Today was supposed to be a Friday review, but that’s taking a while to get finished, probably due to my penchant for developing writer’s block, and also because I’m just a dirty procrastinator. So, today I’m actually going to write about what I like about the Japanese language and what I dislike about it. Maybe I can generate some conversation in the comments, because I’d love to hear about what my readers like and dislike about Japanese.
I should add a disclaimer in here: I’m not trying to be negative with anything I say. Not loving absolutely everything about a language and/or culture isn’t a bad thing. I’m an American, and I don’t love everything about English or America.
What I Like:
1. Politeness levels is something that a lot of learners dislike. At the very least, the ones I’ve met dislike that the Japanese language makes it seem like not everyone is equal, and we here in the west strive for equality among everyone. True, you must treat your superiors in a more respectful way than, say, your peers, children, etc. However, this also allows you to express yourself more fully, I think.
Think about it this way. If I refer to myself as “ore” that says a lot for my personality, as opposed to referring to myself as “watakushi” – the total opposite. Just the way you refer to yourself tells a lot about you, all the way from your age (in some cases) to gender, and even towards your general attitude. In some situations you can be much more humble just by what you say.
2. Knowing Japanese really opens you up to all sorts of media like anime, video games, books, manga, movies, and TV shows that just don’t make it to America or any other English speaking nation. Unlike some people who have to wait for fansubs or an English walkthrough of certain shows or games, you have access to it right away. You don’t have to wait for it!
This is actually one of the reasons why I started learning in the first place. I’m a Tenchi Muyo fan and really wanted to read the “True Tenchi Novels” and get all the information that the Japanese fans could get. Despite the show’s success in the west, we never got translations of any of the books or games. Sure, we got some manga, but they don’t compare to the novels. The novels were written by the creator himself, and they’re kind of like The Lord of the Rings’ book, The Silmarillion.
3. Knowing the language gives one great insight into the culture, as any language will give you greater insight into the culture in which it’s spoken. Now, you can know a language without having a full grasp in the culture surrounding it, but I don’t think you have have a full grasp on a culture without knowing the language, or at least understanding how it works.
4. Knowing a second language has proven to help build problem solving skills and flexible thinking, and what language could do that for the English speaker better than Japanese? Well, maybe Chinese, or Korean, or any other eastern language, but that’s beside the point. Knowing a second language does wonders for one’s brain because it forces you to think about things differently than you normally do.
What I Dislike:
1. Breaking into casual Japanese! In my own method for Japanese (it changes depending on the language), I did a little traditional study first – just enough to get the fundamentals of grammar down and find some good reference books – so I would feel more prepared when I started learning primarily through immersion. Needless to say, when I first came face-to-face with casual, spoken Japanese, it was a hair yanking experience.
Now, casual Japanese is great once you make its acquaintance, but it can be a real pain beforehand. This might just be because I’m a grammar nazi (I know, linguistically speaking there’s no such thing as grammar, but…) and when participating in casual conversation, the Japanese seem to just throw all their rules right out the window. Let me use this analogy: it’s like someone learning English and then logging into a chat room. Making heads and tails of it is an extraordinary feat at first.
2. Too vague, or too detailed? That is the question. Japanese can be kind of vague sometimes, but all language have that potential. However, when the Japanese aren’t beating around the bush, they’re being way too detailed. Sometimes the way they talk can seem backwards to us English speakers.
3. Nihonjinron, or what makes Japan special, isn’t primarily about language, but it insists the the Japanese language can only be fully grasped by those who are ethnically Japanese. It’s a bit racist, and there are a surprising number of Japanese who buy into this garbage. It’s kind of like American exceptionalism, except for Japan. There’s a number of weird things this philosophy promotes, but to say that one’s ethnicity plays a role in how well someone learns Japanese (as well as providing a convenient excuse for why the Japanese can’t learn other languages) is just bizarre. I mean, it has even less credibility than saying that adults can’t learn language. There’s enough evidence now to prove both these things wrong, yet people still cling to them.
4. Learning Japanese somehow makes one a weebo, or wapanese. Sometimes, when someone’s reasons for learning Japanese began with manga, anime, or some other thing normally associated almost exclusively with “otaku” culture, people assume that you want to be Japanese. I never quite understood this one. I suppose that wanting to learn Finnish in order to read Kalevala then means that one wants to be Finnish, too! Wait, I am part Finnish…
Seriously, as I’ve said many times, there’s no wrong reason to learn a language. Maybe there are some people out there who are unhappy with their ethnicity and want to be Japanese, or maybe they just want to seem like they know Japanese, but undertaking the language for real is something to be proud of and it doesn’t mean that you’re not happy with your ethnicity, whatever it may be.
So there we go. Japanese is a great language to learn, yet it can be a pain. I’d be very interested to hear what you like or don’t like about the language. You can include cultural points as well.