For Japanese Language Starters: Characteristics and How to Learn
As a Japanese language instructor, I’ve been teaching many businesspersons who are new in Japan. All of them said Japanese is very different from English, and it’s true. But Japanese is the only one common language in Japan. It means if you know Japanese, you can have a communication anywhere in this country. In this article I introduce basic pieces of information of Japanese and how to learn it.
The first thing you may get surprised is that Japanese has 3 different characters. They are called Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji (Chinese character) was introduced from China in ancient times. Japanese people made Kanji simpler and created Hiragana and Katakana, which have 50 letters for each. Hiragana is the most basic alphabet. Kanji, which has more than 50,000 characters, is used to help clarify the meaning of sentences, since Japanese has many homonyms. Katakana is used for imported words except from China. We use it for words like “computer”, “jogging”, “business” and so on.
We write sentences using these entire three characters.
[image by Mayu]
If you hope to make your life in Japan comfortable, politeness will be a key. Japanese verb has multiple layers of politeness. We have a casual form, polite form, respect form and super-respect form. Casual form is used only among close relationships like families and friends. Respect form and super-respect form are used to your bosses or clients. To other people we use polite form. One day I was so surprised to see my American client talked with his American boss very casually. This never happens among Japanese business circles.
The good news is every polite form has -masu for affirmative and -masen for negative, so easy to tell and conjugate. I’ll show you some useful phrases.
<Thing> Onegaishimasu. (Please give me <Thing>. = I’ll purchase <Thing>.)
Nihongo ga wakarimasen. (I don’t understand Japanese.)
Eego o hanashimasu ka. (Do you speak English?)
Kore wa <Place> ni ikimasu ka. (Does this (transportation) go to <place>?)
Of course, there are many other differences between English and Japanese. If you’d like to know more about Japanese, please take a look at several options that I recommend for you to study.
●Japanese language school
Japanese language schools are everywhere especially in big cities like Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. College students from Asian countries usually go here. If you become a student of Japanese language school you usually have to join classes from morning to afternoon, Monday to Friday. However, night-only or weekend-only classes are also available. Every class has from 10 to 20 students. Lesson charges are around 500,000 JPY-1, 000,000 JPY for a year.
There are many people who want to study English from native speakers here in Japan. Language exchange partners are easily findable on the Internet. You can enjoy casual Japanese conversations usually for free. Below I’ll give you some websites. They have many Japanese people registered from everywhere in Japan.
-Conversation exchange.com (http://www.conversationexchange.com)
-my language exchange.com (https://www.mylanguageexchange.com)
If you are/will be in Tokyo, here’s one more option to make Japanese friends. In Tokyo, there are a lot of places called “English cafe”. Japanese people visit there to have English conversation. Foreign tourists and expats also visit to make friends. I often visit this cafe:
English Cafe Mickey House
Whenever I go, there are always many Japanese people. Young to elderly, various titles. They are all nice and friendly and happy to tell you anything about Japan. Conversations are usually in non-Japanese (English, French, German, Chinese etc.), but Japanese lesson is available every Saturday from 6pm-9pm. You only have to pay 500JPY plus one drink charge. Volunteer teacher will teach you Japanese.
[Reference: English conversation cafe Mickey House (http://mickeyhouse.jp) ]
If you prefer a professional teacher and willing to pay to study, this website will be a big help. All the instructors are qualified and experienced. I also am a member of this group. You can choose an instructor and negotiate with them directly about schedules, fees, places and so on. Lesson fees are usually 1,500-3,000JPY for 1 hour.
Japanese language might look difficult for the first time. But I guarantee it’s really interesting and worth learning. Japanese people are shy, but kind and happy to help you. Make Japanese friends or find teachers and let’s make your Japanese life more valuable.