As I mentioned in my other post, I’m doing a series on why you should do certain languages! And today’s language is…. Japanese! I’m trying to do mostly underrated languages (last time the language was Hindi) and this may surprise you but I consider Japanese to be an underrated language. I hear way too many times that Japanese is useless, that only nerdy “otakus” learn it (don’t even get me started on how offensive this is), that the Japanese economy is lagging, and that it is too hard and people often tell me I should learn a practical language like Spanish. Hindi and Japanese have been the two languages I got the most negative reactions to which is why I decided to do my first two postings on them. Now I have to say, I don’t have as much experience with Japanese as I do with Hindi. I have taken a couple of semesters of Japanese in college and have been officially learning it for only about two years. However I find what many people say about the language to be pretty dismal and untrue. For someone reason Japanese has a bad reputation in the language learning community. So let me debunk these myths for you, and tell you why you should learn Japanese.
The first reason is my favorite and my favorite thing in any language. Accessibility! This is the number one reason to learn Japanese for me. Japanese is one of the most accessible languages to learn especially if you like entertainment which Japanese has no shortage of! Whatever you like, there is probably a Japanese version. It has something for everyone.
Do you like video games? There are TONS of video games to play in Japanese and a lot are available in the United States if you have the same platform. Also you may be surprised to learn that there are so many games you have played in English that are originally from Japan. Mario originally Japanese, Sonic originally Japanese, and Resident Evil originally Japanese. Plus you can even play the hard Touhou games, again originally in Japanese! A Japanese game I really like is called Corpse Party and it is so scary but a really fun game.
But maybe video games aren’t your thing? Maybe you like reading more? Well, Japan publishes thousands of Manga (comic books) annually and many of the translated versions are sold in bookstores all over the world. And although they are translated it is easy to find the original Japanese version. There is even a Japanese book store in New York, called kinokuniya that carries them in Japanese (http://www.kinokuniya.com/us). One thing that is great about Manga is that it is so vast that once you are at an intermediate level you can start reading children’s manga and work your way up. You can also read shounen or shojo Manga’s which useually use Furigana (Hiragana over the Kanji). It is great practice and is fun to read. Plus because it is like a comic book style the sentences are usually small. But if you don’t like Manga, Japan has a very rich and fascinating literature. Some of which has been translated to English. Some of you may have read “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami, the book is great and one I strongly recommend. On the opposite end, there are also many English books that are translated into Japanese. For example you can buy The Hunger Games in Japanese from amazon! You can even get Japanese audiobooks on audible. So there is no shortage of reading material. Japan has a huge movie industry, I think the third largest in Asia and the seventh largest in the world. Japanese films have tons of variety from Samurai movies to love stories.
And now I’m going to the one everyone is dreading, but one huge advantage to learning Japanese is anime! I know a lot of people don’t like anime. Don’t worry, I used to be one of those people who said I would never watch anime and I spoke way to soon because now I LOVE anime now. I think majority the people who hate it have never given it a chance. There are so many different ones that there is a huge possibility that you will find one you like. But the great thing about it is that it is so widely available. There is a huge selection on Netflix and Amazon Instant video. Plus there is a website called CrunchyRoll (http://www.crunchyroll.com/) where you can watch tons of anime with English subtitles for free! Although sometimes anime does use weird or nuanced language it allows you to learn all different registers of Japanese (for example formal vs informal and how girls talk compared to boys and things like this). Of course to get the benefits you have to actually watch it in Japanese audio with English subtitles or it won’t really benefit your language studies. Good anime I think you should start with are Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Death Note, Psycho Pass Noragami, Monster and Hunter X Hunter. For a silly one with simple language you could also watch Sailor Moon and Shugo Charo. I know that it can be hard to learn from media when in the beginning stages but even then it can useful and gets you used to the sounds of the language. I would watch anime after a really hard Japanese session of studying and it would allow the language just to sink in while I was just relaxing and having fun. In other words it gave my brain while I was still working on the language. Japan also has some pretty awesome music, from pop ballads, punk rock, heavy metal and classical. It has everything! Many Japanese music radio stations are available on Ipod apps, tunein, and streaming online. Some of my favorites are AnimeAmaze (http://www.animeamaze.com/), Armitunes (http://www.armitunes.com/), Japan A radio (http://www.japanaradio.com/), and J1 Radio(http://en.j1fm.com/). AnimeAmaze does live shows at least twice month with live Japanese song requests and even has an IRC chat for listeners all of the world. So finding in Japanese is surprisingly easy, as I mentioned in my other post some languages you just can’t find this much media, which I think is really important to learn a language.
Japanese isn’t that hard. People tend to think that Japanese is one of the hardest languages on the planet. The Foreign Language Service even marks it as the hardest language for an English speaker to learn. Do I think Japanese is that hard? No. It may not be as easy as Dutch or Spanish but it really is not as hard as people say. I personally believe that Korean, Thai, Chinese, Burmese, Mongolian, Finnish and Arabic are much harder. When I first started Japanese I was prepared for the worst because I had heard every horror story about learning it. So I was expecting something so hard and near impossible but I was shocked, it wasn’t. Japanese uses four writing systems, Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and romaji. Hiragana is the native Japanese script (mostly used for grammatical functions and some nouns), Katakana (used for foreign loanwords into Japanese-mostly from English), Kanji (the Chinese characters) and romaji (the latin transliteration of Japanese words). Hiragana and Katakana are so easy that my professor made us learn it and tested us on it in two weeks! After that we could not use romaji at all! These two scripts are phonetic and once you learn them you can read anything in them! The sound system in Japanese is quite simple where every letter only represents one sound. And unlike English there is no stress accent so every syllable will have equal stress! The difficult part comes in with Kanji, they aren’t an alphabetical system and so you need to memorize them. You have to memorize a lot, about two thousand or more. It is difficult but definitely doable, in one of my Japanese textbooks it says “the literacy in Japan is about 99%, if the writing system was terribly difficult the literacy rate would not be this high!” In general Kanji is difficult and does take a lot of work but you will be surprised at how many you eventually remember. Japanese grammar is quite different from English grammar. However there are many easy aspects of Japanese grammar:
- Japanese has no gender
- Most words have no plural
- There is no conjugation of verbs by pronouns. For example in English we have to say: I eat, you eat, she eats, he eats etc. but in Japanese the verb would be “tabemasu” for everyone!
- There really are only two main tenses. Which are the past and the present/future. There are more tenses later, but these are the two main ones.
Of course there are some hard aspects about the grammar and many of which are completely different from English. One of the hardest things about Japanese may be the politeness levels. The new vocabulary might be difficult since most of it has no relation to English. So is Japanese an easy language? No! But it is definitely not the hardest language in the world. Will it take years to learn? Yes, but to learn any language well it takes years to learn. Any second language speaker knows that language learning is a life long journey no matter which language it is. Think about it, there are many words you probably don’t know in your native language! For example I have no idea what quire or ratoon mean in English but I am still considered fluent in the language.
Japanese textbooks galore! Yes tons and tons of textbooks available for Japanese at all levels! Walk into any library or bookstore and I guarantee you there will be a book for Japanese or often multiple books. Many of these books are of great quality too. The Genki series is one of my favorite textbooks of all time and the ultimate best I have used in any language class in college. There is also Japanese from Zero, Elementary Japanese, Living Language Japanese and books specializing in just Hiragana and Katakana. My favorite Hiragana and Katakana book was the one written by Timothy Stout. It was very simple and fun! There are also books just specializing in Kanji, Grammars, Readers and books for intermediate and advanced learners. There is even a Japanese book called “Japanese the Manga way” which teaches you Japanese through Manga! There are tons of materials out there for Japanese and for people of all learning styles and levels. There are Japanese books only written in romaji if you just want to know how to speak, if you are interested in just this I highly recommend “Speak Japanese with Confidence” from Teach Yourself. Having tons of good Japanese resources makes it fun to study. Another great thing is that it is very easy to find Japanese classes if that is what you like best. Most universities offer Japanese classes and so do many Japanese cultural centers. Some community colleges even offer Japanese non-credit classes. So there is no dearth of Japanese learning resources. (I will make a post later on all the resources I have used for Japanese).
Japanese is IMPORTANT but most importantly Japanese is fun!! So I can list all the reasons why Japanese is important. It is considered a critical language (http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/whats-a-critical-language-and-why-study-one/). Japanese is also a huge business language with many companies having their roots in Japan and Japan is an economic powerhouse. Japan is in desperate need of dual English and Japanese speakers. It is easy for English speakers to get jobs teaching English in Japan. There about 125 Million speakers of Japanese and Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities in the World. However, I would rather just say despite it being important, Japanese is just a FUN language to learn. It is a unique language that has features completely different from most European languages. It opens you up into understanding a completely different culture. And Japan is a FUN place to go on vacation and very accessible to tourists. Plus it has something to offer to everyone like traditional temples in Kyoto and a modern metropolis of Tokyo or the beautiful beaches of Okinawa. The more you study the language, the more you want to know about it. There is just so much to it, there is something about it that keeps you interested. Did I mention that Hello Kitty comes from Japan?! It is a fun language.
Japanese is one of the most used languages online. Yes, Japanese ranks around number four of languages used online! It even ranked higher than Spanish or French. So when looking to practice with Japanese speakers, you can probably easily find them online, also many popular websites have Japanese versions like Yahoo! Japan, Amazon Japan, and MSN Japan.
So the next time someone asks you why would you learn a useless language like Japanese, hopefully you can give some answers! I think Japanese is a great choice of a language and one that is often forgotten about. I love studying this language and it makes me so happy when I can go into Hot Topic and read all the Kanji on the “Attack on Titan” shirts and the Katakana on the “Sword Art Online” shirts! It really is a great language to know. So get learning!
I’m thinking of doing another one of these soon and my contenders are Indonesian, Turkish, Persian or Bengali! So if there is a certain one out these four that you want to see please let me know in the comments!!