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How much will the Japanese course teach us? Are unfamiliar languages much harder to learn?

Until now I've only (kinda seriously) learned here Germanic / Romance Languages, which share a lot of vocabulary and grammar with English / Portuguese (my MT). The reason I'm this "good" at German is because of it's familiarity, not only in words, but also in logic. I've been wondering: Will the JP course take us, "absolute" beginners, to the same level as the [germanic/romance languages] courses?

Tell me about your experiences learning a language from a new language family, in particular in Duo.

For those of you who have completed the Turkish / Hungarian / Hebrew / Irish / Welsh / Swahili / Greek / Guarani / etc tree: How did your experience differ from learning a more familiar language?


Many of you have recommended great resources for learning 日本語 so I'm going to make a list here:

April 21, 2017



Looking at the other Duolingo courses, I imagine it will cover beginner content.

As for whether it will be harder, it depends on what languages you already know and where you excel. I imagine it will be a different experience for different people. However, many folks who only speak English find it more challenging on average than other languages. It is an exciting language to learn and learning about the culture is an added bonus.

Japanese is a very straightforward language in terms of conjugation and declension. There are only two irregular verbs in Japanese. Though, there are some conjugation exceptions in other verbs.

People often struggle with memorizing kanji. The upside to kanji is that, once I learned how to read some, I got faster at reading. Instead of having to read several hiragana to decipher a word over and over again until I got through the sentence, I only had to look at one character and know the words. Hiragana helps determine the tense. But, if I already know the context of the passage I'm reading, I can just breeze through it.

Social hierarchy was a challenge for me when it came to learning the language. Japanese requires people to know their own social position and that of the people they are talking to or about.

Also, particles. Particles were a real struggle for me. The only advice I have for you is build familiarity, trust that it will come in time. A book that I found immensely helpful. Here is a link to it on Amazon.


Thanks for sharing your experience and for the recommendation! Yeah, the characters make reading so much faster! One problem I had when learning Chinese was that I could know the meaning of a whole sentence just by looking at it, and so I couldn't bother to "read" the actual words... I wonder if Duo is going to teach us how to draw the kanji... Probably they'll just teach us how to read it, but it's better than nothing...


If you happen to have an ipad (possibly available for other ios devices too, but, I don't know) I recommend the Midori app. It costs money but it is the best app I've ever found to support learning Japanese vocab, verb conjugation, and kanji stroke order.



  • 1998

I have an app called TenguGo Kanji that teaches you how to draw them. It only costs $1.25 (USD) on kindle (you can probably find it for other platforms, too), and it's a great program. Also, Wiktionary has at least some kanji stroke order animations, and it's free. I don't know what the Duolingo course will have.


i have this exact problem with both chinese and japanese. i started with chinese and at first i was impressed with how good my character/pinyin retention was! so easy. but then i paused chinese when my focus shifted to another language for a while and when i came back, surprise surprise. i could still translate the sentences, what with getting the meaning from the character, but more often than not the pinyin was hopelessly gone.

i am currently reacquainting myself with my neglected reverse japanese course in preparation for the launch of the forward tree and what i do is translate first, and after duo tells me i'm correct i force myself to read the japanese aloud before accessing the next sentence, looking up every kanji i cannot actually pronounce. it's frustrating to proceed this way when i could tear through the lesson much more rapidly, but it's definitely better in the long term.


I learned Japanese for several years and finally gave up. There were two factors that broke finally broke my back and none will become relevant during the course, just later.

The first problem was that it is a syllable based language. What seemed to be a boon at first (straightforward, little problem with pronounciation) became a curse later on because eventually all new words began to sound the same. After all, it was the same limited set of syllables recombined over and over again with just little difference. Momorizing them became harder and harder.

The second problem were the kanjis. But not like I thought they would be. I mean, when it comes to what they meant it was fine. I knew what I was getting into. No, the problem is that you usually can't tell the pronounciation from the meaning. Because almost all kanjis have several pronounciations. To me, that made immersion into the language next to impossible. Now, if I were living in Japan and get my immersion there, I don't think that would be any problem. Once I know the words already, learning the writing shouldn't be as difficult. But while I'm in the process of learning both words and kanjis, it can get quite horrible.

But please note that this does not mean that very foreign languages have to be difficult to learn. Like already said, Japanese has many features that make it relatively easy in many regards. And my two special problems that I had are a true japanese speciality. Both problems should not exist in other languages. So while I failed with Japanese, I don't think I would have similar problems with others. Also: There are also several indo-european or even romance languages that are quite hard. While a lot of latin vocabulary may be familiar already, the grammar can be quite difficult and the irregular words can really ruin your day.


I hope you don't mind my pointing out a minor adjustment. This is mainly for the benefit of those still planning to learn Japanese. "Kanji" along with all Japanese nouns, is both singular and plural. Context is used to determine whether we are talking about one or more kanji. So, no need to add an "s" to the end. :)


I heard the Japanese course will teach N5-level of the JLPT, the highest level being N1.


OMG you made it into the test group! Congrats!


I'm probably like many ppl here. I'm a native English speaker (monolingual) who got into languages in an academic setting and developed a taste for it. Once I found out about a free site where you could learn langs from a very user-friendly system, I joined and played around a while. And, like many ppl, I stuck close to shore, as it were. When I started, I completed the Spanish and reverse-Spanish trees, and dabbled in the French tree. I've tried almost all the others, but never really gave them any serious dedication (I've since erased most of them). However, when Ukrainian was announced, and the intro stated that it flowed and sounded like French or Italian, I got curious and decided to give it a shot.

I had been wanting to try a Slavic language because of the grammar. From reading up on Russian and other Slavic langs on Wikipedia, the explanation of how the cases worked reminded me of a Rubik's cube. As Russian had not been released at the time, I decided to try Ukrainian, and give it some real effort.

In short, I made every mistake you could make, except quitting. I didn't write anything down. I always hovered over words to translate them before typing my answers. I only used the app, so I never read the Notes and Tips section. Without realizing it, I was just racing to the end of the tree without actually trying to learn anything. The cases were (and still are) very hard.

For those unfamiliar with Eastern Slavic langs, let me be brief: different alphabet, six or seven different spellings for nouns which are dictated by the role they play in the sentence, and very little vocab is Germanic or Latin. So, at the end of it, I finished the tree and remembered about twelve words.

Recently, I decided to look back at the UK tree. I don't even remember why. But this time I read notes, never "peaked" at the English translations, and in short took it as it came. It's still much harder than a Romance or Germanic lang, but in all honesty, you don't really notice. It's more accurate to say it feels "slower" rather than harder.

I expect any course - Japanese or any other - would be the same. If you have the drive, and don't take shortcuts, it comes to you.

  • 1998

So, even pretty common Latin-based words like "center", "communication", and "possible" are different in Russian? Does anybody know about words like that in Germanic (other than English) languages, too. Do they have most of that kind of vocabulary (the word "vocabulary" is another good example) too, or is that mostly just the French/Latin influence (another example) on English? I know that German and Dutch at least have some of it, but how much?


Here are those words in Ukrainian as reported by Google Translate: центр це можливо зв'язок

"Tsentr" is pretty close, but as you can see, the Cyrillic alphabet makes your eyes jump a little before you recognize it. The other two are completely different. "Mozhlyvo" is possible, and "Zb' yazok" is communication! It kind of goes without saying, but there are words that also take a bit of practice to say. Man, the payoff is awesome once you get the hang of it though.

As for your other question, it boils down to the influence of the Holy Roman Empire I think. Most of Western Europe stayed under the influence of Latin after the great split between the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the 400s. Therefore, the languages of Western Europe that were born after that period (English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, etc, will have all that vocab in common with few exceptions. However, in Eastern Europe, the languages will not. They will take common vocab from Church Slavonic or Greek. IN a way, this was the birth of the divide between Eastern and Western Europe we see even today! It bleeds into culture, religion, and almost all other aspects of life. There are other factors involved - I don't want to over-simplify the history - but in a way this encapsulates what happened.

  • 1998

That's interesting, thanks


It will take you to the N5 level which is pretty much beginner and teach you somewhere around 80 kanji. I heard they had ideas to add more in the future tho.


To be honest, I found Japanese to be the most comfortable language I've worked on so far. The basic language itself is far more regular than Romance languages. Verb conjugations are very consistent, there are no cases, words don't have genders to memorize, and the pronunciation was nowhere near as difficult as, say, Tibetan or a tonal language. It doesn't really have nasal consonants, which are my downfall. :D

The complexity of it comes in two, maybe two and a half places.

  • For spoken Japanese, politeness forms and when to use in-group and out-group speak are complicated for many people. Obvious foreigners usually get a pass on minor errors, as long as a sincere effort is clearly being made.

  • The "half" is just the proliferation of different counters for different types of objects, and people will mostly smile if you get it wrong or gently correct you, because children make those mistakes, too.

  • Then there's the writing. I highly recommend learning the pieces that make up kanji (radicals) to help with memorization. Flashcards are great, too. For online reading, there's a Firefox add-on called Rikai-chan that's very helpful for dealing with new compound words. You can also make significant strides in reading skill by reading manga or novels aimed at middle school students, which usually include the pronunciation beside most kanji in smaller type.

If you're going to try a non-Romance, non-Germanic language, Japanese is a great one to start with.


First, don't worry about how much harder or difficult learning will be. In my opinion, the contemplating the level of difficulty will not help you towards your language goal.

How much will the Japanese course teach?

Currently the Duolingo Spanish course, as many have noted, could benefit from more lessons like an expansion on the subjunctive mood and other verb tenses. I imagine the same applies to the other courses on Duolingo. When the final Japanese course becomes available, I imagine that learners here will want more grammatical explanations, guides, kanji, etc. Don't worry, there's an absolute treasure of free Japanese learning materials online that will surely fill the gap. I would recommend tofugu.com. and the many language learning bloggers (like AJATT) that have shared their secrets towards learning 1,000 kanji, 5,000 kanji, etc. in a matter of months. James W. Heisig's Remembering the Kanji inspired many learners, so you can check out that book.


The current Japanese course in the alpha test only has 40 skills—I imagine it will be among the shortest, if not the shortest, course on here when it goes live. I dare say it will be expanded in time, but I get the impression that Duolingo, for whatever reason, wants to release a short course very soon rather than a more comprehensive course later. This is fine for Japanese neophytes who want to practise on Duolingo, but it may disappoint people who are already at a more intermediate level.


I can't imagine intermediate language learners expecting too much from Duolingo in any language course. At that point, I imagine that you have all the tools to spread your wings and fly.


disappointingly it appears it will be the shortest course on the site by far. I would've gladly waited for a longer/more comprehensive course, but it appears the creators/website overall do not agree with me. but hey, maybe they'll surprise us and rush out a 2.0 tree sooner rather than later...

one upside is that a few of the Korean course creators took note of how short the Japanese tree will be, seemed to laugh at it, and are taking the time to deliver us a comprehensive (~2300 word, I'd imagine far more than 40) skill tree. can't wait for that.

I'll still do Japanese day 1 and try and get through it quick, but I couldn't help but wish there was more coming. seems like we're only getting a half finished product after many of us have wished for this for years.


For grammar I can highly recommend the apps "Human Japanese" and "Human Japanese Intermediate" (they both cost money)


You're welcome :) a free ressource that I can also recommend is "Japanese Ammo with Misa" https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBSyd8tXJoEJKIXfrwkPdbA In my opinion she can explain things very well (and she also has a website with even more free ressources to download - http://www.japaneseammo.com/)


Thanks :O that's great!

  • 1998

I did the Human Japanese CD myself and thought it was very good, too. I learned pretty good basic Japanese there, but it's been a while.


I second this. Human Japanese was great for starting out. There is a free preview version that I introduced some of the first year students I was tutoring. So, make it your first stop. :) Tae Kim's is good too. Genki books 1 and 2 are good. The edition I liked best was 2011. I had the 2009 and then 2011. The 2011 was significantly improved. Having the teacher's edition and answer books are great too. Though, these are expensive.


Why not save a buck and try Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese?


I already have Tae Kim's guide. It is truly one of the best resources out there, and it's free :D


I personally think you can learn a whole lot online for free, before you spend money. Or maybe I'm just willfully positive.


Yeah it's true. There are a lot of great free resources online too.


For looking up Kanji I can also recommend the app "imiwa" (it's free).It can also sort Kanji by JLPT level, school grades etc.


I also recommend downloading both genki 1 and 2 books. These are the best beginner books you will ever find. http://moonprincess.tumblr.com/languageresources


Thanks for the links!


I can answer your question most fully with regards to Russian. Russian seems to be a fairly common "first step" outside the Romance and Germanic families. People assume it will be a bit harder, I think. But there are any number of threads that pop up in the Russian forum basically saying, "I'm making so much less progress in Russian than in [French/Spanish/Italian/German]. What's wrong?" / "This course must be junk." / etc. The reality of course is just that it's a much harder language. People finish a French or a Spanish tree and can make their first halting steps into authentic content. After all English speakers have 10,000+ common words. It's just not like that with more distant languages.

When Immersion was still around when people would posted a "finished the Russian tree; what do I do next?" thread, I would give them the link to the children's story we were working on in Russian Immersion. No takers. Of course, people maybe just weren't interested, but just as likely, they took a glance, realized that with effort they could make out a third of the words, and decided it was too big a stretch. It was a big stretch for me, too, and I'd had Russian courses before coming to Duolingo. But Russian was something I really wanted to learn, so I just dug in and looked up every single word I didn't know, and gradually things got easier.

Yeah, people recommend listening. I obviously don't disagree, but I think that works better when part of what can be going on is just recognizing how those thousands of words you really already know are going to sound. Not having the common word stock, when I listened to things I could make out the words mostly, but most of them I just knew I didn't know. Having spent time on reading, I know a lot more words, and now I understand a lot more in listening.

P.S. Thanks for asking about Guaraní, btw! :) Wish I could extract lessons from it for you, but that tree's logic and objectives and the simple reality of Guaraní's socio-linguistic position in Paraguay just make it a very unique case.

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