If you want to challenge and better yourself, one of the top tasks you can undertake is learning a new language. Emphasis on the challenge! For a real challenge, try one that is considered to be one of the hardest languages to learn due to its sheer inaccessibility such as Sarcee or Potawatomi. If you were to try defining one language as the most difficult to learn though, it would be virtually impossible. People in TV shows and movies always seem to pick up new languages immediately, as if by magic. Here in the real world, it takes effort and hard work to learn a language well enough that you can do your own translation.
That said, some languages are harder for English-speakers to understand than others. That’s why we need professional translation services! While each language comes with its own idiosyncrasies, the further you get away from the traditional alphabet that English speakers are used to, the harder it can be to learn the new language.
Below we’ll look at which is more difficult to learn and translate, Japanese or Russian. Both come with a unique alphabet. Given that 86% of people use Asian or European languages, you won’t be alone in your studies – you’ll have plenty of people to impress with your language skills along the way!
Why Japanese translation is challenging
One of the most intimidating languages for non-English speakers to learn to translate is Japanese. There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, you have to rethink how you come at the letters themselves. Japanese uses Kanji, which look like intricate drawings more than letters. This is about as far away from the Latin-based alphabet as you can get, making it difficult to learn and translate. Kanji aren’t phonetic, but ideograms. That means the characters represent whole words.
Japanese also has different systems for phonetic writing, making learning and translation even more difficult. It has the hiragana for phonetically spelling out Japanese words and katakana, which is mostly for foreign words.
Like many languages, Japanese uses grammar very differently. For instance, the verb is at the end of the sentence. It also uses different styles based on who you are talking to. If you talk to someone in a higher position, like bosses, teachers, officials and so forth, you use the more formal “honorific speech” called keigo. It’s another element of learning Japanese that can make translation difficult for Westerners.
Japanese also reads right to left, which takes some getting used to!
Despite these challenges, learning Japanese and finally being able to crack the translation of Kanji can be an incredibly gratifying experience. Below we’ll look at why it might be easier to learn than it seems.
Why Japanese translation might be easier to pick up than it looks
Japanese has a few features that can make it easier to pick up than even English. This means that it can be easier to translate Japanese than it originally seems.
For example, other than “n,” Japanese sounds end on a vowel, making it easier to string words together. There are also only five vowel sounds and 45 basic syllables, which can only be pronounced one way. Compared that to the short e vs. the long e vs. the silent e vs. the times e is pronounced more like an a that those learning English have to deal with, this is a welcome relief.
In Japanese, you don’t have to worry about word genders, like you do in French translation. So no memorizing whether a computer is male or female! In addition, many Japanese words are actually borrowed from English, such as intaanetto for internet.
Technology has made it easier than ever to look up the meaning of different Kanji and, after a while, Kanji have patterns you can recognize that can help you guess new ones.
An interesting feature of Japanese is that it tends to be more even in its pronunciation, taking out the stress of knowing which accent to put on different syllables. It’s also not a tonal language, unlike (say) Chinese.
While all this means that Japanese translation isn’t as intimidating to learn as it looks, it can still be hard. Below we’ll look at Russian and consider how the two languages compare.
Why Russian translation is challenging
Russian is the native language of 154 million people, making it a useful language to learn. Like Japanese, Russian can be challenging in its translation for a number of reasons.
Russian grammar rules are complex and have many different exceptions, much like English grammar. It’s also hard to determine where the stress is put on each word, and it’s impossible to tell from the written words. Hard and soft sounds can be hard to determine and there are multiple homonyms.
You also need to learn a new alphabet when you learn Russian. Even when it looks similar to the Latin alphabet in places, it can mean something different.
Why Russian translation might be easier to pick up than it looks
Like all languages, Russian has its more forgiving parts, making translation easier. If the difficulties listed right above sound familiar, it’s because these are many of the same issues we all have with English, even as native speakers.
So much of the English language is based on context and just hearing the word spoken. Russian is no different in that regard. Using audio and video lessons instead of just textbooks can reduce the difficulty of learning any language, especially Russian. How do we translate languages? Many times, by listening and repeating over and over again!
The Russian alphabet is fairly easy to learn. It has 33 letters, not far off from the English 26. Russian also uses many words based on English words, like студент, meaning student.
Some parts of Russian grammar are easier than English grammar. For example, there is no “to be” verb in the present tense. In addition, long words can often be broken down into parts for easier understanding, just like in English.
Russian vs. Japanese: which is the easier language to learn?
After reading through all the differences, Russian probably comes across as the easier language to learn. And it is! For native English speakers, Russian is categorized as taking 44 weeks to learn (or 1,100 hours), while Japanese takes 88 weeks (2,200 hours). It literally takes double the time to learn Japanese as it does to learn Russian.
That’s not surprising, given that Russian has an alphabet system that is closer to that which native English speakers are used to. On top of that, it has similar linguistic quirks to English, meaning that English speakers are already used to them. That makes for easier translation during the learning process.
If you’re looking to learn a new language with a different alphabet, Russian can offer a similar challenge to learning Japanese, but in half the time. Whichever you decide to learn, doing so can be a truly gratifying experience.