I have studied Japanese for four years. Unfortunately, since I didn't ever make practical use of it, my translation skills are pretty poor.
The following excerpts are from www.soyouwantolearnjapanese.com and is a funny commentary on why Japanese is so difficult:
I don't care how many anime tapes you've watched, how many Japanese girlfriends you've had or books you've read, You Don't Know Japanese. Not only that, majoring in the god-forsaken language is NOT fun or even remotely sensible. Iraqi war prisoners are often forced to major in Japanese. The term "Holocaust" comes from the Latin roots "Holi" and "Causm", meaning "to major in Japanese". You get the idea. And so, sick of seeing so many lambs run eagerly to the slaughter, I have created This Guide to REAL TIPS for Studying Japanese.
Or, as is actually the case, NOT studying it.
The Japanese Writing System
The Japanese writing system is broken down into three separate, autonomous, insane parts: Hiragana ("those squiggily letters"), Katakana ("those boxy letters") and Kanji ("roughly 4 million embodiments of your worst nightmares").
Hiragana is used to spell out Japanese words using syllables. It consists of many letters, all of which look completely different and bear absolutely no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Hiragana were devloped by a group blind, deaf, and dumb Japanese people who scribbled things on pieces of paper while having no idea why they were doing so. The resulting designs were then called "hiaragana", and were used to predict the future. The prince who invented these characters, Yorimushi("stinking monkey-bush-donkey") was promptly bludgeoned to death. But don't worry, because as your teachers will tell you, you'll hardly use Hiragana in "real life".
Katakana are used only to spell out foreign words in a thick, crippling japanese accent, so that you'll have no idea what you're saying even though it's in English. However, if you remember one simple rule for Katakana, you'll find reading Japanese much easier: Whenever something is written in Katakana, it's an English word! (note: Katakana is also used for non-english foreign words. And sound effects, and Japanese words). Katakana all look exactly the same, and it's impossible, even for Japanese people, to tell them apart. They kind of look like the number 9, except straighter. No need to worry though, because you'll hardly ever have to read Katakana in "real life".
|Katakana vs Hirigana|
Kanji are letters that were stolen from China. Every time the Japanese invaded China (which was very often) they'd just take a few more letters, so now they have an estimated 400 gazillion of them. Kanji each consist of several "strokes", which must be written in a specific order or Japanese people will laugh at you. Each character conveys a specific meaning, like "horse" (note that the character for horse could also mean "car". Or "police officer". Or "Didacticism").
Kanji can also be combined to form new words. For example, if you combine the Kanji for "small", and "woman", you get the word "carbeurator". Kanji also have different pronounciations depending on where they are in the word, how old you are, and what day it is. When European settlers first came upon Japan, Japanese scholars suggested that Europe adopt the Japanese written language as a "universal" language understood by all parties. This was the cause of World War 2 several years later. Don't worry, however, since you'll never have to use kanji in "real life", since most Japanese gave up on reading a long, long time ago, and now spend most of their time playing Pokemon.
|A handful of the 2500 commonly used Kanji|
Do you know a second or foreign language (or several?) where did you learn it and how often do you get to use it?