The Japanese Language and why learning it can be hard

With the sudden increase in the Japanese Economical might after the second world war and its steady cultural impact due to technology, manga and cartoons, people have been more interested in Japanese culture than ever. Japan is still a largely conservative society with modernity picking up steadily despite an ageing population. But assimilating into that society can be hard. The most important reason being the difficulty a non-native shall face in learning their language.

Modern Japanese is a fairly new language – just like modern Italian, French, Mandarin or Hindi. Before the Meiji restoration, every part of Japan had a local language that was similar to but nor exactly the way in which Japanese speak it today. Ancient and Medieval Chinese led to the formation of the script that the Japanese used. The Meiji restoration meant that Japanese as spoken in the court of Kyoto was exported to all provinces and the need for a new script was needed. This led to creation of three scripts in the modern times – the Kanji or the Old Japanese – the one influenced by ancient and medieval Chinese characters. The next are the two modern scripts – Hiragana script that is used to express vernacular terms and words in the vocabulary while the Katakana script is used to write words borrowed from other countries. For example AC and Fridge or refrigerator will be written in Katakana while Fuji, Tokyo etc will be written in Hiragana.

Now, the Japanese language unlike English, Hindi and Arabic is a phonetic language. That means that it does not have standard alphabets with vowels and consonants that then group together to form words but rather sounds that make the alphabets of the language. So, both the Hiragana and Katakana scripts have 72 characters each. And writing or using even these characters has to follow some non-standard rules of phonetics.

Finally, Japanese is a language with a very strict emphasis on seniority. While this exists in most other languages as well – except Roman languages like English, in languages like Hindi and North Indian Bhojpuri, Nepali Hindi, Tamil etc., it is only about the addition of suffixes to the root word or in languages like Urdu, there is no such seniority needed because all the people are addressed in a high degree of respect. Japanese however might have different words that have the same meaning but suit different situations – casual, formal or with elders.

Finally, please don’t say goodbye to a Japanese guy. That is considered rude. The better expressions are see you soon or take care.

Arigatou Gozaimasu! ありがとうございます

Happy Learning!