Learning Japanese is Easier Than You Think

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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.

1. Pronunciation

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:

ム ネ

ra mu ne

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!

2. Loanwords

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:

わたしはコーヒーを飲んでいます

watashi wa koohii wo nonde imasu

I, coffee am drinking

BUT making simple questions in Japanese is dead easy. You take your sentence:

日本に行きます

nihon ni ikimasu

I go to Japan

and stick the magical question word “ka” on the end:

日本に行きます

nihon ni ikimasu ka

Will you go to Japan?

No need to change the word order. Just add か. 

Let’s try that again!

これはたこやきです

kore wa takoyaki desu

This is takoyaki.

これはたこやきです

kore wa takoyaki desu ka

Is this takoyaki?

Making simple Japanese questions - as easy as adding “ka”.

4. Particles

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:

ほんはどこ?

hon wa doko?

Where is book?

AND there are no plural forms.

りんごがあります

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 October 09, 2018