What is Missing in Japanese Language Education

I have been thinking a bit about why Japanese is so seemingly difficult to English-speakers such as myself.  I’ve made a few other posts on this topic, but I think they were all skirting around a more fundamental issue.

English is a very difficult language, from what I hear.  Of course I’m fluent in it, but that’s because I was raised in the language.  And because of that, there are some things that are pretty obvious that may not be obvious to a foreign language speaker.  Specifically, some words have common roots, and thus their meaning can be teased out without knowing exactly what it means.  Not all words are like this, obviously, and there are some false rabbit holes (Yoshizawa-san famously getting “Refrigerator” and “Refresh” mixed up is one example) but by and large, this is something that an English speaker can sometimes do to “fake it till you make it”.

But Japanese does not seem to have anything similar.  Some words can mean about a hundred different things (“ikaru” and “sakura” being two examples that come immediately to mind), and other words seem very similar but have very different meanings (“muzukashii” and “hazukashii” are two examples that, again, come to mind).  Why are these words related?  Are there other words that end with “kashii”?  Can their meaning be teased out from the root?  (“muzu” and “hazu”, for example).  Do those roots mean anything on their own?

But there seems to be no pattern to it.  You just have to memorize the words.  I suppose that makes some sense from a pedagological standpoint, but my mind doesn’t work that way.  What are the patterns?  Are there rules that can be inferred?  Are there shortcuts to understanding?

Either there aren’t, or no one bothers teaching them.

That, to me, is what makes Japanese difficult, above all others.

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