I've studied English for more than 10 years, and I noticed many differences from my mother language, Japanese. We Japanese find it quite difficult to use English naturally, I think this is partly, (or mainly perhaps) due to such a big difference between the languages' characteristics. I'm going to write about their differences I've found.
Acasia blossum along the railway
○Statement order First of all, the word orders are almost opposite. When I translate English sentenses into Japanese, I often have to translate from the last part of the sentense. In English, they tend to state the most important things such as the verb, adjective or the object of the verb in the beginning part, whereas we don't necessarily state them at first in Japanese. This is the same in the structure of paragraphs. In English paragraphs, they tend to state the conclusion at first in the beginning, then state the reasons or details in the body paragraph. Japanese paragraphs often do not have such an obvious structure to state the conclusion, so the readers have to recognize the main concept from the flow of the story. This characteristic also applies to the conversations as well. In Japanese conversation, we often refrain from using obvious expression, because it might offend someone or it could raise a question which offends the speaker. So rather than that, we tend to use some ambiguous expressions to avoid offending or being offended by someone. Contrary to that, in English conversations, we try to answer to questions as simply and clearly as possible. If the answer is too simple and not clear to you, you would ask the person questions right away to make it clearer. The conversation would continue until everything becomes clear.
This difference sometimes helps me but sometimes it is annoying. I like this characteristic in English, because it makes it easier for me to understand what the main point is. I am not good at understanding things when the main points are not clearly described. Most Japanese people are good at sensing untold indications in sentences or in conversations. We sometimes use an ambiguous expression on purpose, expecting the listener to recognize what it really means. I'm not good at it so I have often offended the speaker asking questions to make the meaning clear. In English, asking questions when I'm not clear is important, so I often ask questions. In this point, I like English very much. But it is still difficult for me to express in a simple clear way when I want to tell something. In this point, I'm still used to Japanese way of speaking, using soft expressions, and I get annoyed not being able to say things clearly.
Sakura tree in full bloom
○Education of the mother language Secondly, I also noticed that the way students learn the reading process at school is very different between English and Japanese. (I mention it first that this is just what I FELT, and not based on any specific facts.) In Japan, we learn to read like this:
(Given sentence) "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. He said, 'Blah blah blah blah!!' And this made him blah blah blah. "
(Questions) Q1:What is the closest feeling when he said “ “? a)･･ b)･･ c)･･ d)･･ Q2:what does 'this' mean?
Well, this is not a good example but what I've noticed is that we try to think of what each small phrase or expression means. We try to match a specific answer of what the expression means each time we read through sentences, rather than grabbing the whole story.
On the other hand, in English reading classes, students are made to read a lot of books. Then they are asked to state what they have felt about the story or their opinions after reading. The flow of the story, or recognizing what was written in the story is more important than the each small expression in the text. I think students can enjoy reading itself more in this way.
Actually, I was not good at Japanese reading at school, and it kept me away from reading books. I still have this bad habit of not reading many books, and I regret not having enjoyed reading in my younger years. I wonder that, if I had learnt the way differently, I might have been more interested in reading perhaps...
○As learning languages Lastly, I have noticed many points that are easy or difficult for the language learners both in Japanese and English.
Let's talk about Japanese first. Before I came here and started helping in the Japanese teaching, I've thought that Japanese was such a complicated and difficult language that many people would not be interested in learning it as a second language. We use very unique alphabets (hiragana and katakana), we have the normal form, polite form and casual form, and these different forms are used all together in the conversation. Indeed, these characteristics are difficult for many learners. But actually, students start to learn from learning hiragana and katakana, and they seem to be enjoying them! They like Japanese pronunciation because it only has 5 vowels and is so simple. Then they start to learn many nouns, verbs and adjectives to make sentences. They learn Japanese sentences in desu & masu form (normal form) and I noticed that the basic Japanese sentence is not complicated at all. For example, in making past tense, you just put 'masita' or 'desita' after the verb or adjective, whereas in English, there are many different patterns of changing tense, such as lie-lay-lain, lay-laid-laid and lie-lied-lied, and so on and on. Maybe, when people come to Japan and live there, they might find it very very difficult to speak and understand Japanese. But as long as they learn it just as a second language at school, they quite enjoy learning it. This discovery was really pleasing to me.
Now let's focus on English. English was one of my favorite subjects at school when I was a student. I like the rhythm and the intonation in English, and the pronunciation as well. I had no trouble in understanding English grammar, I even thought that English was an easier language than Japanese. But now that I have to use English all the time, I have a different opinion now. The hardest part I find it in English is the use of singular and plural form of nouns. This concept is not in Japanese, so I still do not get used to using them correctly. Whenever I say something, I always have to care about whether I've said singular or plural noun as a subject, then I have to change the verb and all the pronouns according to it. This makes me really confused. One more confusing thing is the articles. I don't quite understand the rule of using 'a' and 'the'. They say 'In THE morning' but they don't say 'at THE night'. To overcome these difficult part, it would take me several years to get used to it.
Eastern Rosella. This is my favorite Australian bird.
To sum up, each language has both enjoyable and difficult part, and how the learner would feel about it changes according to the way he or she learns it and their learning stage. Now that I've found out many characteristics in both of the languages, I feel like learning more about them to be able to explain them to the learners.
Learning languages is interesting, and using them is even more fun. Furthermore, explaining a language to the learners leads to lot of discoveries about the language and stimulates a cycle of learning more!!