People LOVE to say that Japanese is difficult. Like all languages it has its challenges - but it also has some key things that make it easy peasy.
The Japanese phonetic system is pretty simple - much simpler than many other languages. Each hiragana character has one - and only one - sound. For example, ら / ラ / ra always sounds the same, no matter what word it’s in:
ラ ム ネ
ra mu ne
ど ら え も ん
do ra e mo n
Compare that to English, where “meat” and “bread” have the same letters “ea” in the middle, but with totally different pronunciation.
And, unlike Mandarin or Cantonese, there are no tones* in Japanese! Hurray!
*Japanese does have pitch accent. Put simply, all syllables in Japanese are either high-pitched or low-pitched. But this is much simpler than tones in Chinese languages. If you’d like to learn more about Japanese pitch accent, I really recommend the Japanese Phonetics by Dogen series on YouTube.
Japanese has thousands of words borrowed from other languages - and most of these modern loanwords come from English. How do you say "ice cream” in Japanese? AISU KURIIMU. Tennis? TENISU. Smartphone? SUMAATOFON.
So there’s a whole bank of Japanese words that you already know. Well done you.
↓ Words like "biiru"
3. Straightforward grammar
Japanese word-order has a certain Yoda-like quality at times:
watashi wa koohii wo nonde imasu
I, coffee am drinking
BUT making simple questions in Japanese is dead easy. You take your sentence:
nihon ni ikimasu
I go to Japan
and stick the magical question word “ka” on the end:
nihon ni ikimasu ka
Will you go to Japan?
No need to change the word order. Just add か.
Let’s try that again!
kore wa takoyaki desu
This is takoyaki.
kore wa takoyaki desu ka
Is this takoyaki?
Making simple Japanese questions - as easy as adding “ka”.
Particles are short Japanese words that connect parts of a sentence together. They turn a sentence like “I study home evening” into one that sounds like “I study at home in the evening”.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret.
If you don’t know what particle to use, 90 percent of the time you can get away with not using one at all.
People will still know what you mean - and Japanese people drop particles in speech half the time anyway.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t learn how to use particles (it’s good to know the difference between いぬがたべる “the dog eats” and いぬをたべる “I eat my dog”). But remember: you will still be understood without them.
5. No articles…and no plurals!
Japanese doesn’t have equivalents to the English “a” or “the”. There’s no need to say “where is THE book?” in Japanese. You can just say:
hon wa doko?
Where is book?
AND there are no plural forms.
ringo ga arimasu
I have an apple / some apples
See? The Japanese language. Easier than you thought.
What do you find easy (or difficult) about learning Japanese? Let me know in the comments!
First published November 20, 2015
Updated September 17, 2019