I’m back to focusing on my Japanese to keep it as one of my stronger languages. So since I’ve studied this language (seriously) for about 8 years, I figured I would share my personal insights into learning this magnificent language. Let’s start with what’s easy.
Despite what many people seem to think, Japanese is actually quite simple to pronounce. Due to a limited amount sounds, most sounds are found already found in many languages. It follows a pattern of A I E U O followed by the consonants G, K, R, T, CH, or SH. The most difficult sound in the language is probably Tsu. But even then, it’s not that difficult to learn. To prevent mispronouncing words, learn Hiragana and Katakana as soon as possible.
Use Katakana and Hiragana to begin reading
These only take a weekend to learn and make up the written sounds in the language. Once you learn these syllabaries you can avoid using romaji (“Romanised” Japanese or written in the Latin alphabet) as crutch. It will hinder your ability when it comes to reading in the language. Just think of Katakana as print and Hiragana as cursive. This will enable you to read the furigana (small printed hiragana and/or katakana printed on top of the kanji).
Now let’s move on to the difficulties of learning Japanese. There are probably three major factors that make Japanese incredibly difficult.
Kanji: I Have To Learn How Many?
Do you want to be able to read the news in Japanese? When learning a language like French, Spanish, German or even Polish you can probably read the news without it being too overwhelming. That’s not the case for Japanese unfortunately. You need to learn roughly 2,000 characters just to read a newspaper. Which makes you fairly literate in Japanese considering Japanese has around 50,000 characters total!
Not to mention how important stroke order is. Knowing how to write each character properly. Some characters are easier to write than others. Which makes it outrageously frustrating to write the more difficult characters. But luckily there are great Kanji apps and games to help you learn them more effectively.
These are the bane of learning Japanese. If anything that caused me grief while learning Japanese. It was definitely the particles. These can affect the meaning and context of a sentence significantly. Yet at the same time often omitted in informal conversation. These short words follow modified nouns, adjectives, verbs, or even sentences and have many functions depending on how each particle is used. Sometimes particles can be interchangeable as well depending on the content. To get a feel of how particles are used I recommend Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese
Levels of Politeness for Business
Learning 敬語（Keigo）, 謙譲語（Kenjougo) and丁寧語（Teineigo） can seem like you’re learning a whole new language just to do business with people. Knowing how to use these correctly can be quite tricky (even for native speakers!) Knowing which situation they are used in is incredibly vital. (unless you’re someone who likes to create distance in your romantic relationship! Yes, Politeness levels can be used for that purpose too!)
Let’s go over what each one does.
尊敬語(Sonkeigo) or simply 敬語 (keigo)
Which literally means “respectful language” is used for speaking with your superiors and customers at your work. Which often comes with super polite versions of verbs to replace the average verbs you would use in less formal and colloquial situations.
For example verbs like: 行く(iku- to go)、来る(kuru to come)、いる(iru to be/exist) become いらっしゃる (irassharu) 言う(iu- to say) becomes おっしゃる (osssharu), 食べる(taberu- to eat)and 飲む(nomu- to drink) become 召し上がる (meshiagaru) and する(suru- to do) becomes なさる (nasaru).
This is the “Humble language” in which you lower yourself to raise the person you’re speaking to. Which means only the first person pronoun can be used here (if necessary). You can hear examples of this in phrases such as いただきます(Itadakimasu- “I humbly receive”, said before eating a meal) and どういたしまして！(Dou itashimashite- “You’re welcome”). These forms imply doing something for someone else as well as when the speaker is not the agent, as a general courtesy to the listener.
Example: When I was in Tokyo at the train station I often heard the announcement: 電車が参ります (Densha ga mairimasu) when the train was approaching.
Okay this one isn’t actually that hard to learn since it’s the neutral politeness that is used by simply adding です(Desu) to the end of a sentence or changing the verb to the ～ます(masu) form and add おor ご to beginning of nouns. This is usually the first form of politeness taught in Japanese. It’s used when you want to be polite, meet people for the first time, and can refer to the actions of other people or one’s self.
Examples: 寿司が好きです (Sushi ga suki desu- “I like sushi”) 日本に行きます (Nihon ni ikimasu- “I’m going to Japan”)
What do you think? Do you agree with these? Disagree? Would add more things to it? What’s been the easiest part of learning Japanese and which was the most difficult for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences learning Japanese!