One of the goals in our coming to Japan was that a linguistically inept person such as myself could begin to learn Japanese. I often tell Yayoi or myself that I am losing as much Eigo or English as I am gaining Japanese. The proof of that is in my fascination with two philanderers (slander) Hefner and Grant. Do a search in our BLOG for occurrences of the word hugh when I meant to say huge. Ha ha. Even the iPad warns me that maybe I mean to say Hugh (the name) instead of hugh, but I stubbornly carry on.
I have to admire the people who have the ability to memorize thousands of kanji characters as well as two alphabets comprised of 46+ characters each. Japanese and English are polar opposites in their composition and thought patterns. Translation is difficult, but to interpret for someone in real time must be incredibly tiresome. You simply cannot take a sentence in either language and directly convert it (neither can Google - slander again).
People learning Japanese in North America are taught Hiragana first, which is the Japanese alphabet used to write words that may not have a kanji equivalent. It is not uncommon to have kanji characters with the hiragana equivalent alongside which allows the reader to at least be able to pronounce the kanji character. Just as in English a Japanese word or set of hiragana characters can have multiple meanings, but frequently also has multiple kanji characters. When reading hiragana and kanji are probably more important, but it quickly becomes quite obvious that the other alphabet Katakana is essential under some circumstances. Katakana is a parallel alphabet to Hiragana and is used to spell out words borrowed from foreign languages and as with English there are many of these. It is also used to spell out onomatopoeia expressions. Katakana is essential when shopping in grocery and drug stores as so many items did not exist in the Japanese environment years ago and these have been named with foreign equivalent expressions.
Lastly in regard to my learning the language, lets not go there.