking the appropriate register to speak in. Use the wrong verb endings or the wrong pronouns (in this case, I'm glad Japanese is so aggressively pro-drop), and you'll stick your foot in your mouth.
 Most people use it as a dictionary, but it also has a really awesome glossing mode: http://www.edrdg.org/cgi-bin/wwwjdic/wwwjdic?9T
The one downside is that they are still meant to be used in a classroom, so there are a lot of exercises that expect you to work in groups or pairs. Of course there are plenty of ways to find a study group online these days.
What was (and is) very hard for me is how (in general) the bulk of Japanese communication happens in what is unsaid. Even trying to work through patio11's Stockfighter course, I found it very hard to 'read between the lines' in what he was saying to find out what I was supposed to do. I also have zero low-level programming experience, so that probably didn't help.
I hope Duolingo mentions this and has training for "what do they really mean", as trusting what they say at face value seems like a good way to cause an incident. This may also be useful in understanding American Southerners or cop dramas, where direct communication is strictly verboten.
I'm glad the course seems designed around this consideration. It's goal-oriented: talk about everyday human things, clothes, weather, food, family. It's never been helpful for me to memorise vocabulary lists without a context to say them in. Instead, putting myself into situations where certain things must be said or understood greatly improved my competence.
After a while, your language instinct kicks in and you start to generate your own internal rules for the language, which will approximate or match the rules that native speakers have internalised.
I suppose this is can all summarised as, well duh, of course immersion works, but I wanted to say it anyway.
If you want to see an incredibly well built japanese learning tool, look at Human Japanese http://www.humanjapanese.com/ - i am in no way affiliated, just a happy student
There's no substitute for immersion and classroom time, though.
Damn, that's precisely the opposite of how you should learn them.
My Japanese ability pretty much exploded after I set aside two months to study the kanji divorced from their readings with James Heisig's method. Totally worth it. The readings come with time.
The parallel is to teach everyone Latin language and how to read and write Latin letters, rather than just teach everyone how to read and write kanji.
ex : what is the word for "read" ? and then to have to choose between 4 words written in hiragana or translate "ろく” having 6 choices ...
Learning a new language as an adult is an incredibly difficult undertaking; much more so than persevering with the gym. The dropout rate must be huge.
Part of it is that I have nothing invested in either language and was just curious, but I also think Duolingo itself is a bit flawed; it repeats way too much material and makes you jump through too many hoops. I was busy and it was a hassle.
I think if you're going to study a language, a textbook + Anki is the way to go. If you tell Anki you know something, the algorithm believes you and shows it to you less often so you have more time to focus on what matters. It doesn't make you translate "the black cat" five times in one sitting.
Don't know if that is your case, but if you get the "the cat is black" sentence and translate it wrongly, it assumes you are having difficulty with this expression and repeats until you get it right.
When you come to the point of commiting some words to you memory, it uses them to incrementally build grammatical concepts over there (like adjectives and verbs).
It's a pretty complex system going on behind that simple interface.
If there was an easier way to auto-generate flash cards, I could see Anki being more interesting.
The unfortunate truth is that the mental connections that come from building your own deck is a good portion of the benefit that comes from using Anki.
I couldn't imagine learning a language for "fun", but I know others do. I can easily imagine a lot of them dropping-out and giving up, once they've either learned enough to be useful or decided it is not for them.
But me? I've moved from Scotland to Finland. I'm very slowly learning the language. I don't expect I'll ever be fluent, but I need to try. People who move abroad, and avoid learning the language are not so well respected, and rightly so.
Thus far I've managed to have medical treatment, buy a flat, and do lots of complex things in English, but it would still be better for me to learn Finnish. If only so people don't need to switch languages, solely for my benefit, at parties, etc. (That's appreciated, but also a constant reminder of how much I suck!)
IMO, you have to have a reason for the language. Mine is that I wanted to read and watch anime/manga/tv/books/games that weren't being translated. Of course, these days they're all being translated faster than I can read them. But it was enough to get started, and I definitely enjoy them more than if I didn't know the original Japanese, too.
But I've tried to learn other languages that I don't have a use for, and I've found it nearly impossible. There just isn't enough motivation.
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This is anecdotal, so YMMV.
But at the same time japanese can be seen as very useful because:
- its a very important ally of the USA;
- introduce you to the ideographic writing system;
- be very similar to korean grammar (and particle system).
Currently my favorite app is "Decipher Chinese". I read one story a day, save words I want to remember and get quizzed on them periodically.
What kind of Chinese? Mandarin?
Linguistically Chinese is not a language, but a family of languages that is united by a (mostly) common writing system. The reason that these Chinese languages are called "dialects" is mostly political.
A language geek I know, who taught himself various Chinese dialects and in particular Cantonese up to a very high level told me that Mandarin, though referred to as the "official" Chinese language that is used in TV, it is in his opinion rather an artificial language (he compared it with Esperanto).
So when learning some of the Chinese languages he recommended that at least after some time learning the ropes (writing system, tones, common words), one should really consider for what purpose one is learning Chinese and learn the appropriate language of the respective province (he was really into electronics, so he continued his study in particular into Cantonese).
Calling Mandarin an artificial language is bogus, it is the native dialect around the Beijing area, and that is the reason it became the official dialect of Chinese. There are many people in China who only speak Mandarin.
Read https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mandarin_Chinese&...: Mandarin is a Koiné language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koin%C3%A9_language) of various Chinese dialects (as I wrote above: What is called "Chinese dialects" is rather "different languages"), which has been standardized "artificially" (just as Zamenhof took words from various European languages and created a new artificial language (Esperanto) out of them).
If you travel in regions where Mandarin is not as predominant as it usually is, you will often see signs telling you "please speak in mandarin".
The only exception really is Hong Kong.
I've travelled in parts of China (Xishuangbanna in particular comes to mind, in southernmost Yunnan) where they have truckloads of non-Han minorities, and Mandarin was the lingua franca, and got me around, but I frequently spoke it better than anyone around me on the street.
OTOH, if you travel out to say, Xinjiang, I'm told you might be better off speaking Russian - the people out there are not Han, and really don't want to be part of China. Speaking the language of the empire out in the colonies might not make you many friends :)
The official Chinese language yes.
Your story is really not representative of China, Mandarin is nothing like Esperanto. It's a real dialect and it became the official language of China a long time ago. People speak Mandarin everywhere now (except maybe HK).
(I don't get through the books in a month... I'm actually only 70% through the first one I picked up several months ago).
I found this one on the web, but it is pretty limited http://justlearnchinese.com/chinese-reader-for-adult-learner...
The only thing i don't understand about it is how it makes money? Yes, i read somewhere that they use it to translate news sites and documents but I've been playing it for almost 300 days now (uninterrupted streak) and still my French proficiency is nowhere near to make a worthwhile translation like any professional. This one really boggles my mind because it looks like they have a huge team and invest a lot of time and resources and so must have a lot of expenses.
So far, I've managed to understand enough korean, spanish, and french grammar to review merge requests. Its interesting reading stories of how HN community picked up Japanese, some of the suggestions are pretty helpful.
Japanese does not have the same problem per se. Romanization of Japanese is quite effective. All you need to understand are a="ah", e="eh", u="ooh", o="oh" and i="eeh". That being said, it is still very important to learn kana; else, what would you read?
Hiragana and Katakana are pretty simple and straight-forward. As for Kanji, I haven't studied the Kanji to deeply, but to me it comes down to pattern recognition and memorization.
My wife is Thai, and I've been trying to learn the language on and off for a few years now. For me it's the complete opposite of Japanese difficulty-wise. The reading and writing part is straight forward once you learn the alphabet and the special rules. The part I have trouble with most is the speaking part since there are multiple pitches and using them correctly is important. For instance "khao khao" is white rice, "now" can mean either means either cold or disgusting. Luckily, if you don't speak or hear the pitch correctly, most of the time you can get by using context.
Bill VanPatten, a linguist that specialises on second/foreign language acquisition lamented this on his podcast, Tea With BVP. According to him, there isn't any published research that shows that one language as a whole would be more difficult as another one for speakers of some other language. (He is not speaking about writing systems but about spoken language there – Japanese has obviously very complicated writing system.)
I briefly took Japanese lessons from someone who teaches full time at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, CA. She confirmed Japanese language's status as "most difficult for English speakers". She also said that DLI groups foreign languages into 4 levels based on how difficult they are to learn for English speakers:
Level 1 (Easiest): Spanish
Level 2: German
Level 3: Russian, Hebrew
Level 4: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic
A more comprehensive listing is here: http://aboutworldlanguages.com/language-difficulty
A hidden gem of a resource that I uncovered at that time: audio + textbook lessons produced by NHK World Radio Japan as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. These lessons are in 17 languages, so they help those who are not native speakers of English too. http://www.nhk.or.jp/lesson/
The kana and kanji may seem intimidating, but identifying fragments and context through repetition has been more rewarding and entertaining than frustrating.
I understand there are many subtleties, but after having hung around some native speakers for a while and hearing the patterns and starting to pick up on pronunciation, rhythmic patterns and key words, conversation topics start to become intelligible and communication possible.
It is browser-based. It runs a tiny webserver, controlled by an icon in the system notification area.
If you go through the license workflow, you get full use of the program for a limited period. Put in "hackernews" into the promo code field and I might provide a generous extension.
To improve your vocabulary while on the go (hands free) I heartily recommand the "Nemo" apps by Nemo Apps (e.g. "Nemo japanese"). They're available for both iOS and Android and for many languages. You can usually train the first 200 words for free.
I made it for myself, but someone else might find it useful. It is the alternative of carrying a huge stack of cards as I used to do. Requires Github login though to syncronize through devices.
I am really looking forward to learn Japanese with Duolingo ever since I came across the site.
Unfortunately, I find learning the written portion of languages to be the easy part - learning to speak and hear the language is much harder.