If you think Japanese is a particularly difficult language to learn, you’re wrong.
Despite what you might think, Japanese has a very simple grammar and pronunciation, and is far more logical than many languages such as English.
Many people are put off learning Japanese because it does not use our alphabet. But don’t be daunted: Japanese writing is not as complicated as it appears.
There are three types of lettering in Japanese. The first is Hiragana: This is made up of characters, each representing a sound rather than a letter. There are characters for the five vowels, and then characters for the sounds produced from combining each vowel with the nine main Japanese consonants (k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r and w). As well as these main characters, there are some extras:
* There is a separate symbol used for either n or m, the only consonants that can stand alone.
* Modified characters: The character for the sounds starting with g is the same as for those starting with k, but with two small strokes beside it, similar to a quotation mark. Similarly the symbols for z and d are modified versions of those for s and t respectively, while both b and p use a modified h character.
* Ya, Yu and Yo each have their own symbols, which are combined with other letters to produce sounds such as Kya (made up of the Ki and Ya symbols).
* When double consonants are used in a word (such as ‘kekkon’, meaning ‘marriage’), the first of the pair is replaced by the symbol for the ‘tsu’ sound.
* With long vowel sounds, the vowel sound is simply written twice.
Though this may sound complicated, it is fairly simple to learn the sounds through practice. You can make it easier by associating each symbol with a word based on the relevant sound. For example, the symbol for ku is similar to the beak of a cuckoo.
The second type of Japanese lettering is Katakana. This is a set of different symbols but it uses the same system of organisation as Hiragana. Katakana lettering is used only for words which have been imported from other languages, such as Canada (pronounced Ka-na-da) or taxi (Ta-ku-shi).
The third type of Japanese lettering is Kanji. This is made up of thousands of different pictures, each of which represents a particular word or idea. Don’t worry about learning these: even native Japanese speakers continue learning Kanji symbols throughout their lives! You’ll find most signs are written in Katakana or Hiragana, and in big cities they can even be written in Western lettering.
The good news is that speaking Japanese is far simpler than reading and writing. You can remember the vowel sounds just by memorising the phrase “Ah, we soon get old”. This shows you how to pronounce a, i, u, e and o respectively. The consonants are pronounced virtually the same as in English.
And if you still shudder at the thought of learning verb tables in French classes at school, you’ll be relieved to know Japanese is far simpler. Nouns in Japanese don’t have gender, and are the same whether singular or plural. There are only two tenses (present and past). Verbs are the same regardless of the gender, number or person of the subject. The only major difference to remember is that the verb nearly always comes at the end of a sentence.
Learning Japanese isn’t easy, but it is simple. With regular practice, you should find it no more difficult (and in some ways simpler) than learning any other language.