I’ve been recently learning how to do sudoku puzzles, and it turns out that I’m really good at it with the right hints, and really bad at the harder ones otherwise. But I can’t help but to find some similarities between sudoku and the Japanese language.
Both of them – particularly the harder sudoku – are incredibly intimidating when you first look at them. Sudoku has only a few numbers filled in, and you’re thinking “I’m supposed to deduce a solution from this? But then, you start to learn, and as the basics become more old hat, it’s a little like filling in more of the numbers – the puzzle gets easier the more correct numbers you fill in. It’s like a harder puzzle becomes a medium puzzle and then becomes an easy puzzle. It gets easier as you go on.
In some ways, I feel this way about Japanese. When you first start, you have this intimidating world set out before you – with brand new characters that have nothing to do with our writing system, even when it does, with ambiguous meanings that only make sense in context – it’s just this huge thing that you have no idea how to tackle.
But then you start, and you master one small part of it, then another part of it, and pretty soon you’re competent enough to read simple vocabulary and learn the most common readings of kanji. And at that point it becomes clear that the common readings of kanji will get you most of the way to where you want to go.
Unlike sudoku, of course, more challenges immediately present themselves as you progress. It is almost as if you solve one sudoku puzzle, and then it immediately expands to a cube of 729 units, and have to solve that as well. So the analogy isn’t perfect – no analogy ever is.
But the first step to solving any puzzle – sudoku or otherwise – is to just start and keep going until you solve it.