Ghaleon wrote:I find it quite difficult, I too have been studying for a year. Though I'm old and don't have the time for some kind of formal education.
But the problem is not that Japanese is particularly hard, but learning languages at all is just something I suck at. I'm a fast learning in general, but that's because logic and common sense applies alot of the time. Languages...Tend to require alot of completely arbitrary memorization, and alot of the time people are completely unaware of how much of it they take for granted. I mean, I always am told that you can always know how to spell a Japanese word once you learn the vowels and phonetics or whatever, but that's so wrong (though admittedly there isn't as much phonetic BS as English). For example, when spelling "cup" in Katakana, romanji says "koppu" But if you were to say "world cup" for a tournament, in Katakana, it's something different ("kuppu? I forget"). Nobody noticed this lack of consistency but me (cuz I'm the only dumb white completely inexperienced with Japanese fool trying to learn it amidst a group of people with years of experience already).
Also, after learning Hirigana, I learned that the only little half-size "letters" that exist are tsu, ya, yu, and yo...Yet I was supposed to magically know (and the instructor admits it was never mentioned) that when spelling in Katakana, that you can insert little 'i's and.. something else (forget), I only discovered this after being "corrected" such on a quiz that I obviously flunked. (The whole quiz required use of letters that until being marked, I was taught do not exist).
Then there are the countless cases of the 'i' in "shi" being silent, and in some, not being silent, or the 'u' in 'su'.
I'm not saying Japanese is particularly difficult because of this, because ALL LANGUAGES have stupid @#%@#%#@ing illogical absolutely arbitrary BS like this, but Japanese, for some reason, seems to convince its speakers that they don't exist more than most (except maybe English >=P)
I can see where you're coming from... at first, all of this can be very confusing. Being older, and perhaps even naturally bad at languages certainly won't help, but there's not much you can do about that.
Honestly, I'm not one for memorizing things either, nor do I believe that someone can learn a language simply by memorizing words, rules, patters, etc. This CAN, however, allow someone to do well on a test. I quite frequently find myself memorizing kanji at the last minute for a kanji test, but this really doesn't do anything for my actual learning of the kanji or of Japanese as a whole.
That being said, it's really hard not to do anything BUT try to memorize things left and right when starting to learn a language, and I wasn't much different. I'll give you some tips though... first of all, almost everything in Japanese has a formula associated with it. I don't know how this magically came to be (the Japanese are just that cool) but it's true. Katakana-ized foreign words are one exception to this... there are common rules for how to spell certain combinations of letters and whatnot, but in reality most of it boils down to "The closest sounding word with the least amount of characters". With that, there's really not much I can do except tell you to master your Japanese sounds as best you can, so you can try to predict how to spell every word. For the record, any vowel character (a,i,u,e,o) can be made small and attached to some other character (usually characters ending in -u or -i ) to make a new sound. The fault lies not with Japanese, but with English for having more basic sounds than Japanese, so they had to find some way to fix that
After hearing katakana words for a while, you eventually get the general gist of how they're written and pronounced.
For devoicing i's and u's, however, I have good news. There is a definite pattern to this. For the record, these sounds aren't "silent"... they're devoiced. The difference is that you still say them, but you say them as if you were whispering. This may seem weird and hard at first, so usually most people just silence them... it comes out to be fairly similar, so there's not really a big deal with doing that. The pattern to knowing when to do so is that the vowel in question (only i's and u's work for this) must be surrounded by two devoiced consonants. To keep things simple, I'll define a devoiced consonant as one where you can't feel your vocal strings vibrating.
Try putting your hand on your throat and saying "ssssss" like a snake. You don't feel any vibrations, right? Now, try saying "zzzzz" like a bee, or as if making a zap noise. You can feel it vibrating, right? That's the difference between voiced and devoiced sounds. In English (and indeed a lot of languages) all vowels are voiced, so it might be a little weird to try to say "i" or "e" without making your throat vibrate. Putting that aside, here's a nice list of all the Japanese consonants that are devoiced (so you don't have to keep your hand on your throat whenever you're trying to talk): k,s, t, h/f
Remember that BOTH SIDES of the vowel has to have devoiced consonants. Alternatively, if the vowel is preceded by a devoiced consonant and followed by empty space (ie: the end of a sentence) then it is also devoiced, but note that words that follow afterwards also count. Examples (cap = voiced, uncap = devoiced): DEsu, MAsu, hiki, tOChi, hIMItsu
I could go on but I don't want to clog up this thread :/