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Japanese & English – The Differences in Words and Styles

In the future, alongside English, maybe Japanese will be he next option of international languages necessary to learn for the global economy. With over 130 million speakers, learning Japanese can be rewarding and fascinating at the same time. Before I came to Japan, I heard from my colleagues that Japanese is really difficult to learn, but with the right amount of hard work, I was able to learn to speak and use it well.

Japanese is certainly different from English, such as their writing style, sentence structures, grammar, etc. Today, let’s learn a little more about those differences.

Writing Style

In English, they use the Alphabet, but in Japanese there are 3 kinds of writing styles, which you need to learn all of them so that you can understand Japanese well.

Katakana. Photo by User:Pmx on Wikimedia Commons.

I will list them in the order they are learned in schools: Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji. Katakana, as a syllabary, is easy to write and learn and was originally created by ancient scholars to translate the Chinese texts. Each character has one sound and can be written with one or two strokes. Today, people use Katakana to write foreign language words and others with non-Japanese origins.

Hiragana. Photo by User:Pmx on Wikimedia Commons.

Hiragana is the next syllabary structure with the same number of characters as Katakana. Only, Hiragana is more used to write out complete sentences alongside Kanji. It is essential for speaking and writing Japanese and is not very difficult to learn.

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

Kanji is the name for Chinese characters, which are imperative for reading Japanese. Students must learn the character's meaning along with pronunciation and require a certain method to write them. Of course some are easier to read and write than others and may look overwhelming at first for English speakers. However, as a student of Kanji myself, I can assure you, you improve the more you do it.

No "L" Pronunciation

Photo by japanesewithanime.com

In Japanese there is no "L" sound, which they always speak as “E-RU”. This makes it harder for Japanese people to learn English since they are forced to use their tongues differently. Therefore, when speaking words in a Japanese accent, you will have to pronounce words like "lake" as "reiku" and "sale" as "se-ru".

Sentence Structures

Photo by japanesewithanime.com

Japanese sentences have a subject-object-verb word order, which is different with English as you know. Prepositions follow the noun and subordinating conjunctions follow their clause. There are also no differences between singular and plural forms of Japanese nouns. For example, when you say "samurai", a group or a single person could be the same.

Grammer

Photo by Arlas! it on Wikimedia Commons.

The most different part is the verb. In Japanese there are only simple tenses, such as simple present, simple past only. What is the problem then? For Japanese learners, it is difficult to know whether it is progressive or future events. Japanese learners should know that we should use simple present tense to convey the future events. For example, “I call you after dinner” (Watashi wa bangohan no ato ni denwa shimasu), which means we don’t need to use “will” which is important in English.

Ellipsis

I only discovered this after studying Japanese in Japan. In Japanese sentences, you can cut more words than in English sentences. Maybe I can say that we should better know this thing so to speak Japanese more casually. 

To understand it, let’s look at these examples. “君は明日学校に行きますか” (Kimi wa ashita gakko ni ikimasuka), if I translate this sentence exactly (word for word), it becomes to “You tomorrow school to go?” As I said before, the structure of the sentences is different with English, so let’s just ignore it then. What I want to say here is when we speak it more casually in Japanese, it will be “明日学校行く?” (Ashita gakko iku) which in English is “Tomorrow school go?”

One thing that we may learn from this article is Japanese often doesn’t use subjects and prepositions. They still can understand the meaning without saying complete sentences.

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