Japanese is commonly regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world by pretty much everyone – from native speakers of Japanese themselves – to those completely unfamiliar with the language. However, here are three significant things which make learning Japanese considerably easier than you’d expect!
- The phonetic system of writing
Unlike English, the sounds of Japanese are very accurately represented by phonetic symbols. There are 2 alphabets, or phonetic syllabaries, based on the same 46 sounds. The syllabary used to render foreign loan words is called katakana, and the other used for Japanese words hiragana. Once you learn the basic sounds, you can correctly pronounce anything written in this system. Restaurant menus, for example, often feature many loan words, and are thus rendered in katakana. Although learning kana is just the beginning of a Japanese language learning adventure, it is very satisfying indeed!
- The pronunciation
It’s kind of like Spanish, but perhaps even easier. There are no lisps or rolled rrrrs or really any sounds which an English speaker cannot easily produce. Completely unlike Mandarin Chinese, for example, which is a tonal language, the pitch of Japanese language does not rise and fall to distinguish words. Of course, people do use intonation to add emotion, emphasis, etc. but tone itself does not change the grammatical or lexical meaning of the syllabary. Japanese is surprisingly, and simply, quite monotone.
- The same basic phrases are commonly used over and over again, in exactly the same way
For example, ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ means ‘good morning’ and everyone says it. What I mean by this is that there is no variation – nobody rephrases it with utterances such as ‘top o’ the morning to ya’ or ‘slept well?’ or ‘you alright?’. You don’t need to be clever or innovative or funny, you just need to correctly memorise key phrases. If you can get about 10 key phrases memorised, learn how to pronounce them, and say them at the right time, you’ll feel a real sense of achievement.
There’s clearly no shortcut to learning a language, it’s absolutely all about your motivation and efforts. However, there is no need be daunted by the apparent difficulty of Japanese language! Set your own goals that work for you – you don’t have to learn the writing system, or aim for fluency, or pass a test, unless you want to. You can learn set phrases to be polite, or study all about an area you are particularly interested in (Cuisine? Art? Gardening?). It’s easier than you think!
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