Learning Japanese

Learning Japanese

Update: 17 August 2017

Japanese is the main language of Japan and is the only language spoken by most people in the country. While support in other languages has increased throughout the years, one will definitely benefit from learning some or mastering the Japanese language, especially if they are seeking to work and make meaningful connections in Japan.

Different Forms of Japanese

Different Forms of Japanese
Do you speak Japanese?

The Japanese language has three different character writing systems as well as a romanized system. This contains two sets of characters, hiragana and katakana, that are purely phonetic with each character making a syllable sound. The other more advanced set, Kanji, borrows characters from the Chinese language and has specific meanings behind each character as well as different readings. Finally, romaji is the romanization of the Japanese language.

Hiragana

Hiragana

Hiragana is the basic of basic Japanese. Part of the Kana System, it has 46 characters that make syllables consisting mainly of a consonant and vowel together or a stand-alone vowel. Hiragana is the first writing system learned and the characters generally look more curved and cursive in form.

あ い う え お - The first row of hiragana are vowels "a" "i" "u" "e" "o" (pronounced ah, ee, oo, eh, oh for English speakers)

か き く け こ - The second row of hiragana adds the consonant "k" to the first row making it "ka" "ki" "ku" "ke" "ko" and so on.

Katakana

Katakana

Katakana is the second set of the Kana System. Katakana functions exactly like hiragana but is used only in certain situations such as when using words borrowed from other languages, names of people and places that cannot be written in Kanji. In addition, the kana syllabary is not cursive.

Non-Japanese names like "Bob" or places like "America" are often written in Katakana - ボブ(Bobu), アメリカ (Amerika). When writing out words that would prolong a vowel, a chōonpu (prolonged sound mark) is used: ー. For example "Taxi" would be written as タクシー and transliterated as Takushii.

ア イ ウ エ オ is the same as the hiragana above あ い う え お.

Kanji characters

Kanji characters

Kanji are characters borrowed from the Chinese language. These characters are ideograms, where each character can have one or more meanings as well as several ways to be read. Kanji can be combined to make even more complex words.

The average Japanese person will learn about 2000 ~ 3000 Kanji characters which are used in Japanese newspapers, but the Japanese language contains several thousand characters.

Kanji usually have two main ways to read the character, one being on-yomi (often reads similar to Chinese), and the other kun-yomi (the traditional Japanese reading).

日- (nichi, hi) means "Day" or "Sun"

本 - (hon, moto) means "Book" or "Origin"

日本 - (Nihon, Nippon) the word for "Japan" made with the kanji meaning "Sun" and "Origin"

Learning Japanese

Learning Japanese

There are several different approaches you can take to learn Japanese as well as test and measure your proficiency in the language.

• Self-study

- There are several valuable study tools online that can aid you in your Japanese studies. From browser add-ons to podcasts to teaching videos, there are countless resources to get you started on learning Japanese. And not to be forgotten are good, old-fashioned text books!

• Japanese Language Schools

- People looking to study Japanese and students with an aim to attend higher education schools in Japan often enter a Japanese language school. For students looking to study before entering a university, the study term is usually 6 months to 2 years before taking a university exam. Many private universities will offer Japanese language courses and there are also many Japanese Language Schools all around Japan.

• Edutainment

- While there is no substitute for learning proper grammar rules, many people find that using unconventional Japanese language materials such as anime, manga, dramas, and video games greatly supplements their studies, and makes learning even more fun!

Passing the JLPT Exam

Passing the JLPT Exam

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, known as the JLPT, is the most common way to measure your Japanese proficiency to use in the business industry. There are five levels of the test, from N5 being the easiest level to N1 being the most difficult. The test covers and tests language knowledge, reading and listening ability of the test taker. The JLPT is available to be taken both in Japan and overseas. The JLPT can be taken twice a year in July and in December. Application for the tests are from early March to April and August to September.

The certificate you receive for passing the test will indicate your level of Japanese. The JLPT is required for medical practitioners and other high skilled jobs. Many companies hiring will look for at least an N2 level of Japanese proficiency.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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