これを読むことができますか。これを読めるか。 I think those two sentences mean the same thing. If I’m right, they both mean, “Can you read this?”
I was going through Learn Japanese from Some Guy and hit the two chapters on what he calls “The Potential form”. That was a new phrase to me, and I had to start the chapter in order to figure out what the potential form was.
One of the utterly fascinating things about Japanese is how different it is from English. (I compare it to English simply because English is my native language.)
Can you read this? Can you eat that? Can you solve complex combinative functions?
これを読むことができますか。それを食べることができますか。And, yeah, I have no idea how to translate that last one. That’s a little too…okay, that’s waaaaay too complicated for me at this point in time.
The way you do things in your native tongue seems natural to you. It would probably seem like the best way to you if you gave it any thought, but most of us don’t think about how we do things in our native language. A lot of us apply the rules without even knowing what the rules are.
For example, one time someone asked me about how you pronounce the word “the”. Sometimes it sounds like “thee” and sometimes it sounds like “thuh” and they wanted to know when to use each pronunciation. After a little thought I was able to come up with the rule, but it occurred to me that I had never actually heard such a rule as far as I could recall, but there definitely is a rule.
When you learn a new language by studying, you have to actually learn the rules and then internalize them to the point that you can apply them without having to think about it.
In the beginning, it’s a little like trying to walk on stilts – you have to think about every step. (I’m actually just guessing about that, since I’ve never tried to walk on stilts. If you have and I’m wrong, don’t tell anybody. It’ll mess up my analogy. Thanks.)
Since English and Japanese belong to two different language families, the differences are striking, and that’s part of what makes learning the language 難しくて楽しくて面白い. (difficult, fun and interesting). (Can you tell that I’m still studying how to string いー形容詞 (i-adjectives) together?)
Yes, the differences are a hurdle, but don’t think of them that way. Think of them as interesting challenges. You have to shake off the idea that the way your native language does things is automatically the best way. It’s the way you’re used to.
Also, here’s a good question that you should seldom, and possibly never, ask about the new language: Why is it that way? Because. Just learn it. That’s why.
I’m not saying that the “why” of things is unimportant or uninteresting, but the beginning is probably not the time to ask it, since it is likely to lead you down a rabbit hole that won’t actually help you learn the language. When you have some basic skills, then you can spend time on accessory questions. (You may disagree with me on that one, but I have seen more people fail to learn a language, or how to read music or how to play the guitar because they got sidetracked by all kinds of interesting question that didn’t actually help them speak (or play) better. Ask those question at the appropriate time. Oh, and, if you disagree me, that’s cool. We each have our own ways of doing things, and I’m explaining what is working (or not) for me. YMMV.)
I mentioned in a previous post that I have discovered someone I can practice Japanese with as soon as I’m ready to embarrass myself. (You will embarrass yourself. Get over it and talk, talk, talk, talk.) I decided to start out by sending him an email, and, just in case anyone cares to spot all my errors, of which I am sure that are a multitude, here it is, unfiltered and untranslated: おはよう。日本語を練習します。日本語の本を読みます。日本語は難しくて楽しいです。日本語を話したいです。毎日勉強します。 よつばと！読みたいです。 あまりまだ知りません。
It is baby talk, of course, so it sounds stilted. Then sentences are all short, so the message is choppy, but you have to start somewhere. I figure that, by publishing this, I am getting a good start on embarrassing myself. it builds character. Also, I think あまりまだ知りません (I don’t know much yet) is probably my new motto when it comes to Japanese, with the important word being まだ.