Big in Japan: How to crash course Japanese

All this week, Big in Japan is bringing you trade secrets on how to unravel the linguistic enigma that is Japanese…

We’re not going to lie to you: Japanese is really, really hard to learn. Even if you fancy yourself to be an aspiring linguist, it takes years and years of study to wrap your noodle around the complex characters, grueling grammar patterns and formal phrases that comprise ???????? (nihongo, Japanese).

Truth be told, there really isn’t any substitute for formalized Japanese education. However, before stepping off the plane here in the Land of the Rising Sun, you can certainly give yourself a head start by crash coursing basic Japanese.

You’ll be surprised how quick and easy it is to master the basics and build a strong foundation. And, while we’re certainly biased, most people will agree that Japanese has an undeniable cool factor. (^O^)>???????????

So, if you want to take the plunge and start to figure out exactly what’s going on in all of those crazy anime you watch, keep on reading for some author-tested tips on how to crash course Japanese.

Master the essential Japanese greetings. Even if you’ve never been to Japan, chances are you already know that the word for ‘good morning’ sounds like ‘Ohio,’ and that ‘Domo Arigatou Mr. Roboto’ is more or less how you say ‘thank you.’ As you might imagine, politeness is the glue that holds together Japanese society. If you master the essential Japanese greetings, you’ll find that it’s much, much easier to strike up a conversation with anyone you might happen to meet.

Familiarize yourself with subject-object-verb grammar. Unlike the vast majority of Indo-European languages, Japanese has what is known as subject-object-verb grammar. Basically, this means that sentence elements are marked with particles that identify their grammatical functions, and that the verb always comes at the tail end of the sentence. Confused? If you want to say ‘I like sushi’ in Japanese, it would sound something like, ‘I [suject marker] sushi [object marker] like is.’ Still confused? Don’t be.

Pick up a beginner’s Japanese book, and spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with simple sentence structures. While you can’t directly translate English into Japanese, it doesn’t take too long to start thinking in subject-object-verb structure. Once you get this down, you’ll be ready to start tackling more complicated Japanese grammar patterns.

Learn to read katakana. Katakana (片仮名 / カタカナ) is a syllabic script that is used to write foreign loan words in Japanese. Considering that much of the modern Japanese language is derived from English, novice speakers are pleasantly surprised to learn that they can build up a decent sized vocabulary fairly quickly. Indeed, just step foot into any bar or cafe in Tokyo, and you’ll quickly learn that coffee is kouhi (コーヒ), beer is biiru (ビール) and self-service is serufusaabisu (セルフサービス).

So, just how hard is to learn katakana? Comprised of around 50 unique squiggly little characters that are derived from modified Chinese, katakana does have a bit of a learning curve. However, it generally takes newbies as little as two weeks to fully decode the character set, and your time in Japan really will be greatly improved if you can master this alphabet.

Learn to read at least 25 kanji. The thorn in the side of Japanese junior high school students and foreign students of Japanese alike, kanji (漢字 / かんじ) or Chinese characters take years and years to master. However, it’s not as hard as you might imagine to learn a handful of characters, and deciphering kanji is without a doubt one of the most rewarding aspects of studying Japanese.

Still want to learn how to read 日本語? Sure you do!

Tune in on Friday for tips on how to start learning to read Japanese characters…

** All images are courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **