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Watch your language! Or maybe learn it? Japanese isn't as scary as it seems :)

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We are coming up to the New Year, which brings on thoughts of fresh starts and new projects. For anyone looking into learning a new language it can be daunting, especially when you've got funny characters, different sounds, letters that don't exist in our alphabet but exist in theirs, not to mention a slight mispronounciation turning a word into an insult.


Don't panic.The Japanese language is actually a lot more simple than it looks, so I've put together a little information which will help, along with a few tips from a past student (me!) who learned the hard way!

Most of us can utter a little Konnichiwa (hello), know what's Kawaii (cute - one of CutesyKinks fave words!) and even address someone using the polite form (san - this is used after the name of the person you are talking to). To be able to speak these few words means a great deal to a Japanese native. They consider it an honour that you've made the effort to converse politely, allbeit briefly, in their language. They are very big on manners and being respectful, being able to simply say thankyou will demonstrate just this.

Japanese language uses 3 different types of oriental writing:

(Don't worry, it won't bite!)

Then there's good old Romanji. That's what you're reading now. It's simply Japanese written in english characters. So how do they work together? 

Kanji are used in as complete words (by themselves or with multiple kanji) and adjective/verb bases. It's based on borrowed words from the Chinese language, hence the appearance. 

Katakana is used for foreign words. 

Hiragana is used for particles, conjugations, words, and can be used to replace kanji

An example of how hirigana, katakana and kanji work together:
スペイン語が分かります。supeingo ga wakarimasu. - I know Spanish.

スペイン - supein (katakana) 
語 - go (kanji)
が - ga (hiragana) 
分 wa - (kanji) 
かります - karimasu (hiragana) 

Are all of those squiggly, different characters making more sense? A quick recognition system that works for me is this:

Hirigana - round and curly. I think of the 'G' shape.

Katakana - when you say the word it's almost like a cutting sound. I use that to think of straight, cutting lines of the characters.

Kanji - because I remember the other descriptions, I know this is the chinese style symbol which is very ornate.

Enough of the paper stuff, how about actually speaking it? 


The Japanese language when spoken sounds quite flat with very little expression and cutting definitive syllables. This can make it easier in some cases but it also means that emotion is expressed in the way you say the words. There are also many words which sound almost identical but have completely different meanings. A good example is iie, which means no and ie which means house. They have the same sound, which is like saying eeair, only for no you'd hold the eee sound a little longer than you say the air. For house, it would just be e-air. You also have a couple of 'letter swaps'. The R and L sounds are swapped, which is why you've probably noticed when a Japanese native speaks English, words such as 'English' will actually sound like 'Engrish'. 

See? We've covered quite a lot already and it's really not so bad is it? Want to know how to get started? Well, there's lots of different options from self study on the internet, hiring out or buying a language course or taking some sort of lessons, there's a format to suit everyone. I would personally recommend an evening/part time class at your local college. Not only do you get the interaction which will help your learning, you also get to meet others with the same interests. If you can afford to, private one-to-one tuition may also be an option. Explore each avenue and decide what's best for you. Once you have decided, go armed with a notebook and paper and be prepared to learn :)

I've prepared a few tips to help you on your way. These are things that I have learned from taking an evening course at college myself and wish someone had told me!

  • First and foremost, don’t let the complexity put you off. I didn’t learn the hirigana, katakana and kanji as it took my attention away from speaking. For me, speaking was more important than reading and my reasoning was, what was the use of reading if I didn’t know WHAT I was reading! Learning the kanji can come later once I can speak a little better.
  • Refresh your English. What I mean by this is remind yourself what verbs, tenses, particles etc are. I left school a few years ago *cough cough* and struggled a little as I had forgotten what a particle is. Go with a pencil, pen, paper and folder. A Japanese dictionary is also helpful. Obvious tools but some I forgot!
  • Expect a massive mix of people, including the odd know-it-all. Don’t let them make you feel you’re rubbish. Give it a few months and the handful of Japanese they’ve learned from Anime will soon be overtaken and they’ll leave. Really, it happens a lot!
  • Which leads me onto my next point. Don’t learn Japanese from anime and take it into the classroom with you. They use a lot of slang and informal words which can actually be quite rude when used in a formal lesson setting. Save it for banter with your mates.
  • Japanese native teachers are the best and they will teach you the polite, formal way of speaking. They are also used to seeing the dedication and hard work that Japanese students put in. Be sure to put in the effort at your lesson as again, this will show appreciation of your tutors teachings.
  • Lastly, practise, practise, practise. Use the internet, books, games, language apps, find a Japanese friend to converse with. You need to use Japanese constantly to keep it fresh and increase your knowledge. Don’t give up and you’ll soon find it starts to fall into place. 

Before you know it, you'll be speaking like a pro.

Ok, maybe not, but at least you'll be able to ask for 4 pieces of Salmon nigiri! 


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