It’s been a long time since we had a Guest Post in “The Rising Sky”, so today I’m presenting you to Dan Chabert’s guide to learn the basics of Japanese language!
To find out more about Dan Chabert, scroll down to find his picture and website below!
Learning Japanese is a great thing, whether you are planning to use it in conversation with a friend, when traveling in this country, absorb a popular Japanese media like manga, or to conduct business. Although the formalities and writing system are pretty complicated, the Japanese grammar, basic conversation, and pronunciation are quite easy to understand. It is recommended that you start by learning the most common phrases; thereafter you can start with Japanese writing systems and sounds.
Learn writing systems
There are four writing systems in the Japanese language, and they all consist of different characters. Regardless of a writing system, every word is clearly pronounced with a certain combination of forty-six basic sounds. When learning Japanese, it is very important to sort out the writing systems as well as to learn how to use them properly. Here is a brief overview of these writing systems:
- Hiragana – It is a Japanese syllabary that consists of phonetic letters, making up one writing system. Each character applies to one syllable, including either a consonant sound or a vowel.
- Katakana – Another syllabary in Japanese, which is mostly used for onomatopoeic sounds or foreign words. Along with Hiragana, Katakana make the whole range of Japanese sounds.
- Kanji – This writing system contains Chinese characters which are adopted in the Japanese language too. It uses the same 46 sounds as in hiragana and katakana. However, while katakana and hiragana are simply made of phonetic characters, each character in kanji has its own meaning, so-called idiogram. In fact, Katakana and Hiragana are derived from Kanji characters. Kanji has thousands of different characters. Most people use only about 2000-2500 kanji characters in everyday speech, though.
- Latin alphabet – In Japanese, Latin alphabet is used to write company names, acronyms, as well as other words due to the aesthetic reasons. It is often called “Romaji”, and is used to spell out Japanese characters in conversation with Japanese speakers. Keep in mind that it is difficult to express some sounds in Japanese by using Latin letters Also, there are a lot of homonyms which are very confusing. Therefore, you are advised to start learning above-mentioned characters as soon as possible rather than use Latin letters as a “crutch” for communication.
When starting to practice pronunciation, learn how to properly pronounce every character in both katakana and hiragana. As mentioned before, there is a total of 46 sounds in the Japanese language, each of which consists of a vowel sound or a specific combination of a consonant and a vowel (except a sound that only has one consonant). Unlike in English, vowel sounds aren’t inflected in Japanese.
You should focus on the intonation for each sound because even the little variations of a sound can completely change the meaning of a word. Thus, some short syllables have a different meaning from the longer variations of that sound, such as “oo” and “o”. Some Japanese characters have pronunciation marks in order to point out that you need to pronounce them slightly differently, similar to “s” in English, which is sometimes pronounced like “z”.
Make sure to pronounce hard consonants with a brief pause between two sounds. As for the long vowel sounds, try to hold them for an extra beat, unlike short sounds. This indicates a different word. You can use this website when practicing Japanese pronunciation.
Learn Japanese grammar
Once you overcome Japanese writing systems and pronunciation, you can get to learn the grammar. In general, Japanese grammar is quite flexible and simple to use. If you deal with the basic grammatical rules, you will be able to better understand Japanese and create your own sentences by stringing the words in a way that makes sense.
Pay attention to following grammatical rules:
- Nouns don’t have gender. Moreover, most of them do not have individual plural forms.
- The predicate always goes at the end of the sentence.
- The subject is optional in the sentence and could be omitted.
- Verbs don’t change according to the number and subject.
- Particles are always followed by the words to which they relate.
- Personal pronouns differ in accordance with the level of formality and politeness that is required in a certain situation.
Since Japanese is not related to English and other western languages, most people find it intimidating when getting started. You can also sign up for classes, get an audio learning software, or consume Japanese media.
Dan Chabert hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He is an entrepreneur and ultramarathon distance runner. Aside from preparing for races, he stays busy by managing his websites Runnerclick.com and Nicershoes.com together with his wife.