Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
The Japanese language is considered by many to be easy to learn. Whether you wish to speak Japanese for personal reasons like travel or for professional reasons, it is important for you to consider that learning Japanese etiquette is as important as learning commonly used words and phrases.
Why is it that learning to speak Japanese is relatively easy? To begin with, there are only 5 vowel sounds:
• A is voiced as “ah,” or the way English speakers pronounce the a in “la;”
• I is pronounced as the English e in words like “need” and “tea;”
• U is vocalized in much the same way as “oo” in words like “cool” and “soon;”
• E is spoken with the same sound of the first e in the word “letter” and the e in “set;”
• O is expressed as it is in the word “told.”
Knowing how each of the vowels sounds phonetically makes speaking the Japanese words less difficult.
In addition, the Japanese language is less complicated than many others because nouns are not tied to gender or number – the same word is used for one tree or many trees – and verb remains the same regardless of the subject. Unlike English, Spanish and French (and other Latin-based languages) in which you must learn different ways to conjugate the verb based on the subject, when learning Japanese, the verb will be either past tense or the present tense (ongoing actions or the suggestion of what may happen in the future are expressed with the present tense verb).
While pronunciations can be simple once you know how the vowels are spoken, and nouns and verbs are relatively easy as well, one way in which you may stumble with the language is word order. While in English sentences are typically in a subject – verb – object format, in Japanese they are presented in the order of subject – object – verb. Of course, just as we have prepositions in English, there are a number of articles in Japanese. One article used often is “ka,” which is used at the end of the sentence to ask a question (which is important because the question mark does not exist in Japanese).
Though challenges like punctuation exist in the written language, learning to speak and understand Japanese can be accomplished. There are many resources available online, books and flashcards, as well as computer software. By finding the one that will be most beneficial to you and practicing often, you will surely be able to learn the language.
Once you have learned the language, and even while you are learning, it is important to keep etiquette in mind because how you act has as much of an impact on how you are received as the words you use to express yourself.
Make sure that you keep the following in mind:
• Unless you are very familiar with the person you are talking with, you should avoid using casual phrasings;
• Avoid being loud to get someone's attention. It is better to wave or to approach them with a bow and then speak;
• Use a quiet tone when speaking;
• Be cautious with your body language as much of the communication that takes place is unspoken;
• Always show respect for the person with whom you are speaking.
By maintaining respect for the people and cultural etiquette – you will find that beginning to communicate in Japanese is simple and, in time, you will become quite good at it.