Some think of learning the Japanese language hard, and that’s it, but how much do we really know about that language?
I’ve been interested in the Japanese language for 8 years when I was still in college. I remember liking the sound of the language, and next thing I knew I’d picked up a few things. I first started teaching myself Japanese by listening, a lot. I decided to compile what I learned in a notebook, which by time accumulated into many notebooks. Based on my eight years of note taking, here are things that I find utterly beautiful about it.
Japanese has the most fascinating past.
The Japanese didn’t have a writing system of their own; they had to borrow one. And so Kanji漢字 symbols were imported from China and given new Japanese pronunciation. At first, Kanji was only used by men, women were not allowed to learn it and instead wrote using Hiragana, a simpler system that consists of 46 characters, much like a regular alphabet. That is why most of the early literary works by women authors were written exclusively in Hiragana (Trombley, and Takenaka, 2006). The Japanese language reflects so much of the culture and its people, everything you learn has a story attached. The word Seppukuせっぷく, for example, means to cut open your own stomach in the name of honor, which was an act used to be carried out by the samurai. You only end up having more questions, it just gets, as Alice (in Wonderland) said, “curiouser and curiouser!”
English loan words in Japanese.
After WWII, over 25,000 loanwords have entered the Japanese dictionary, the bulk of which is English (Kay, 1995). Using English loan words became the norm to the Japanese people, which signified the strong influence of the American culture (Kay, 1995). This is great news for you if you are interested to learn Japanese, since being able to speak English will give you a head start. Though loanwords are adopted to Japanese phonetics, they’re still easily recognizable. Try to figure out the following Japanese words, Openingu, peji and puraivashi. Shouldn’t take you much to see the resemblance to the original English words of opening, page, and privacy. Loan words became a huge part of the language that a special alphabet was created. In Katakana letters, loan words are written and made detectable.
Japanese is very different.
Japanese can be written from top to bottom, or from left to right. There are no spaces, yet you can easily tell where one word ended and another began. As you can see, Japanese text combines three writing systems, where each has its own quality and specific function. There is the previously mentioned symbol system called Kanji, and two Kana alphabets known as the Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji symbols represent words that are Japanese in origin. They look like a drawing attached to other simpler looking kana characters. So this is how a sentence looks like, to say “I play Tennis everyday” 毎日テニスをする。
Japanese is spoken backward, the actual word order of that sentence is ‘everyday tennis [ I ] play’. The verb is always at the very end of the sentence, and according to my notes, there are only two verb tenses, past and none past. Compare that to English with its past participle and present perfect continuous, Japanese will suddenly sound a lot less intimidating.
Japanese is not a “difficult language”.
It’s a matter of perspective, what is considered difficult by that person might not be so for you. Your native language can influence your attitude towards the target language, similar sounds and grammar rules can make studying it easier for you than for others. There are also individual abilities that vary from one person to another. Learning Japanese text is challenging, it requires memorization of a 1000 Kanji symbols. It all depends on you and what you’re capable of. If you’re not persistent enough, then yes, maybe Japanese is a “difficult language” for you.
Studying Japanese has become part of my daily routine for years; it became part of who I am. Being able to decode Japanese text has long been a dream of mine, one that I am still in pursuit of. My first notebook started off stupid, with only lists of words. As I turn the pages, there are fewer words and more sentences, and even a shy amount of kanji symbols written with obvious labor. To learn any language, you need a motive, because without one you won’t stay committed for long.
Takenaka, Yukari. Japanese from Zero! 1: Proven Techniques to Learn Japanese for Students and Professionals. By George Trombley. 6th ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: n.p., 2006. 41. Print. https://www.csun.edu/~bashforth/301_PDF/301_P_P/EnglishLoanWordsJapanese.pdf