For beginners learning Japanese for the first time, the Japanese language can seem scary. Aside from the different way of writing, you are confronted with a number of new terms such as hiragana and katakana.
The Japanese ideograms, writing system, and alphabet are very different from the ones that we know. The pronunciation is sometimes complex. For a beginner, it's true that to speak, or even to write Japanese, can first appear daunting.
In this article, we will not be exploring how to learn Nihongo, the form of Japanese taught as a second language to any foreigner. To improve your language skills you can go to a language school or use the Superprof website to hire a local Japanese teacher.
Rather, we will look at how to master certain tools in order to create a link with the language and its native speakers.
Because, although it is possible to find English speakers in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, it will be much more difficult when you leave Japanese megacities, and therefore speaking Japanese will be much more important if you want to have a conversation with a native speaker.
In order to communicate in Japan it is essential to have some basic Japanese under your belt.
There are plenty of websites aimed at generally helping you develop you Japanese vocabulary. We have concocted this short Japanese vocabulary guide for those wishing to visit Japan and learn about the culture or for those aiming to settle and live in Japan to study there.
The Importance of Japanese Writing and Communication for You
Don't forget that learning Japanese could bring all sorts of advantages! For one, did you know that Japan has the 6th highest number of internet users in the world?
Studying Japanese can connect you to these people in an instant. They may just be future friends or acquaintances, business associates, or even the market that you or your future employer hopes to target. And if you are looking for a Japanese learning method outside of the classroom, the internet offers a great way to either learn Japanese online, or connect with one of the many Japanese speakers out there who want to do a virtual language exchange.
And also, let's not forget that the Japanese are innovators. Considering that Japan is geographically isolated island nation that is densely populated and poor in natural resources makes the strength of the Japanese economy seem even more impressive. The Japanese have relied on their creativity and scientific know-how to succeed not only economically but also in ecology- and effiency-oriented ways.
The Japanese are known as high tech leaders in fields such as optical media, semiconductor manufacturing, industrial robotics, and fermentation processes. Their drive for innovation has made the Japanese the world leaders in patent filings at 420,000 applications annually. Proficiency in Japanese has never been so important. In the globalised world in which we live, you don't need to live abroad in order to take advantage of having a good language proficiency.
Also, Japanese cultural exports are exploding.
From anime to sushi bars, karaoke to manga, bonsai to origami, Japanese culture has become part of international culture. A knowledge of the language will give you direct access to Japanese film, animations, and comic books, give you insight into the special terminology used in your favorite martial art, help you understand the cultural basis for kamikaze training and the origin of the samurai warrior, and develop your ability to order sashimi like a native at your favorite Japanese restaurant!
And, come on: knowing Japanese will set you apart from the crowd.
The majority of people who learn a foreign language choose a European language like Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Choosing a less commonly learned language will pop out on your resume and differentiate you from the crowd.
So after you master the basics that we set out in this article, why no contact your local Japanese language school, or find a local Japanese teacher on the Suprerprof website? Not only will you develop your Japanese grammar, you will also improve your spoken Japanese and your listening skills, in order to have a conversational level.
Who knows, after some hard work and dedication, this could develop into an intermediate level, and subsequently a more advanced one. You may even find yourself in a position to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), an essential qualification for living in Japan.
But for now, put down those textbooks, and step away from those Language courses. Over the course of the rest of this article we will go through some of the essentials of Japanese speaking.
Hello in Japanese
In a country like Japan, which puts certain notions like politeness and ritual at the forefront of its grammar and language, a first impression when you are greeting someone is very important. The language and culture are very rich in Japanese society, and when you travel to the land of the rising sun, it is essential to know some of its basics in order not to step on the locals' toes.
During your Japanese studies, you will see that there are many ways to introduce yourself and start a conversation by saying hello depending on the context or the time of day.
The following Japanese phrases are the best greetings to give someone in Japanese that ye meet for the first time. First of all, it is customary to use the formula "Haijimemashite" (は じ め ま し て て) which can be translated as "Pleased to meet you."
To say hello in the morning, we use "Ohayo Gozaimasu" (お 早 う ざ ざ ざ ま ま す) or simply "Ohayo" with relatives or friends. Small detail, the term "Ohayo Gozaimasu" is used when greeting office colleagues, whatever the time of day.
It is also possible to use the famous "Konnichiwa" (こ ん に ち は and 今日 は in Kanji), which is more versatile and can be used at any time of the day. You can therefore use it in the afternoon.
You can also use "Osu" (お す) with friends, which is a less polished form.
Learn Japanese: How to Say Goodnight
After 6 PM you should say "Konbanwa" (こ ん ば ん は and 今 晩 は in Kanji) that can be translated to "good evening."
And, finally, if you want to wish someone a good night, use "Oyasumi" (お 休 み) or "Oyasumi nasai" (おやすみなさい), which is a more polite formula.
Again, what you use will depend on the formal or informal side of the situation and the context, especially the person to whom you want to wish a good night.
The Importance of Japanese Grammar: Saying Goodbye
There are many possible variations to say goodbye depending on the context and the person, which makes Japanese grammar important:
|Sayônara||さようなら||Goodnight (but in some cases adieu)|
|Atodéné||あとでね||See you later|
|Mata ash'ta||また明日||See you tomorrow|
|Mata raïshû||また来週||See you next week|
|Mata raïnèn'||また来年||See you next year|
Your Japanese instruction will teach you that if it's strictly professional, it is possible to use "Osakini shitsurè shimass'" (お 先 に 失礼 し ま す) to apologize for leaving before the person you are addressing. Knowing some idiomatic expressions is very important when you want to work or simply travel to Japan.
Here, again, some variants exist.
We can use "onégaïshimass" (お 願 い し ま) to say "please." It is possible to use "ungai-itashimass" for a more honored and polite version.
We can also use "kudasaï" to say please.
Thank You in Japanese
The best known way to say thank you is "aligatô" which can be said as "aligatô gozaimasu": (あ り が が う う ざ ざ ざ ま す す) to say "thank you very much."
Other possibilities exist such as:
- O-sewani nalimash'ta (お 世 話 に な り り り し し た): thank you for your help,
- Ôkini (大 き に): a form of thank you only used in the Kansai area,
- Sumimassen (す み ま せ ん): thanks, with apologies.
To answer "thank you," most will say "dô itashimash'té" (ど う い た し ま し て), which is the equivalent of "no problem," or "nothing" or "please" American.
Have a Nice Meal in Japanese
In some cases you will find the host who invites guests over to eat will use one of the following formulas (the first having a more polite character):
- "Dozo Omeshiagari Kudasai" (ど う ぞ 召 し が が が く く さ さ さ い い),
- "Meshiagare" (召 上 が れ).
In Japan, however, one will say "Itadakimasu" (頂 き ま す). It contains a certain gratitude toward those who allowed the meal to be at the table (the people who prepared it, the farmers, or even nature). As in few other parts in Asia, with Japanese you learn quickly the need for respect, and this shines through in all of the Japanese people that you meet.
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I Love You in Japanese
For those of you who want to take your linguistic knowledge to the next level and participate in a romantic encounter, the most literal and academic way of translating "I love you" in Japanese (which still makes sense) is to say this Japanese sentence: "Watashi ha anata ga suki desu" (私 は あ な た が 好 き で す).
Indeed, we find the component "I", expressed by "watashi" (私), "anata" which can be translated as "you" and the notion of love in "suki desu" which is "to love."
Nevertheless, this transcription is very coded and formal, which is why we can frequently hear "daisuki" (大好 き) or "daisuki da" (大好 き だ).
Telling The Time in Japanese
When trying to learn Japanese and to speak Japanese, telling or asking for the time in the Japanese language is one of the first lessons a Japanese beginner will learn.
To ask the time, we will use "ma (wa) nan'ji déss'ka?" (今 (は) 何時 で す か). An English-Japanese dictionary would translate this by "what time is it currently?"
Indeed, "nan'ji" refers to "what time? "and "Ima" means "now." We use "froms'ka" so that the idea expressed as a question.
If you want to tell someone the time or understand someone's answer to your question, it is important to know the difference between A.M (midnight to noon) and P.M (from noon to midnight). The Japanese use:
- Gozèn (午前): morning,
- Gogo (午後): afternoon.
For example, "ima wa gozèn go-dji soon" (今 は 午前 5 時) means that it is currently 5 o'clock in the morning.
To master the time correctly, it is important to familiarize yourself with Japanese numbers, which can sometimes be expressed in Arabic numerals but also on occasion using kanji characters. Keep in mind that the kanji 時 (dji) designates the hour, whereas 分 the minute.
Animals in Japanese
For students, animals are one of the first things that you learn in Japanese language classes. Here are the nouns for various animals in their different forms of writing (kana, kanji, and romaji transcription).
- Language learning is very complex and requires effort at all times. For those wishing to start learning Japanese because of an upcoming trip to Japan, or if you are a student wishing to go to Japan for a few months for a language exchange program, or for those wishing to work in Japan in the nearer or more distant future, it will be important to master the basics of Japanese vocabulary and language.
- Kanji, Hiragana Katakana, Kana--Japanese writing does not spare its Western learners. Fortunately, it will be possible for you to start with romaji, a type of romanization of the Japanese language, as happens in China with Chinese characters and pinyin. This system is practiced to learn Japanese phonetics more easily.
- For any kind of Japanese learner, it will be necessary to redouble your efforts to pronounce the language correctly, as well as correctly read and write the ideograms. Many tools or platforms are available such as lessons and vocabulary cards on Here Japan or Kanpai.
- To go beyond this introductory language guide, find a language course in your local area. Univiersities across the world now offer Japanese, too, either as an undergraduate course, or an optional extra for those interested in learning about Japan.
If you're hooked, don't forget Superprof is there to help you became an expert; searching for Japanese classes London or any other UK city produces the best results.
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