As mentioned before, Japanese has a reputation of being fairly difficult. While there are many things that make Japanese easy, it also has some properties that contribute to its difficult reputation. These include:

Kanji – Yes, you have to learn them if you want to be able to read Japanese. Kanji are Chinese characters that have been imported into Japanese. They can be difficult since each one must be learned individually, but over time you will start to notice some logical patterns and some things will start to “click.” When reading with kanji, reading speed and comprehension is greatly increased, so for the serious student, the payoff if well worth the effort.

Formality – This is a concept that isn’t really found in English. Japanese students learn relatively soon that there are many different ways to say the same thing, and which one you choose depends on your relationship with the listener. You don’t use the same words when talking to your boss that you use when talking to your friends. English sometimes has similar concepts to this, such as how you address your boss as “sir” and don’t use slang when speaking with him, but Japanese takes this concept much further. Fortunately, Japanese people don’t expect westerns to master all the different formality levels, and most classes and books teach levels that are safe to use with anyone.

Ambiguity – Japanese can be a bit confusing to new students in that it is not always the most specific language in the world. Sometimes, words are omitted from sentences when their context is understood, which is almost never done in English. Also, depending on the context, a single word in Japanese can be an entire sentence. For example, in English, if you were talking to someone about going to America and wanted to know if they were going, you would ask: “Are you going to America?”

In Japanese, if it’s already established that you’re talking about America, and it’s obvious who you’re talking to, you could just ask, 行きますか? (which means basically “going?”) You could ask the entire sentence if you wanted to, but it would be redundant. Most of this stuff only sounds difficult when you first hear about it, but is actually natural and relatively logical in application.

No Spaces – Japanese normally doesn’t put spaces between words. At first this can be confusing, but eventually you get used it to it. Beginning textbooks and children’s books usually do have spaces between words, so these can make the transition easier.