If English is your native language, make sure you give your parents a big hug next time you see them: they saved you from the horror of learning English as a second language. The complexity of English seems custom-made to vex poor Japanese ESL learners like my wife, who struggles with the language even after all these years. Once someone in the U.S. told her, “You’re from Japan? Neat!” and she replied, “No, I have a job” — she’d confused the normal English adjective with NEET, as in Japan’s legendary hikikomori shut-ins. Then there was the time we were in the drive-thru and she saw the CLEARANCE sign, indicating the maximum height of cars that could pass through, and she wondered if McDonald’s was allowed to sell old food at discounted “clearance” prices like that. The combination of fewer sounds in Japanese compared with English and the lack of plurals makes it easy to confuse the word “chopsticks” with ChapStick lip balm, and there’s an enormous potential for L/R confusion, like the time she asked for some “gross” lipstick. Of course, I’ve managed to put my foot in my mouth in Japanese plenty of times, too, like the time I confused hinan (to evacuate, to escape) and hinin (to use contraceptive) when talking with a pretty girl (facepalm).
So to any readers who didn’t learn English as your first language, how hard was it? Do the Japanese inherently have more difficulty with it or is it maddening for everyone?
English is a very difficult language for Japanese to master.