I like to think as I’ve got older I’ve become less inclined to express my own very important opinion at every available opportunity. In Japan, especially, where directness is often frowned upon, most of the time it’s better to just not.
But sometimes something tickles me and I can’t restrain myself. In my short lived ALT days, I was subbing for another teacher and chatting to the the Japanese assistant and I mentioned that I was studying Japanese. She responded with the usual, “That must be difficult” and then added, “Japanese is the most difficult language in the world.”
It’s widely acknowledged that many Japanese people take a strange joy in that their language is super difficult to learn. I guess it makes them feel special but to be honest, I don’t get it. But, ‘The most difficult language in the world?’ This statement is all kinds of dumb.
Disclaimer – I do find Japanese difficult and I am certainly not super at it. But, honestly, I studied German at school and I found that harder. When I mention this to Japanese friends the reaction is a disbelieving “eehhhhh?” But it’s true. I had seven years of German in a swanky bilingual method, studied history through German, did work experience in Germany and I still kind of suck. I just never got my head around the grammar and having genders where genders have no right to be. Though I know plenty of vocab and can make myself understood, my German remains really messy. In contrast the logical nature of Japanese grammar appeals to me. It’s hard work and slow progress but it sticks in my head far better than German ever did. Believe it or not I make less mistakes too.
My main point though (if there is one buried in the rant) is that there is no one language that is easier than another. That it’s all relative should be so obvious but it seems not. Japanese is hard for an English speaker because it’s different to English. It’s less difficult for a native Korean speaker as the grammar and syntax have some similarities. It’s less difficult for a Chinese person because they get a head start with the kanji. Your native tongue aside, how difficult you find a language will also depend on your learning style. Maybe if you’re tone deaf Chinese isn’t the language for you, but if you have a whacking visual memory but suck at grammar (I’m told Chinese grammar is quite simple) then it may be your chance to shine. Japanese fits my learning style and the way my brain works and it may well for you too.
So what did I say to the Japanese assistant? Well the answer that would annoy her most of course.
“Nah, that’s Chinese.”
Guess I haven’t gotten more restrained after all.