Neil Kendall Languages

The language learning challenge

Learning Japanese With The Michel Thomas Method - Are Oriental Languages REALLY More Difficult To Learn Than Other Languages?

So last week I also started learning Japanese. Although I've never been to Japan, I've always found Japanese culture really fascinating and I also like a lot of Japanese music too. It's interesting how rock music, especially 80s style hard rock and metal, is popular over there too. Japan strikes me as a beautiful and unique country....although I am mindful of peoples' tendencies to look at different cultures through rose tinted glasses, as if they're so much more interesting than our own. 

But anyway, I've decided to learn Japanese in addition to Scottish Gaelic and Spanish, and so far I'm really enjoying it.

Conventional wisdom has it that these oriental languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc are extremely difficult to learn and that it's much easier to learn European languages like Spanish or French, for example. However, having gotten through the first 6 parts of the Michel Thomas Japanese foundation course, I've realised that, for the spoken language at least, Japanese is in many ways actually easier to learn than European languages.

For example, in Japanese there are no verb different conjugations for the I, you, he, she, it, we and they forms of verbs. The future tense is the same as the present tense. There are no definite or indefinite articles for nouns (i.e. no words for 'a', 'an' or 'the', and as a result, no genders to learn for every noun you learn), no plural version of nouns. 

Ok, so the catch with wanting to become fluent in Japanese is that there are different forms of the language - the polite form (which I am learning), and the informal (plain) form. There are totally different verb forms for each form. I've read that it makes no sense to start out by learning the polite form of the language, but the Michel Thomas Method Japanese course teaches this form. I'll need to address this soon by finding a course that teaches the plain form.

The other really difficult aspect of Japanese is the 3 writing systems, of which the Kanji appears to be most difficult but in fact there are systematic ways to learn this. One only needs to learn the top 2000 Kanji to be able to read and understand most of the Japanese around them, and there are some very clever people who have developed systematic methods of learning these 2000 Kanji in around 90 days. I'll surely get to that in due course and write a more detailed blog post on it.

Japanese also has a totally different word order in sentences than English, for example the verb always goes at the end, the time expression usually at or near the beginning (although that is somewhat flexible), and you have to use little short 'marker' words between nouns to explain in more detail their meaning within the sentence. In some ways, this is tricky but it's very logical too and I'm starting to get the hang of it.

But anyway, the Micheal Thomas Method Japanese course teaches the structure of the language, from the different tenses to the sentence order, etc as well as goes through the verb endings and provides a lot of useful vocabulary. Despite teaching the polite form of the language, it's still really excellent. My aim is to complete the rest of the foundation and advanced courses then move on to Linkword Japanese to build up my vocabulary fast, and then study the plain form of the language.

I've also downloaded some cool, fun little videos from a site called Genki Japan, which teach everyday phrases and vocabulary via child-like songs. Daft as that sounds, it actually makes the words stick in your head and is quit enjoyable too. So far with these video songs, I've learned the days of the week, numbers 1 to 20, colours, and a few other everyday phrases. I'll keep plugging away with it.

I'll no doubt write more about how my Japanese language learning goes as I progress.

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