The name Japan conjures images of snowy temples in winter, cherry blossoms blooming in spring, the bustling streets of Tokyo lit up at night, high-tech gadgets, and age-old traditions. Many people dream of relocating to Japan for its respectful society, clean, orderly cities and unique culture, and who can blame them? It’s the highest ranked country in Asia on the Global Peace Index, it has the third largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and the highest life expectancy in the world.
Japan is a leading country on the world stage, but at the same time it’s a small isolated island nation. It’s the home of many well known international brands such as Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. In fact, Japan has 51 companies on the Forbes Global Fortune 500 list, the third most of any country. However, of the over 125 million people who live in Japan, 98.5% of them are ethnically Japanese. This means that it can be somewhat difficult for foreigners to integrate themselves into Japanese society. However, learning to speak Japanese can go a long way in breaking down these barriers and truly getting to know the people and culture of this fascinating island.
Whether you’re considering a long stay or a short trip to Japan, there’s no shortage of things to do or see. Experience the modern buzz in Tokyo then take a trip to Kyoto to visit the ancient temples and walk its historic city streets. Sample sushi prepared by masterful hands, and raise a glass of saki with a hearty Kampai. And of course, no trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the slopes of Mt. Fuji. While most Japanese students learn English in school, they don’t always have the chance to practice once they’ve graduated, so they may feel shy speaking with foreigners. However, if you let them know, Watashi wa nihongo o hanashimasu (I speak Japanese), you’ll be warmly welcomed.
There are about 125 million native Japanese speakers, almost all of which are in Japan. There are three writing systems in Japanese; Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana.
Many experts believe Japanese to be a language isolate, meaning it’s unrelated to any other modern languages.
Although Japanese does not share roots with Chinese, its Kanji writing system is adapted from Chinese characters.
The Kanji that make up Japan’s name mean “Sun origin,” which is why Japan is often called, “The land of the rising sun.”
Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. However, there are 5 main island which make up 97% of Japan’s landmass.
Tokyo has the world’s largest metropolitan area with 35 million residents. Japan has 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Japanese can be a difficult language for English speakers to learn. In addition to it’s lack of similarity to other languages, Japanese also has 3 distinct writing systems which must be learned. The first of which is Kanji, which is based on Chinese characters. Kanji is used to write most ‘content words’ such as nouns, and verb, adverb and adjective stems. Hiragana are used to write words for which there are no Kanji, as well as grammatical particles. Katakana is the simplest of the Japanese scripts. It’s a phonetic transcription of the Japanese language, where each symbol represents a sound in the Japanese language. It’s used primarily for transcribing foreign words into Japanese and for writing loan words. For instance:
When most people begin learning Japanese they start with Katakana before moving on to the more complex Hiragana and Kanji, but if you want to become fluent in Japanese you’ll eventually need to learn them all. However this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. After a bit of practice you’ll begin to see that some Kanji are more commonly used than others, and you may be surprised how quickly they stick in your head. The most important thing is to relax, have fun, and do your best. Most Japanese people will be very encouraging towards your attempts at speaking Japanese, and are more than willing to help you get the hang of it.
Learning to speak Japanese is an adventure in itself, but thanks to the Internet, it’s an adventure you can have right in your own home. Here’s a variety of ways you can learn to speak Japanese.
This is how most people begin learning a foreign language, and it’s very likely that you’ve had some formal classes in the past in either high school or university. It can be a good way to experience all 4 aspects of language learning in one place (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). However, it can be a bit tedious for many people, and many find it to be too much of a time commitment for their already busy schedules.
Similar to a classroom, this is a great way to get to practice speaking another language. By learning directly from a native Japanese speaker, you can practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Japanese the way it’s actually used in Japan. This personal interaction is ideal to become fluent in the shortest amount of time. However, a private tutor can be quite expensive. Another good option is to pair up with someone who wants to learn your language, and help each other - Tandem style.
This method was popular before the advent of the Internet, and is a good way to self-teach. It can be an effective method granted you have the willpower to carry through with it. The downside is, it lacks a lot of the social interaction which makes learning a new language fun and interesting, and you’ll most likely only learn “textbook” Japanese, which can differ from how Japanese people naturally speak.
Computer software can be a very effective method of learning Japanese. Many programs try to mimic natural learning methods which teach you to associate the language directly with the places, things, and situations in which they apply instead of having to filter your new language through your native language via translation. However, this also lacks a certain level of social interaction which makes language learning more fun and exciting.
This is by far the best way to become fluent in a new language. As long as you already have the basics of the language under your belt, you can practice speaking with anyone and build upon your knowledge. However, it’s also one of the more expensive ways to learn a new language, and not everyone has the time or the resources to travel and spend a considerable amount of time in a foreign country.
There are a lot of websites which offer to teach you to learn Japanese online, and a lot of them are even free (or quite reasonably priced). This is a great way to “dip your toe” into learning a new language if you’re unsure if it’s something you’d like to commit your time and money to. However, advanced language learners could become frustrated with the slow pace, and elementary level material offered by many of these courses.
Language learning is now being revolutionized by the availability of apps which allow you to connect with other learners and teachers all around the world. With these apps, you can practice Japanese wherever and whenever the mood strikes. It’s a fun, easy way to learn conversational Japanese, the way it’s actually spoken.
The Tandem app is the best way to learn Japanese online for free. With millions of members, Tandem is one of the largest language learning communities out there! With the Tandem app, you can connect with native Japanese speakers all over the world and practice by speaking via text, audio message, and video call. Master Japanese now and download the app!
Private lessons more your thing?
With Tandem Tutors, you can master the Japanese language even quicker. Our Tutors are certified professionals who offer one-on-one lessons anytime, anywhere. With Tandem Tutors, it’s easy to find someone who matches your style and works around your schedule. Your language learning journey begins today — Get started now!