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How to Learn the Japanese Language

Japanese is the ninth most spoken language in the world, with millions of native Japanese and many immigrant communities using it. People in South Korea, parts of China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Australia, Canada and the United States witness prevalence of the language. A sizeable presence of Japanese language is also seen in New York, London and Paris. It is considered to be one of the most challenging and complicated languages in the world, which makes it difficult to learn the Japanese language. However,  there are some characteristic features of the language that make learning it a little easier. Japanese does not have any gender, such as English; and it does not distinguish between singular and plural.

How to learn the Japanese language?

1. 1865 How to learn the Japanese Language

The biggest challenge that one comes across when you start to learn the Japanese language is learning the characters. Since they have no connection with languages of Latin origin, memorising them becomes a difficult task.

Hence, the first step towards the process of how to learn the Japanese language is learning Japanese alphabets- the Hiragana. It consists of 51 phonetic characters, each of which stands for exactly one sound. This differs from English in which one letter may have different sounds in different contexts.

Knowing Hiragana helps you to pronounce any word in Japanese and also helps to learn how to write in Japanese. It is thus essential to learn the Japanese alphabet at the beginning of your Japanese journey. This should be followed by learning Katakana, which are loan words or non-Japanese words (sofa, French fries, Halloween, etc.) Katakana is used for transcription of loan words from foreign languages. For example, ‘tomato’ is written トマト (tomato). It is used for names of people, countries, animals, companies so on and so forth. This set of symbols is comparatively easier to learn. People mostly want to learn Katakana for the English words they use.

The second step in learning Japanese is to learn Japanese vocabulary and grammar. Now one important thing to remember while learning this language is that you have first to unlearn your native language. Since Japanese is different from most other languages in the world, it makes it difficult to learn it by applying the rules and concepts of your native language to it. It has a different grammar and sentence structure and word order- ‘subject-object-verb’. Unlike most Indo-European languages, the Japanese word order has a strict rule of placing the verb at the end of the sentence. As for the vocabulary, you can make a list of words in the language with the help of internet or books available online, or even by watching Japanese serials and films. You can memorise these words and practice to speak Japanese anytime anywhere. Learning a handful of key phrases is a good idea when learning any language since it helps with basic communication, like exchanging greetings. Some such Japanese phrases are- “Kon’nichiwa” for “Hello”, “Sayonara” for “Goodbye”, “Domo arigato gozaimasu” for “Thank you very much”, “Hajime mash’te” for “Nice to meet you”, so on and so forth. This is where Romanji, which is otherwise avoided, plays a role in casual communication. The best way to learn Japanese is to listen and repeat, which can be done through Japanese podcasts, serials and films in Japanese using English subtitles, and Japanese songs.

The third basic step is to learn Kanji (Chinese characters), which depict complete words in Japanese and help to understand and learn to speak Japanese better. Depending on Romanji should be avoided as it is a system of using English letters to spell Japanese, which prevents learners from getting a genuine grip on Japanese. Hence, your process of how to learn the Japanese language should be chiefly focussed on learning Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.

Japanese is a complicated language, and not everyone picks it while learning a foreign language. However, there is still no doubt that it has high scope in terms of careers money-making. There are plenty of Japanese language jobs like those of an interpreter, translator, teacher, voice co-ordinator, etc. Japanese translator jobs are huge in number and the easiest ones to find in India, provided you are fluent in both speaking and comprehending the language. Another advantage of learning Japanese is that it allows for job opportunities in multi-national companies, hospitality industry, and also aids studying abroad.

How long does it take to learn Japanese?

Japanese, as we know, is not an easy language. It thus requires both time and practice to become fluent in the language.  According to a list created by the Foreign Service Institute, anywhere between 2000-2200 hours is how long it takes to learn Japanese, which is around three months, to learn Japanese. With consistency and dedication, we can understand how to learn Japanese easily. Other tips for learning Japanese are watching shows, series and films in the language, following lyrics of Japanese songs, listening to the language in videos and repeating words.

How to learn Japanese on your own?

Learning any new language on your own could be a difficult task, but what makes it doable is the wide range of sites on the internet. The first and most important thing while learning the Japanese language is to learn Japanese words. There are several sites like JapanesePod101, NHK World, Tae Kim’s Complete Guide to Japanese etc. that help learners to grasp grammar and vocabulary of the language. To start learning Japanese on one’s own, one needs to study the Japanese writing systems- Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and Romaji. Lessons in these writing systems are available on YouTube, which is an effective way of learning since it provides both audio and visual aids. You can further practice pronunciation in Japanese by listening to audios and repeating words and phrases in the language. Then comes grammar, which is an essential part of learning a language. So, learning Japanese grammar rules is another step in the process of how to learn Japanese on your own. These steps to learn Japanese together form the entire process of gaining proficiency in the language.

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