April 17, 2007

Which is more complicated, Japanese or English?

Every once in a while, a Japanese person will pose this question to me. They always seem flabbergasted that I think English is more complicated. Actually, I try to clarify that I think English is much easer to learn. Learning Japanese often feels like learning four or five languages at once.
To learn Japanese, you have to cover:
  • Two sylaballaries
  • about 2,000 standard Chinese characters
  • maybe about 1,000 more if you want a specialized job
  • stroke order, if you want to be able to write
  • the multiple readings for Chinese characters
  • the local dialect
  • familiarity with major dialects
  • slang
  • common punchlines
  • old Japanese is a plus
  • idioms are a plus
  • Humble, middle, and honorific language
  • How to juggle in-group to out-group speech
  • Katakana words from other languages
  • Learning which words are too technical/archaic to be used (often after you have already memorized them).

    So I think it's a challenge to learn Japanese in the first place. But I still think the grammar is ridiculously simple. Only two verbs in the entire language are irregular. The spelling is fairly simple. And most of the elements reinforce each other. I am actually thankful for kanji, cause sometimes it's the only way I remember a word's meaning, and there can be nice nuance communicated through them (見るvs.観る for example).
    Anyways, I don't really think I need to go into why English is harder. But I will share this link with you. Maybe you'll see my point through it.