Japanese is a difficult language to learn. In fact, the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S Department of States categorizes Japanese as an exceptionally difficult language to learn for a native English speaker (along with Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Pashto). Why is it so difficult? One reason is that Japanese culture is a high context, meaning that it is a culture where everyone shares and understands common concepts so if you don’t know the way people see or the meaning behind words and phrases, you can easily lost during the conversation. Another reason is that there are 3 ways to write: Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana. Depending on the situation, people choose to use one of them to express their thoughts.
If you are thinking about starting learning Japanese, you might get scared to hear that it’s not easy to acquire the language. But if you know these 3 things below about Japanese, mastering it will get a lot easier!
1.Nouns (Subjects and Objects) often get omitted
As Japanese is a high context language, when speakers know what they are talking about, Nouns often get cut off during the conversation. For example, at a school when a teacher is collecting homework, he/she could just say “Did?(やった?)” instead of saying “Did you do your homework?” because it is obvious what the teacher is asking the student in the situation. When communicating in Japanese, you need to comprehend what people are talking about (what the Subject or Object is on talk) based on the circumstances you are in and expect that they get omitted.
2.The last part of a sentence is important
In English, Subject usually comes first and then Verb. If you are negative about something, you use “Not” when you use a Verb so it’s very direct and clear.
However in Japanese, you need to listen till the end of a sentence to know what the speaker is saying. For example, when you want to say “I won’t go to work tomorrow” in Japanese, you could say like “私は明日仕事に行きません (Watashi wa, ashita, shigoto ni, ikimasen: I, tomorrow, work, don’t go) “. If you say 行きます (Ikimasu: I will go) at the end (like, “私は明日仕事に行きます”), the meaning will be completely different so you need to pay attention to the last part of a sentence. In other words, it gets easier to understand if you focus on the tails of sentences.
3.People change the words they use depending on a situation/relationship
People care relationships a lot in Japan. Depending on the person you are talking to, you need to change the words you use. There are 3 ways: 尊敬語(Sonkei go:Respectful/Honorific language.),謙譲語(Kenjo go:Humble language), and 丁寧語(Teinei go: Simply polite language). We use 尊敬語 when talking to someone in higher position to show that the person is superior to you, 謙譲語 when making ourselves lower to be humble, and 丁寧語 when we want to be polite. For example, a word for “Eat”, 食べる (Taberu) becomes 召し上がる(Meshiagaru 尊敬語), 頂く(Itadaku 謙譲語), or 食べます(Tabemasu 丁寧語). So, what you should be careful when you talk in Japanese is the situation and relationship between you and the person.
Next time when you read a manga or watch a Japanese anime, you could check the different expressions characters use based on the situation/relationship. For the list of the word changes, check “敬語” (Kei go) listed here: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Japanese/Grammar/Honorifics
If you know these 3 things above, learning a Japanese will get a lot easier. If you would like to master it, it is the best to attend a language school to learn Japanese. But you could use an app/textbook to study vocabulary to take the first step. A good way to study is to learn words in context and in conversation (and also to think about the situation/relationship between the speakers). I also recommend that you write a diary in Japanese everyday. Maybe a few sentences about what happened the day or what you did.
Learning a new language is very exciting at first but the main problem is burnout. Don’t push yourself too much or try to master it within a few months! It just takes time so study little by little, at your own pace.
I teach Japanese online and can check your work so if you are interested in taking a class, send me a message to [email protected]
See you next time!
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