If you’re considering learning Japanese, we are sure at least at some point you have been daunted by the idea. This language sounds completely different from English, uses a totally new writing system to the alphabet that we are most familiar with, and even some punctuation points appear strange to us.
However, this beautiful East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people around the world has such a distinctive sound that it has become one of the most popular Asian languages to learn—and nowadays you can find so many different ways to learn it!
You could approach it with an old-fashioned grammar book, get an app like Busuu, or even sign up for online classes with a native Japanese teacher at
Regardless of what you decide your learning process will look like, here are some things to consider when you are starting out with learning Japanese:
Keep It Simple
It would be amazing if we could simply absorb Japanese into our minds, and speak and write it perfectly without even trying. Unfortunately, we don’t have the technology to be quite that lucky just yet! So, in that case, our best advice is to start out small.
Listen to Japanese speakers on YouTube to start to get an idea of the pronunciation and sounds. Find a show, film, or even music that you like and make it part of your routine to listen and watch a little each day. Download an app like HelloTalk where you can “talk to the world”.
Think of the basic words you feel are essential in whatever language you are learning, and concentrate on those first. And above all, be kind to yourself, learn at your own pace, and take regular breaks as often as you need to.
Okay, so in an ideal world, if you wanted to learn Japanese you could just move to Japan. But if for you, like most people, that is not so possible, then find other people learning the language to practice with, or look for a language exchange on Meet Up to meet some Japanese-speaking people in your community.
And if you want to be prepared before such a meeting, then get a few basic words together to start you off and instill a little confidence.
Probably the most important of basic words to learn is “hello,” and as with most languages there are a lot of ways to say it in Japanese.
Konnichiwa you are probably most familiar with, yet there is also yaa, as in “hi,” and moshi moshi to answer with when you are on the phone. Here are few more simple words and phrases, and their pronunciation, to get you started:
|Welcome! (to greet someone)||Youkoso irasshai mashita.|
|How are you?||Ogenki desuka?|
|I’m fine, thanks!||Watashi wa genki desu. Arigato!|
|Good/ So-So.||Genki desu. / maa-maa desu.|
|Thank you (very much)!||Arigatou!|
|You’re welcome! (for “thank you”)||Dou itashi mashite.|
|Do you speak (English/ Japanese)?||Anata wa eigo/nihongo wo hanashimasu ka?|
|Just a little.||Sukoshi dake.|
|What’s your name?||Namae wa nandesu ka?|
|My name is …||Watashi no namae wa …..|
|Mr…/ Mrs.…/ Miss…||san can be used for all titles|
|Nice to meet you!||Hajimemashite!|
|You’re very kind!||Anata wa totemo shinsetsu desu.|
|Where are you from?||Doko no shusshin desu ka?|
|Where do you live?||Doko ni sun de imasu ka?|
Words From Other Countries
Japanese might sound a lot different from the languages you are used to, but there are some loanwords that are from places a little closer to home. Japanese has adopted a number of words from English, for example, such as tēburu — “table”, bīru — “beer”, gurasu — “glass”, aisu — “ice”, takushī — “taxi”, and hoteru — “hotel”.
In other words, there may be Japanese vocabulary that you already know, or can get the meaning of just from listening to the words spoken!
The Dreaded Grammar
Learning and remembering the grammar rules of any language you are trying to master is often considered the most complicated part of the language learning process.
One of the first hurdles with Japanese is accepting that there just isn’t a verb to use like we do “to be” in English. Don’t over think it, it is far more important to keep trying to speak and use the language than to write out every rule and exception to that rule to learn by heart.
Practice, practice, and more practice!
Here are some more words and phrases along with their pronunciation that might come in useful when you are first starting out:
|Good morning!||Ohayou gozaimasu.|
|Good night!||Oyasumi nasai.|
|See you later!||Mata atode aimashou!|
|What’s new?||Saikin dou desuka?|
|Nothing much||Kawari nai desu.|
|I live in…||Watashi wa…|
|What do you do for a living?||Osigoto wa nandesu ka?|
|I have to go||Ikanakutewa narimasen.|
|I will be right back!||Sugu modori masu.|
|Good/ Bad/ So-So.||Yoi / Warui / maa-maa|
|Today/ Now||Kyou / Ima|
|Tomorrow/ Yesterday||Ashita / Kinou|
|Yes/ No||Hai / iie|
|Here you go! (giving something)||Hai, douzo!|
|Do you like it?||Suki desu ka?|
|I really like it!||Honto ni suki desu.|
|I’m hungry/ thirsty.||Onaka ga suki masita. / Nodo ga kawaki mashita.|
|In the morning/ evening/ at night.||Asa ni, yuugata ni, yoru ni|
|This/ That. Here/There||Kore / Are Koko / Asoko|
|Me/ You. Him/ Her.||Watashi / anata Kare / Kanojyo|
What is essential language to one person might not necessarily be as important to another. But there is some vocabulary that will stand you in good stead no matter where you are:
|I’m lost||Mayotte shimai mashita.|
|Can I help you?||Otetsudai shimashouka?|
|Can you help me?||Tetsudatte kuremasuka?|
|Where is the…?||…wa doko desuka?|
|I’m looking for…||…wo sagashite imasu.|
|One moment please!||Chotto matte kudasai.|
|How much is this?||Kore wa ikura desuka?|
|Sorry (for a mistake)||Gomenasai.|
|No Problem!||Daijyoubu desu.|
|Can You Say It Again?||Mouichido itte kuremasuka?|
|Can You Speak Slowly?||Yukkuri shabette kuremasuka?|
|Write It Down Please!||Kaite kudasai.|
|I Don’t Understand!||Wakarimasen.|
|I Don’t Know!||Shirimasen.|
|Don’t worry!||Goshinpai naku.|
|What’s That Called In Japanese?||Arewa nihongo de nanto iimasu ka?|
In addition to these, pick up some basic food and drink vocabulary, along with places of interest and everyday objects like books, phones, clothes, and so on.
Practice little, and often, and if you’re watching something in Japanese and a word sticks out to you, write it down. This is how you build a vocabulary list that works for you!
Above all else, have fun when you learn Japanese. Any language learning is daunting when you set out, but give yourself a little time and patience, and you’ll soon be conversing better than you ever imagined possible!