Is spoken language easier than written language?
Again and again I keep hearing this: people want to learn a language just enough to be able to have a conversation with a native speaker.
But there is a giant mistake here: people assume that spoken language is easier than written language.
IT IS NOT!
Spoken language is actually harder than written language.
There are many reasons for that.
Spoken language is not just words. It includes many non-verbal elements like gestures and interjections that are hard to learn and understand. And unless they are actors, most foreigners will refuse to emulate those elements. And contrary to popular belief, many gestures and even facial expressions are not universal. Japanese people never say "ew" to express disgust.
Spoken language is highly irregular, unclear, ill-pronounced, made of incomplete, out-of-order sentences and words and slang. Most grammar rules don't apply to spoken language! Dictionaries are also useless.
Spoken language is different from region to region, from person to person.
How can you study the spoken language if it is different from person to person?
Written language is defined by scholars and intellectuals, is the same all over the country and can be studied from grammars and dictionaries. You cannot do that with spoken language.
Native speakers don't want to talk to foreigners. I believe this is universal, it is not just in Japan. Lots of foreigners come to Japan and complain that they are always treated as "gaijin", or outsiders, they are never accepted in the group as equals. But this doesn't happen just in Japan. I believe this is universal. Do you want to talk to a foreigner? Usually you are forced to speak slowly, with easy words, and repeat yourself frequently. It is like talking to a retard. In this respect foreigners are pretty much like children or retards. Many foreigners complain that native speakers treat them as retards. Unhappily that is exactly how foreigners sound like. Native speakers are forced to speak as if they were talking to a retard. And native speakers soon get tired and stop talking to foreigners.
Spoken language is different from the one spoken by actors in a drama. Actors are actually just reading lines from a written script. Actors are paid to speak clearly, and the lines are usually well-constructed sentences. In order to see real spoken language you have to see interviews, talk shows, especially when they interview normal non-celebrity people.
That is the reason so many people spend years and years studying a language and yet are still unable to speak the language. To be able to speak like a native, or to be able to understand what native speakers are saying is actually incredibly hard. Harder than learning to read and write.
If you really want to learn spoken language, you have to do it with the same intensity of an actor. You have to pay attention to all non-verbal elements, the gestures, the intonation, the context, try to understand and emulate all that.
Is it worth it? If you are an actor, or if your job requires it, yes. But otherwise I don't think so. Why would you do it? To make friends? I want friends that accept the fact that I am a foreigner, that I speak with an accent, that I have different culture and customs.