Is Japanese Complicated?

Article Image: Is Japanese Complicated?Whenever I get asked if Japanese is complicated, I always answer no. This is because I honestly do find Japanese to be a logically structured language; there is a virtual absence of irregular conjugations and superfluous grammar, the obvious etymology seen through kanji heavily facilitates the memorization of new vocabulary, etc etc.

Yet many Western learners of Japanese seem to struggle in their studies. Why? I believe these difficulties stem from a misconception of how languages actually work, which I’d like to elaborate by referring to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea of so-called ‘family resemblance’.

When you play a game, you have a set of rules that restricts the mechanics used by the player to fulfil the victory conditions. While this criterion is essential for a game in order to qualify as a game, the rules vary from game to game and in most cases can’t be applied to each other. For instance, just because Chess and Othello are connected by the common factor ‘games’, both even consisting of white and black pawns/pieces placed on square-grid boards, doesn’t mean their rules can be transferred to one another. This is the basic concept of family resemblance, and can be applied to languages as well.

Now, to get back on topic: as a learner of a language pertaining to the same language family as your own, you often can apply the ”rules” of your mother tongue to the language in question to a certain extent. However, if you only have experience of learning languages similar to your own, this way of thinking is easily habitualized and can be misleading when learning a such different language like Japanese. In order to master Japanese, you must abandon your previous notions of how a language works, dive into the Japanese mindset and pave your way from there. You must, so to speak, exchange the rules, the game board, and all other components that doesn’t exist in this new game. It’s not just a matter of adjusting the sentence structure; in order to acquire a good command of the language, one must understand that Japanese has words that lack an exact equivalent or doesn’t even exist in your mother tongue, expressions that are considered strange in your country but not in Japan, and many other things only perceivable by questioning your current view on culture and languages. To learn Japanese without first having this understanding is, according to me, impossible.

Therefore, I would definitely not say that Japanese is complicated. However, the basic premise for learning Japanese – to switch mindset, is not an easy task.

Written by GyuuDon3187