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Is learning Japanese a bad second language to learn if your first language is English

The title is quite vague but I would like to know if Japanese would be a rather bad first language to learn to get into language learning.

My mother had said that she was going to get me a tutor in any Language I want (with the exception that I get a maths tutor as well ;-;) and I've always wanted to learn German, French and Japanese, however I feel as though learning Japanese first would be a rather long and hard process but I'm not too professional in this so I would like some better feedback. Danke :D

UPDATE - I have made my decision to go with the following languages in order. (That I will mention after my story :P) I was looking up tutors when I ran across someone called Daniel and believe it or not, he's Swedish and fluent in German, French, and English. I was hoping he could teach me, French, first, then Swedish and finally German only one problem..... he completely blanked my message. I will make an update on what happens in the future but for now it seems as though he might not be able to tutor me as it could be too far distance.

April 27, 2017



Nah, it's good. If' you want. Go for it!. I like challenges so i took up Japanese and im doing fine. Yeah Japanese is hard but it isn't actually THAT hard as people make it out to be, so don't be intimidated. The hardest point is propably to get trough that beginner phase, then it get's way easier, unless you're going for like full fluency and will be reading quantum physics. I highly reccomend to try learning it and later you will see if it suits you or not. Plus if you learn Japanese, Korean will also be a little bit easier coz they have exactly the same sentence structure so that's a plus.


Thank you I really appreciate your advice, I also suppose Korean wouldn't be a hassle to learn either, thanks :D


Do what you love. Don't worry about difficulty level, you have to really want to learn the language to maintain and expand it. Also consider what your priorities are... why/what purpose am I learning this certain language? :)


Thanks for the advice :D I can see why the language can be intimidating due to it's completely different alphabet though


Japanese is the most difficult of the languages that interests you by quite a bit. I have been learning languages for 17 years and I still find it challenging, one of the most challenging that I've studied. It is 'extremely foreign', in that it does things in very different ways from English frequently, whereas German and French do things much more similarly to English. There will be fewer brand new concepts with those two than with Japanese.

German is probably the easiest as it's closest to English and the pronunciation is strongly related to how its written. French isn't too hard of a choice either and shares much vocabulary with English for historical reasons even being in a different language family, but harder than the other languages it's related to (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan). If you have any desire to learn Spanish, that is both useful and a good one to start out with to learn language learning concepts without the language itself being too taxing.

Trying all 3 is not a big deal as long as you are ok with mixing them up a bit and having it be a slow, involved process. Even learning one well is slow and involved, so as long as you are prepared to do things slowly, steadily and to not understand immediately sometimes, you should be fine.

Good luck!

PS - I just had a look at your profile and see you tried out Swedish. The very easiest language for English speakers is probably Norwegian followed by Swedish. It has very simple grammar, is related to English and would be a great first second language for an English speaker.


Thank you so much for your input, I'll take your advice into consideration when I've decided the language :D


I'm curious what book you were using to study Japanese. Do you happen to remember?


My course used this book: https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Busy-People-Romanized-attached/dp/1568363842

I found it to be one of the oddest language textbooks I've ever encountered and I have taught ESL, plus studied Spanish, Portuguese and Italian at university, so I have used a lot of language textbooks.


Ah, I've got that one, but I wouldn't use it to learn the language as a beginner. I'd only use it if I were a businessperson who just needed some basics before going overseas.

May I recommend either Japanese the Spoken Language or Nakama? The former has the best grammar notes I've ever found, but it doesn't teach kana or kanji, opting instead for a rather unique but oddly helpful romaji system. It's also old, so its casual forms are a bit dated. The latter is apparently what most of the colleges are using now, though I personally found it a bit opaque without teacher-led discussion. It does at least teach writing and appears to be relatively up to date. Either way, both are much better than Japanese for Busy People, which isn't really a good basis for language learning.


Thank you, but sincerely, I'm happy with the Duolingo course, even in its alpha state. I really don't use language textbooks anymore, but rather just digital tools (mainly Duolingo and Memrise). The Japaneses course I took a few years ago was the last time I took an in person class with an actual textbook and I think it will be the last. I do enjoy learning Japanese, but I also enjoy learning many other languages, so I don't think I'll be buying any additional resources for any of them as everything I'm actively learning now is just for fun, so I'm content to use free online resources.

As a note, that book wasn't the only thing I've used to learn Japanese. I mean, I had a teacher, he made some of his own materials and we used a different book to learn the writing systems. I don't think it was just the book that created my opinion above that clashes with yours below. I do stand by what I said that I think Japanese has been more challenging for me than the other languages this guy wants to learn. I've studied them all and many others for years and I didn't find the concepts of gender as anything like as challenging as Japanese word order or having particles and sharing virtually no major vocab with English other than a smattering of borrowings. Gender felt very small compared to all the things German and French share with English compared to the very few things Japanese does. It doesn't mean I think Japanese is unlearnable and I am enjoying the challenge while alpha testing the course, but I definitely still think French and German are way easier.

I didn't mean to sound negative about Japanese by the way. I'm not. I do think German or French are more suitable as first second languages, but Japanese is still very cool and well worth learning.


It's probably that our learning experiences and styles are somewhat different? I find figuring out word order and particles to be fine (that might not just be me - my teachers explained them very well). However, memorizing gender and conjugations takes hours upon hours of drilling every week, and even then it's like as not to be gone by the following week. The way that Japanese verbs only conjugate for tense (and the fact that they're regular) means an incredibly lower amount of memorization overall. All anyone really needs to know for a verb are its masu and casual forms; everything else derives from there via simple and consistent rules. Nouns are even less work.

But I do think context of learning a language makes a large difference in perception of its difficulty. My first formal French teacher was very good, and I liked French a lot while working with her. My second had a different way of doing things that didn't work well for me, so I became very frustrated with the language at that point. If you had asked me back then, I would have said French was very hard.

It sounds like the duo course is doing a good job so far of making the material non-threatening, so hopefully that will help more people feel the language is not difficult. I'm glad you enjoying the course! I look forward to seeing the beta version.


Yes, Rosalinda, I started with Spanish, which I think was an easy way into conjugations and gender. By the time I got to French and German, I was well used to it. This is part of why Spanish is such a good starter language. The gender is much more obvious in Spanish than it is in the other European languages with gender, so there was very little to memorize. That said, there are rules or tendencies with German and French. I had teachers who pointed them out right away with French and it meant between that and Spanish, it was never hard. The rules were clear enough that even without Spanish, I think it would have been OK. I never found conjugations hard to remember at all, but any language with wildly different word order (Dutch, Hungarian, Japanese), I struggle more. That said, it's not like all word endings come super naturally. It took me a lot of effort to get used to the many, many noun endings of the Slavic languages. I made so many flash cards for Polish back in the day before things like Memrise.

I think more than all that, thinking back at my experience, I felt able to communicate meaningfully in Latin or Germanic languages regardless of how well I remembered gender. It is the kind of mistake that doesn't get in the way of communicating in most cases. The large number of cognates meant that sometimes I could make things up in a way I never could in Japanese that often worked, not 100%, but that is not even an option in Japanese due to the only shared vocab being words they have borrowed from English, rather than the many, many words whose meaning can be guessed in the Latin and Germanic languages. I still don't feel like I could communicate much of anything in Japanese, while after a few months of German or French, I felt like I could read quite a lot and communicate basic things.

So far the Duolingo course is looking good. I was impressed at how early they were able to introduce certain things and I didn't just forget them, things my teacher left until the end of the course.


Hi there. I learnt some Japanese when I was younger and I'm refreshing on it now. I don't think it's a "bad" language to learn if your first language is English. Sure, it's different, but... there are many other languages that are much harder, in my opinion. I can learn Japanese slowly. But when I try to learn Vietnamese with my current knowledge, it's not very much a success, and I need to spend more time studying Vietnamese to get to the level I achieved in Japanese in less time. I can guarantee it will be harder than French and German, but it's actually an okay language to learn if you want to shift focus from the Euro-centric to broader language categories. There's not really such a thing as a "bad" language to learn, but some are very hard and require astounding amounts of dedication. Japanese is sort of in the middle in that it's not easy for English speakers, but it's plausible to learn in a given amount of time for most people due to the many resources. I hope this helps you.


Thanks :D I think if I do take it slowly it will be a faster process


Japanese is not particularly difficult, to be honest. I left an explanation of why here: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/22276034

But basically it boils down to there being a lot of good resources available to help learn it and the basic structure of the language being consistent. Romance and Germanic languages have gender for nouns and adjectives, conjugate verbs based on who they're referring to, and change form for plurals. All of these things must be memorized. Many languages also have silent letters or drop sounds.

Japanese doesn't do any of that. The most trouble you're likely to have at the beginning is saying the r/l sound correctly, and that's actually quite simple: put your tongue where you would for the letter D, but make the sound for R instead.

The idea that Japanese is difficult comes from the more advanced topics of politeness levels (basically, you're more polite to strangers and older people than you are to your family and friends your own age) and reading. The reading is easy to get a handle on if you learn what the pieces of the characters are and if you make up little stories or drawings for each one. The politeness levels aren't nearly as much memorization as conjugations in Romance or Germanic languages.

So no, I don't think Japanese is a bad second language. All language learning really depends on your motivation and willingness to try different things until a technique works for you.


Thanks for the pointers, I really appreciate the advice :D


Your comments in this and the other thread have been interesting. Would you mind giving the context of your approximate level in Japanese?


Less strong than it was a decade ago, that's for sure. I don't know where it would fall on the A-C scale now, nor have I taken the JLPT outside of practice tests. I'm a stronger speaker than reader - probably only N3 in reading now, I'm so out of practice. At my strongest point I was comfortable communicating in Japan on a variety of topics, though I bungled politeness levels sometimes. (Apparently too polite most of the time? It took a long while to drop the "n desu" habit, and I still sometimes masu before kedo or kara if I forget I'm continuing the sentence.)

For me the real reason Japanese is a good starter language isn't the advanced level, which is difficult for every language, I think. It's that the beginner and intermediate levels are so accessible. It only takes a small amount of memorization to pick up a large number of words and use them in multiple contexts. If you're ever completely stumped on a noun, pronouncing the English word in Japanese will often get you somewhere in conversation. Everyone takes English in middle school there, so there are tons of loanwords. My roommate met up with a friend last month and was rusty, so while they were talking she dropped a few English words in Japanese pronunciation and her friend said most of them were already in use in Japan. This included very specialized 3 and 4 syllable words.

The number of loanwords is incredibly high (though not all are from English), and the base structure is very simple. For these reasons, aside from reading and figuring out how polite to be to others, I think that the language is a good one for new learners. I hope the duo course helps people approach it without building it up as this difficult thing in their minds. If it can do that, I would say it will have accomplished a major victory.


Japanese may be difficult, but if you work hard, you can do it! Just keep going over hiragana, katana, and some kanji. :) It's fun though if you really want to do it.


Thanks for your faith in me, I'll try my best :D


Not at all! I'm an English native speaker and I absolutely love Japanese! I actually think that Japanese verb conjugation is super easy and intuitive once you learn the rules, it's very formulaic.


I'd recommend doing the easier languages first, but you can do whatever you want. Since Japanese is supposedly really hard (3 different writing systems, weird grammar, etc.), learning the easier languages will give you more experience in language learning before you start with the harder languages. Bonne chance :)


Thanks, I'll take it into consideration :D


Pick the language you love, but yes Japanese is very difficult. French is the easiest in your list follow by German. Japanese will take a lot longer to learn. You can try all of them online and take a decision.


Thanks for the feedback, I feel as though the one I'm more motivated in I'll achieve more.


Really? I honestly think that Spanish is easier, but whatever xD


You are right, Spanish is easier than French, but he does include Spanish only French, German and Japanese.


If you want to just learn the languages for fun, then you should learn them all at once! But if you want to get good at the language a bit faster, I would try learning one until you're confident with it and then going on to the next one. If you feel really strongly about one of them, then learn that one! Guaranteed, if you really want to learn a language you'll learn it faster, and if you don't want to learn a language it'll take forever! Good luck <3 <3


After I posted this I realized some people had already said similar things! I didn't mean to be repetitive : )


Thanks for the input, language learning is fun in it's self but it's difficult most of the time :P


I don't know about Japanese specifically, but I think it's just a generally true statement that over the entire course of language learning it's not really differences in grammar that make some languages take dramatically longer than others, it's differences in vocabulary familiarity and concomitant retention rates. All the endings you can shake a stick at even in a Latin only add up to some number of hundreds of letters total, and you see them all the time. But a few hundreds of characters only equates to some number of dozens of words in length, and there are thousands of words to be learned.

And it's unspeakably harder for me to retain any given word in Russian or Georgian than in is in Latin or Dutch (to say nothing of French where thousands of words are basically identical to English). And Japanese, I'm thinking, is going to be a whole lot closer to the Russian and Georgian end of the spectrum (probably even worse actually since many words are written in Kanji, which you both have to learn and which don't indicate pronunciation).

So, a couple takeaways: if you want to learn Japanese, it's certainly better to get started sooner rather than later, but, considering the difficulty differences, you may well find yourself a fluent speaker of French and German ere the goal is achieved should you decide not to focus exclusively on Japanese.


It doesn't really matter what order the Asian language is in if you have non similar languages with it, it's gonna be the same for you if it's first second or third. But you should definitely give it a shot regardless of what order you have your languages in.


The only thing you need now that so many free resources exist is the consistent passion. I suppose the hard part is to gauge whether or not you'll have that continued passion along the further years necessary to learn Japanese. If you don't think you'll have the passion you probably won't have it. I'd argue that something that is such a time investment requires a person to be 100% into it at the start because if you're only 80% 'into it' at the start the first few months and years will wear at you when you don't see the progress you otherwise would if you had chosen French or German.

The only fuel is passion and if you worry you don't have the passion you may find initiating the learning process like going on a road trip while worrying about whether you have enough gas.


Can u see my comments


(1) Japanese is generally seen as relatively difficult to learn for an English speaker.
(2) Your second language is normally the hardest to learn: the first one you get for free (as a kid), your Nth non-native language will benefit from the N-1 previous language learning experiences.
(3) If you get demotivated by the effort involved, it may prejudice you subconsciously against language learning in general.

Adding those things together, I'd recommend another language as your first, unless you have specific interests (e.g. manga/anime) that will keep you extra motivated beyond the language itself.


Frankly, I would start with Spanish if I were you; for me at least (native Romanian and advanced English speaker since childhood) it is the only other language I can speak with some degree of fluency, other than my main two languages.

In particular, the thing that will help you even if you decide to learn Japanese later on is getting the pronunciation right. Spanish has a very "clear" pronunciation (to put it in a more scientific way, it lacks vowel reduction), which means that it doesn't mumble any vowels (unlike English and some other languages). Japanese is very similar in this regard. Call me a perfectionist, but I think nailing down the pronunciation in the beginning so as not to sound like a typical foreigner with an accent is very important.


I understand why you would think Spanish would be a good language to learn, some words are easier to pronounce than other language words and ect. However I've never seemed motivated to learn Spanish, I have a dedicated mind when it comes to how strict I want to learn things and the only Languages that I want to learn (at this current time) is; Japanese, French, German, Finnish, Swedish, Bokmal (Norweigan) and that's about it. I still greatly appreciate the feedback though :D


Motivation is essential. Start with one you do care about. I would do Norwegian. It is one of my all time favorite languages in part because the Duolingo course is possibly the best course on this site. The creators of it did a great job. They have a great sense of humor, but more than that, organized it really well. It's also one of the longer trees, so it's very thorough. You can carry on dabbling in all your other trees though. That is the beauty of Duolingo. You can always come back to a language. I do that all the time. I have come back to German a total of 4 or 5 times, but I finally finished the tree last week after using Duolingo on and off for about 4 years.


Fair enough, in that case I can safely say that, out of all these languages, Finnish is the one that will help you the most with Japanese pronunciation and, surprisingly enough, even some elements of grammar. I haven't studied much Finnish myself, but I did study some Hungarian (which is somewhat related to Finnish) and was amazed to discover some similarities with Japanese in terms of grammar.

However, they should both be quite difficult for English speakers. And unfortunately Finnish is not yet available here, despite the vigorous popular requests. So maybe you should either consider diving straight into Japanese, or start with an easier language. Norwegian should be the easiest for a native English speaker out of all of the languages you are interested in, but you should consider German too as it is more widely used. And, as a bonus, both languages have some of the best courses on Duo in my opinion.


Just out of curiosity: what similarities between hungarian and japanese grammar did you find? I learned a bit of hungarian too (and enjoyed the grammar), that's why i wanted to know.


This thing right here:


Which is actually a very difficult concept to make sense of, if your language doesn't already have it. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. Basically, the difference between the wa and ga markers in Japanese is equivalent to a different word order in Hungarian.


That's so interesting. Surprisingly, we have that in my mothertongue, Portuguese, too. We can say (in oral speech) things like:

"Esses livros, eu nunca (os) li."

"Those books, I never read (them)"

"Eu e ela, nós fomos passear."

"She and I, we went for a walk"

"Esta caneta — ela é fofa."

"この ペン は かわいい です。"

(This pen, it is cute / Speaking of this pen, it is cute)


But you're using Duolingo, so you already have some experience :)

I think it's way easier to learn a romance / germanic language online (by yourself) than a language like Japanese / Chinese for a lot of reasons. One of them is that it's a completely different way of thinking and a personal tutor would be extremely helpful. Another one is the kanji... Your tutor can teach you how to draw them by hand, the stroke order, explain the radicals etc...

Seize that rare opportunity!


Go for the Japanese. It will be easier for yourself if you study a language that you are motivated for. I have no experience with Japanese so I can't say if it's hard or easy.


I'm a fairly new learner to Japanese, but it's nowhere near as scary as people make it sound. They have an alphabet (actually two) along with Kanji. I learned Hiragana fairly quickly, but Katakana is a bit harder and slower for me because the characters look too much alike and you use Katakana much less than you use Hiragana. Kanji is the hardest, but even native Japanese speakers aren't a fan and sometimes will opt to use the Hiragana instead of the Kanji. I'm a native English speaker and am fairly advanced in French, and dabble in German and Norwegian some, but I've found French grammar harder than any Japanese grammar - mainly due to the lackthereof. Japanese speakers drop out a lot of the filler words we use. So whereas we'd say "The boy is drinking water", in Japanese it just translates to "boy water drinks". It looks a lot scarier than it is too.

I used elon.io as a resource to work on learning the basics (I'm still using it) but it teaches stroke order which I love. And it's free so it never hurts to check it out.


Left and update if any of you guys are interested :)


How is it going? Did you ever get a tutor? I see you have over a 2 week streak. Are you still studying all of them at the same time?


Long story that I'll attempt to cut short.

I had thought about the tutor and realised that if I had a tutor once a week I couldn't see myself advancing very fast at all, so I decided to quit the tutor idea and start teaching myself. I've been doing French for a while now and I've fallen in love with the language, I just received my "complete french book" by Collins, which I'm excited to start on as well. I am still deciding whether I should buy the German book as well and study both at the same time, which would seem a lot more stressful but I wouldn't get too bored of the same language. Once I've taught myself French, German and (maybe Swedish) I will look into Japanese and Finnish.

French Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/000814172X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Japanese Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Japanese-Zero-Methods-Integrated-Workbook/dp/0976998122/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495667102&sr=8-1&keywords=Japanese+language+learning


That sounds like a really good order. If you do start to feel bored with French, that is probably the time to add German in to keep things interesting.


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