Is Japanese Hard to Learn? Not Really, and Here Are 11 Reasons Why

You may have heard that Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.

In fact, the Foreign Services Institute—which trains US diplomats in foreign languages—classifies Japanese as a “Category IV” language, meaning it takes at least 2,200 class hours (excluding separate study hours!) to become fluent in it.

But I can tell you from personal experience that Japanese isn’t as difficult as you might think.

In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the 11 reasons Japanese is actually easy to learn.



1. All vowels have one pronunciation each

Japanese only has five vowels: , , , and . Each syllable is pronounced with the same rhythm without any stress, and the pronunciation of Japanese words is generally predictable.

The same can’t be said of English, where the spelling doesn’t always match up with the pronunciation. You have to learn each word individually to pronounce them properly.

When you’re learning Japanese, this won’t be an issue. None of this eau, samhain or tschüss of the European languages, either.

2. You don’t need to deal with tones

Japanese isn’t a tonal language. This might be surprising to hear, since so many Asian languages are spoken with tones, including Mandarin Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.

But it should also come as a relief, since it saves you the time and effort of learning the tones of every word—and risking that you convey a different meaning from what you intended!


3. You’re already familiar with the parts of speech

Japanese parts of speech are similar to their English counterparts:

Part of SpeechKanjiHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
Noun はなflower
Adjective 美しい うつくしいbeautiful
Adverb 早く はやくearly
Verb 食べる たべるto eat
Pronoun 彼女 かのじょshe

One difference is that Japanese has particles that act like prepositions, except they come after the word to which they refer:

Japanese ParticlesEnglish Translation

Here’s an example sentence:

(おーすとらりあで さかなに きすされて、びっくりした。)
In Australia, I was kissed by a fish and I was surprised.

In this example, the particles and come after Australia and a fish.

4. You don’t conjugate based on gender

Aside from a few nouns, Japanese doesn’t really change its word forms based on gender. Pronouns are only gender-specific in two cases: third person (she, he and they) and first person (I).

Here are gender-specific options for referring to oneself:






That being said, the gender-neutral option,  (わたし / わたくし), is not only more polite, it’s also far more common.

There are the basic words for boy, girl, son, daughter and so on. Otherwise, gender is omitted from nouns and adjectives, making learning much easier.

Here are more examples of gender words in Japanese:

Japanese Gender WordsHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
俳優 はいゆうactor
女優 じょゆうactress
若い男の子 わかい おとこのこa young boy
可愛い女の子 かわいい おんなのこa cute girl
キャビンアテンダント きゃびん あてんだんとcabin attendant

5. You don’t have to change word forms (much)

Japanese doesn’t have noun declension (i.e., it doesn’t change the form of nouns based on their purpose or location in a sentence).

Instead, Japanese uses particles such as  and  to indicate purpose:

Part of the SentenceExampleEnglish Translation
Subject 先生 (せんせい)the teacher
Direct object 先生 (を) the teacher
Indirect object (to/for) 先生 (に) [to/for] the teacher
Possessive 先生 (の) [of] the teacher, the teacher’s

Similarly, Japanese adjectives and adverbs each have only two forms. Even verbs have three—one of which is a small family of irregulars (to have, to do, to be and to come).

Japanese Parts of SpeechSuffixes
Adjectives-i words and -na words
Adverbs-ku words and -ni words
Verbs-ru verbs and -u verbs

Each category has its own set of rules. But once you master one form of a word, then you’ve learned the same form of hundreds of similar words.

6. Pluralization is easy

Japanese allows you to pluralize pronouns, words referring to people and a few animal words.

But even then, there are only three possible options:

Japanese Pluralization MethodSingularPlural
Double the word  (ひと) 
人々 (ひとびと)
Add  ( たち )  (わたし) 
私達  (わたしたち) 
Add  (かれ) 
彼ら  (かれら) 

I’d like to emphasize the word “option,” as in you don’t necessarily need to use plural forms:

(おれのねこは、さんびきの ねずみとあそんで、いぬをおいかけて、おれのともだちをむしした。)
My cat(s) played with three mice, chased a dog (some dogs, the dog, the dogs) and ignored my friend(s).

Japanese often indicates how many there are of each object. When it doesn’t, you’ll be able to infer from the context.

7. There are only two tenses in Japanese

In Japanese, the present tense (I do) is the same as the future tense (I will do/I’m going to do). There’s a separate verb form for I am doing, but for all intents and purposes, the only proper tenses are the present/future tense and the past tense:

Japanese Verb TensesKanjiHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
Present and future 見る みるI (will) watch/look
Past 見た みたI watched/looked

You can also express a variety of moods and voices, such as passive (it was done by), ability (you can do), imperative (do it) and so on. But the two basic tenses, plus the conjunctive/gerund form (doing or I do…), will get you where you need to go.

8. Japanese doesn’t use articles

In Japanese, there are ways of indicating definite or indefinite relationships based on context, but there are no words for a, an or the.

English TranslationKanjiHiragana
(The) bird dove into the pool! 鳥は、プールに飛び込んだ! とりは、ぷーるに とびこんだ!
(A) bird dove into the pool! プールに、鳥が飛び込んだ! ぷーるに、とりが とびこんだ!

You’ll find you don’t even notice the articles are gone, and it’s one less thing to learn.

9. You can omit words based on context

In Japanese, subjects and objects are optional if they’re already understood based on context.

Type of OmissionJapanese SentenceHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
Verb omitted 誰が今日の晩ご飯を作るの? だれが きょうの ばんごはんをつくるの?Who's going to make dinner tonight?
私です! わたしですI am! (It’s me!)
Subject omitted 今、何してるの? いま、なに してるの?What (are you) doing now?
泳いでる。 およいでる。(I am) swimming.

Japanese conversations often include one-word sentences, with a depth of meaning buried underneath.

Sentence Structure

10. You only need to remember two word order rules

There are only two rules about word order in Japanese:

  • Verbs come last.
  • In compound sentences, each clause must keep its kids in the assigned seating area.

Japanese uses particles to designate each piece of a statement. The particle follows the noun wherever it goes:

(にわで、いぬが あそんでいる。)
In the garden, the dog is playing.

(いぬは、にわで あそんでいる。)
The dog is playing in the garden.

11. Many Japanese words will be familiar to you

There are many common Japanese words we use in English all the time.

A few you’re sure to recognize include:

KanjiHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
絵文字 えもじemoji
台風 たいふうtyphoon
可愛い かわいいkawaii
豆腐 とうふtofu
寿司 すしsushi
空手 からてkarate
大君 たいくん tycoon
津波 つなみtsunami
忍者 にんじゃninja
布団 ふとんfuton

The opposite is true, as well. Japanese uses many English words, like:

LoanwordHiragana ReadingEnglish Translation
ハンバーガー はんばーがーhamburger
エスカレーター えすかれーたーescalator
アニメ あにめanime (short for "animation")

Notice how the English words incorporated into Japanese use the katakana writing system. If you see a word written in katakana, there’s a good chance (though not always) that it’s a loanword.

If you want Japanese writing to come more naturally to you—and improve your listening skills, vocabulary and grammar at the same time—I recommend using a platform that lets you watch Japanese videos, movies, TV series, etc. with subtitles.

For example, the language learning platform FluentU has hundreds of Japanese videos perfect for learning. Each video comes with interactive subtitles that you can click, pulling up information like a word’s English translation, part of speech, pronunciation and more.

Why Most People Think Japanese Is Hard to Learn

You’ve just seen 11 aspects of the language that make Japanese easy to learn. Now, let’s compare them with reasons it seems difficult:

  • The kanji look scary and intimidating. I think kanji takes the cake when it comes to the most intimidating part of Japanese. Since there’s nothing like it in almost any other language (apart from Chinese characters and the occasional Hanja in Korean), people who speak other languages (especially non-Asian ones) think it will take them an eternity to master.
  • Japanese sounds so different from English. Japanese is spoken very fast. In fact, research has found that it’s the fastest-spoken language in the world. And since Japanese doesn’t stress most of its syllables, it sounds very different and unnatural to untrained ears. But little do people know that this no-stress pronunciation rule actually makes Japanese words way easier to say.
  • There are three Japanese writing systems. Japanese uses kanji, hiragana and katakana to spell and write words. But they’re not used interchangeably, and you’ll see sentences that use all three types. To summarize, kanji are Chinese characters for Japanese words, hiragana is the Japanese script for native Japanese words and katakana is the alphabet that’s often used to spell foreign words, like loanwords from English.
  • Japanese grammar is very different from English grammar. Japanese sentences follow the subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, whereas English uses the subject-verb-object (SVO) order. Plus, Japanese particles are used to identify the roles certain words play in a sentence. Grammar points like these can be confusing at first, but once you get used to them, you’re golden.


All these concepts make Japanese a very subtle, nuanced language. There is a structure, but it’s light like rice wine vinegar—not heavy like blue cheese.

You may have your own opinion on whether Japanese is hard to learn or not. But I hope that by viewing the language through a “big picture” lens and seeing that it’s often pretty easy, you can now approach it more confidently!

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:


FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.


All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.


And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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