No.172 (9/24/10)

Tips for Studying Japanese as a Second Language

By Chiho Tsukiashi
Staff Writer

There is no shortcut to learn a foreign language; however, it is definitely a big advantage to live in the country where your target language is spoken. So why not start learning Japanese while you are assigned to this country? Being able to speak a foreign language does not only make your life here easier, but broaden your horizons.

It is true that Japanese is not as easy as Spanish or French for native English speakers. But when I was a Japanese teacher at a high school in North Carolina, my students found that speaking Japanese wasn't as difficult as they had feared. Did you know that Japanese has one of the simplest languages without many grammatical exceptions?

In this article, basic of Japanese and tips to learn it are explained. The best tip is to use the language, make mistakes, and learn from them. Donft be afraid of talking to locals in Japanese. They will feel friendly with you and be more than willing to respond.

Listening and Speaking
To be able to listen and speak Japanese is a whole lot easier than to read and write Japanese. You might want to focus on those skills if your stay in Japan will not be long. There are mainly three speech styles in Japanese: Casual, polite, and honorific. For adult learners, polite style is the safest to start from, because you donft want to be impolite to cause unnecessary conflicts. However, you might feel you are not communicating well enough unless you master casual style, since many people mix both speech styles in everyday setting. For children, casual style is the most natural to speak. Honorific can be learned the last: It is the most difficult, sometimes even for natives. It is essential, especially if you are going to use Japanese for business.

Reading and Writing
In English language, only 26 alphabets are used (52 if you count the both cases), while Japanese uses combination of three writing scripts: 46 Hiragana, 46 Katakana, and 2,136 Kanji (Chinese characters). Does it sound overwhelming? You donft have to learn all of them unless you want to go to a Japanese college. Just pick what you feel you will need.

The first script that I recommend you should learn is Katakana, although a lot of textbooks prioritize Hiragana. Katakana is to write derived words from Western Language. That means your name is written in this system. Menus at restaurants are full of Katakana.

The next script to learn is Hiragana; the most basic script that Japanese children learn first. Childrenfs books are written in this script. Hiragana is also printed alongside Kanji to show its reading.

To learn Kanji, it is useful to make flash cards, with Kanji on one side and reading and meaning on the other side. Your vocabulary will be boosted by realizing a lot of words are combination of different Kanji. For example, d (electric) and b (to talk) together makes gtelephone.h

Unlike English alphabets, stroke orders of Japanese letters are considered significant. If you donft write a letter in correct stroke orders, it does not look grighth in most cases. Always keep them in mind when you write Japanese.

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