As I mentioned at the end of my first week studying Japanese, learning the language can be quite intimidating. However, most of the hurdles that seem overwhelming really aren’t as bad as they seem initially. I wouldn’t say I’ve been an absolute slave to my studies, but I do feel like I’ve already come a long way. So, without further ado, I want to discuss some misconceptions I had and what I’ve actually learned so far.
#1: Learning kanji is going to be the death of me.
While it is true that there are a lot of kanji, there are tricks to learn them quickly. Radicals, for one, make guessing meanings easier, and thinking of a story for why each character means what it means or is pronounced a certain way helps cement the characters in your mind. Plus, it’s fun; the satisfaction of being able to write such beautiful characters is a very strong motivator to keep going.
Additionally, when I first saw how many kanji characters there are, part of me very irrationally thought that I may as well learn Chinese first. That is a terrible idea for so many reasons!
If you want to learn Japanese, instead of viewing the language as one difficulty after another, think of it as an enjoyable journey that can last for as long as you want it to. It’s only overwhelming if you approach it with that attitude. It’s really not that different from any other language.
#2: There are no spaces between the words. I’ll never be able to read Japanese!
Spaces aren’t necessary in Japanese. Once you have built up your vocabulary, you will be able to differentiate words from one another. For instance, if the sentence ends with the hiragana character for “ka,” it’s probably a question. The different scripts make reading much easier. Practicing reading and writing with no spaces is extraordinarily beneficial for learners, too. Without the spaces, you naturally read and say words faster.
In short, if you’re worried about this when you start learning Japanese, take a deep breath. There are texts for beginners with spaces in them, but you will eventually be comfortable enough in the language that the lack of spaces won’t be an issue.
#3: I need to memorize the stroke order for everything!
While you should practice what you learn correctly, it’s not the end of the world if you write things in the wrong order. As long as you make your horizontal strokes from left-to-right and your vertical strokes from top-to-bottom, it will probably be legible, and that’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it? If you need to look up the meaning of a word you’ve never seen before, or if you have forgotten what a word means, follow the basic guidelines for stroke order and you will probably be able to find it, though it might take a while.
Last weekend, hubby wrote me a note in Japanese that I tried (and failed) to translate (because I don’t have a big enough vocabulary and thus struggled to find the ends of words and his translation was flawed to begin with). However, I was able to find every single kanji character using kanji recognizer. If I’ve been studying for 3 weeks and can find the characters I need, so can you.
#4: Typing in Japanese is insanely difficult. I’m never doing it.
Actually, it’s not that bad. When I had my first personal victory of being able to write sayonara, arigato, and kon’nichiwa in hiragana, I added the Japanese keyboard on my cellphone and texted a friend all those words. Now, as I learn words, I text my hubby and then ask him if he understood what I sent. My experiences, obviously, are pretty minimal, but it is much more intuitive than I thought it would be.
If you don’t know how it works, here’s what you do: you type in everything using your regular English alphabet. You select the correct hiragana for what you are typing as you go along. Then, you select the appropriate kanji when it populates. So, for instance, you would type in ko-n-ni-chi-ha and select the correct hiragana after every syllable. (は sometimes changes from the “ha” sound to the “wa” sound and I learned it that way, so that’s what I’m sticking with.) Kon’nichiwa is typically written in hiragana, so no kanji is necessary. If the process still doesn’t make sense, watch this video.
#5: People are probably going to judge you if you are learning Japanese and like anime/manga.
Does the term “weeaboo” ring a bell? I’ve been waiting for the hate comments, but I haven’t gotten a single one.
For the most part, I’ve actually found that people will support you in your studies and respect your efforts since the language is so complicated, regardless of your motivation to do so. While attempting to learn Japanese from anime/manga exclusively is not a good idea, there’s nothing wrong with supplementing your studies with your favorite series. Most educational resources encourage it!
I, personally, see nothing wrong in wanting to learn Japanese specifically for anime/manga. Why? Because a lot of people learn a little bit of another language specifically for a trip or because they have to for school and then they forget everything they learned afterward. How is learning French so that you can take selfies in Paris any less superficial than learning Japanese to deepen your appreciate for something you actually care about? If you are going to enjoy anime/manga for the rest of your life, then by all means, learn Japanese for that reason and make yourself happy. Just don’t assume you’re an expert on Japanese culture because you watch a lot of anime.