Have you ever got interested in how Japanese people have learned the language which looks complicated to learn?
The language seems to attract people from other countries. I’ve given some Japanese lessons on periscope, which I found successful. Even though I’m not a certificated Japanese teacher, people seem to have enjoyed so much which made me happy. It can be much work but I hope to do that sometime again.
To those who have no idea about Japanese language, to those who have never seen it it just looks something mysterious, (which I often hear! A lot!) I hope that I make things clear for you even a bit.
So Japanese language is basically consisted of ; ‘Hiragana’, ‘Katakana’ and ‘Kanji’. It’s really unique that we have three different figures in one language, which I think, could be one of the reasons why language learners find it hard to learn. Hiragana and katakana have the same sound yet the characters look different. The most attractive part is kanji, which I will try to explain later on.
• Hiragana (あ、い、う、え、お/a,i,u,e,o etc) -50 characters-
Hiragana was made among Japanese ladies in Heian era, and the common idea is they made those figures from kanjis. Simple version of Kanji I would say. The first year of elementary school. The most basic characters which, we Japanese usually start to learn at the age 6 when we start an elementary school. I remember I scribbled my name before that, however which was incorrect. so 6 was when I started to learn hiragana properly. At school the teachers write everything in hiragana, at this point.
• Katakana (ア、イ、ウ、エ、オ/a,i,u,e,o etc) – 50 characters-
Katakana is also, they say made from kanji, but choose some parts from them. Age 6 is a busy year. Shortly after we finish learning Hiragana, we start to learn katakana. The sounds are the same as hiragana, so I don’t have a memory where I struggled memorizing all characters. However the hard part about katakana is that all figures look so similar I forget some even when I’m being an adult, which is not too uncommon. Also the teachers could be strict about how we write otherwise they look confusing. Ex. ツ and シ
-approximately 50,000 characters in total- (The kanji we use daily is considered to be around 4,000~5,000.)
Kanjis are originally from Chinese characters, so there are many that look the same. However, how we pronounce is totally different from them. Hence why even though I can recognize what they mean in written Chinese, I can’t speak it. Kanji is personally, my favorite part. It is an art. So at age 6, the end of the first year period, we learn kanji. I really don’t remember the first kanji I’ve learnt. All I could recall was just it was the very beginning of our kanji learning during all my school days. Every year kids learn more than 100~200 (or more) kanji in a year. Kids hate kanji tests, but we do it anyway. And after elementary school, we keep learning kanji at junior high school/ high school. (Fact : During that time, we even start to learn ancient Japanese, which is completely different from our modern Japanese we use today. I was bad at it. ) unfortunately when people ask me how many kanjis I know I have no idea because I’ve never counted, (I’m sure neither do other Japanese people do) and it can depend on people as well. Particularly I have been good at memorizing kanji which might make my kanji vocabulary bigger. But the interesting thing is that most Japanese people seem to know enough kanji that they need in their life at least. For example in the election, we are often obliged to write down the candidates’ names in Kanji.
You might wonder why we had to have the totally different looking characters that much. Too complicated! Yes I have wondered that too. They say that Japanese people have valued on reading the language specifically, so they separated them into three.
• How we use them in a different way (basics)
Hiragana is for particles, the words that connect sentences, and words that you can’t change into kanji.
katakana is for foreign words. And kanji is used in any other occasions. For advanced people : even you could express in kanji we sometimes purposely write hiragana to emphasize something.
You could compare how different they look depending on using those three different characters or not.
I went to a supermarket with my brother. (English)
—> わたしはおとうととすーぱーまーけっとにいきました。 (All in Hiragana)
—> ワタシハオトウトトスーパーマーケットニイキマシタ。 (All in katakana)
—> 私は弟とスーパーマーケットに行きました。(Hiragana, Katakana + Kanji)
If we write all of them in all hiragana version and katakana version, it’s hard to recognize which is one word and which is one particle. You see, in once sentence we don’t make a space between words or particles unlike English. So in that sense, changing characters is how we separate each words and understand the sentence overall at first sight.
Lastly, I would like to give you some kanji rules.
心 (Kokoro), which means heart itself. You’ll find this kanji in different kanjis. Try to find things in common between them.
悲しい(Kanashii) = sad,
恋 (Koi) / 愛 (Ai) = love,
思う (Omou) = think
想う (Omou) = care about someone
and more! Look them up if you want. 心 is used for kanjis that are related to human emotions. Even though kanji look random, each of them have the meaning if you separate them into pieces. Learning Japanese helps you to understand Japanese people’s mind. Our way of thinking. Our values in life. I often find words that can’t be translated in a different language. When I speak Japanese particularly I feel that I have lots of ways to express my feelings.
Just a bit of Japanese lesson from me and our language. My goal is to encourage you to learn Japanese even a bit here! 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Thanks for reading.