2016年12月20日火曜日

Season's Greetings in Japanese

This is a quick reminder. How would you say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Japanese?

Merry Christmas: メリー クリスマス (meri kurisumasu)
Happy New Year before January 1st: よい おとしを (yoi otoshi o)
Happy New Year after January 1st: あけまして おめでとう (akemashite omedeto)



2016年9月8日木曜日

"kara" and "dakara"

Sumimasen! I had a long break. I need to think about a good topic and have some spare time to write in both Japanese and English. This is my excuse.

“Kara” and “dakara” have the same meaning when attached to reasons, but their usages are not always the same. I often hear people mixing them up. There is also “de”, which has a similar function to “kara” and “dakara”.

“kara” is used when the speaker connects a reason and its consequence. The sentence structure is reason + kara + consequence. Please remember the order of these three elements. It is different from English.

Example 1-A
Reason (clause): kyo wa ame desu. (It’s raining today.)
Consequence (clause): shiai wa chushi desu. (The game is cancelled.)
Reason (clause) + Consequence (clause): 1) kyo wa ame desu kara, shiai wa chushi desu.
2) kyo wa ame da kara, shiai wa chushi desu. *“desu” becomes “da”, which is the casual form.
(Because it’s raining today, the game is cancelled.) 
Example 1-B
Reason/cause (noun): ame
Consequence (clause): shiai wa chushi desu. (The game is cancelled.)
Reason/cause (noun) + Consequence (clause): 3) ame de kyo no shiai wa chushi desu. (Because of rain, today’s game is cancelled.) 
Sentences 1 and 2 mean the same thing as sentence 3.

Example 2
2) watashi wa byoki da kara, kyo no yoru asobi ni ikenai.
3) byoki de kyo no yoru asobi ni ikenai. (”byoki” is a noun.)
(Because I am sick, I can’t go out tonight.) 
Example 3-A
Reason (clause): kesa jishin ga atta. (There was an earthquake this morning.)
Consequence (clause): densha ga okureta. (Trains were delayed.)
Reason (clause) + Consequence (clause): 1) kesa jishin ga atta kara, densha ga okureta. (Because there was an earthquake this morning, trains were delayed.) 
As the previous examples show, “desu kara” becomes “da kara”. However, “Jishin ga atta” doesn’t include “desu”. Therefore, you can’t say “jishin ga atta da kara” and “jishin da kara”. Also, “jishin kara” is missing a verb and is thus incomplete and incorrect.
Other common mistakes include “jishin da kara” and “jishin kara”. Make sure to avoid these. 

Example 3-B
Reason/cause (noun): jishin
Consequence (clause): densha ga okureta. (Trains delayed.)
Reason/cause (noun) + Consequence (clause): jishin de densha ga okureta. (Because of the earthquake, trains were delayed.) 

There’s one thing I definitely want you to understand: “da kara”, the casual form of “desu kara”, is different from the conjunction “dakara”. “dakara” is used between two sentences.
Kesa jishin ga atta. Dakara, densha ga okureta.
Sentence 1. (full stop) Dakara, sentence 2. In other words, the second sentence starts with “dakara”.

On the other hand, in the previous examples, the two clauses are linked and become one long sentence. In that case, “da kara” is in the middle of the sentence.
Kyo wa ame da kara, shiai wa chushi desu.
Can you see the difference? 


One last thing: How would you translate “kara” into English? Is it “because”? Or is it “so” or “therefore”?
It seems “so” or “therefore” works better when you look at the sentences above, but I think “because” is the English equivalent of “kara”.

When “kara” is used, it’s attached to a reason, not a consequence. Also, when asked the question “Why were the trains delayed?”, you respond “jishin ga atta kara”. If “kara” is “so” or “therefore”, this doesn’t make any sense.

However, when used in a conjunction, “dakara” can perhaps be translated as “so” or “therefore”.


2016年5月2日月曜日

"Nihongo wa hanashi nikui" is incorrect.

Happy golden week everyone in Japan! If you still like to study, please read my latest post.

Have you ever said, “Nihongo wa hanashi nikui” or “Nihongo wa yomi nikui”? Every time I hear those, they feel odd to me. I often come across incorrect usages of “nikui” in other situations too. The reason is simple: you just understand “nikui” as being the same as “difficult to do”.
But that alone isn’t enough. There is one more condition necessary for correct usage. Any ideas what that is?

For example, what is it like eating crab? Sure, it tastes good, but you have to break or remove their shells, so it’s an annoying food.
A: kani wa oishii kedo, tabe nikui.
Consider this next example: You can’t eat any more because you’re full but, despite this, food is still being served.
B: onaka ga ippai dakara, zenbu taberu no wa muzukashii.
Example A refers to crab being difficult to eat because of the shape and shell. It’s that feature of crab itself that causes problems.
For example B, the food itself doesn’t have any problem. You are simply full and can’t eat it. The only issue is your own ability or, in other words, capacity.

Here is another pair of examples.
Japanese people often say something like this after the first sip of wine or sake.
A. kono wine wa nomi yasui ne.
This means that you can drink the wine because it tastes good.

On the other hand, when you need two people to drink a bottle of wine because you can’t finish it off on your own, you might say,
B. futari nara wine o ippon nomu no wa kantan des.
It’s not the quality of the wine itself that matters here. It’s your own ability or capacity to drink it that does.

Therefore, ”… nikui” (A) is used when a characteristic of something makes your own actions difficult and “… yasui” (A) is used when it’s easy for you to do something with the item because of its inherent characteristics.
Meanwhile, “… no wa muzukashii/ kantan” indicates that you yourself have or don’t have the ability or skill to do something. Also, external factors can affect things sometimes too.


Let’s think about this from a different standpoint.
While you are drinking wine, let’s say you spill some on a table cloth.
AWine no shimi wa ochi nikui.
BWine no shimi o otosu no wa muzukashii. 
Example B means that the stain isn’t likely to come out because you don’t have the knowledge or know the technique to wash it away. “Otosu” (wash away) is your own action, so we can see that any verb used here must be a transitive verb (a tadoushi) or else an intransitive verb (a “jidoushi”) describing someone’s action, such as “iku”, “hashiru”, “hairu” and so on.

Lastly, I will write about “nihongo wa hanashi nikui” and “nihongo wa yomi nikui”. I wasn’t able to give a good explanation about why they are wrong, but now I think I’ve come to a conclusion. Here is my interpretation.
The Japanese language is very different from Western languages, and hiragana, katakana and kanji make it complicated. It’s true that non-Japanese people have difficulty speaking and reading Japanese and it seems to them that pattern A should be possible. However, try thinking about it this way:
For Japanese people, the nature and characteristics of Japanese are normal and not difficult. Also, they would never say “nihongo wa hanashi nikui”. Considering this, it seems Japanese people have a tendency to think that the difficulty of a language is more related to individual skill or ability than the characteristics of the language itself. It's a subtle but important difference, I think.

However, “hanashi nikui” could be used in the following situation:
“ano hito wa itsumo okotteite, kowasou dakara, hanashi nikui na”.
It’s hard to talk to that person because he is always angry and looks scary.
In my opinion, “hanashi nikui” is used like this and is not used to refer to the difficulty of a language.
What do you think? Are you convinced?
  

2016年2月12日金曜日

some tips for learning Japanese

Oops, it's already February! I wanted to post this in January because I have some advice to those who have made the decision to study Japanese in 2016. But, I believe that it's never too late to read this post if you are new to nihongo.

If your mother tongue is either Chinese or Korean, you’ll find many things in common between the languages when you start studying Japanese, and you have a lot of advantages because of the similarities. Lucky you!

On the other hand, for those who speak Western languages such as English, Japanese is a completely new language. You’ll quickly find that Japanese is very different from the Western languages you learned before. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many Westerners get disappointed by the difficulty.In fact, just learning Japanese words and grammar alone doesn’t get you to a stage where you can speak it. Japanese is not that easy. That’s why you need to start thinking in the way Japanese sentences are constructed.
First of all, you should understand Japanese word order.
I went to Kyoto.
I: watashi (wa)
went: ikimashita 
to: ni 
watashi wa  Kyoto ni  ikimashita. (I Kyoto to went.)
You must get used to saying “I Kyoto to went.” Until this Japanese sentence comes out of your mouth naturally as a habit, you consciously need to switch your brain to Japanese mode when you speak in Japanese.

Now you are able to say “watashi wa Kyoto ni ikimashita” (I went to Kyoto) or “kino watashi wa eiga o mimashita” (I saw a movie yesterday). At the next stage, most of my students ask me, “How do you say I can in Japanese?” “How about I need?” “How about I should?”  They want to try to add some more meaning to their Japanese, and it’s only natural to want to do this. However, this is where Japanese gets hard. It just doesn’t work as simply as English.

I consider English to be an "add" language. Even if you just know “go” and “can”, you can just combine them. Then, “I go” becomes “I can go”.
On the other hand, Japanese is a “change” language. You need to change “watashi wa ikimasu” (I go) to “watashi wa ikemasu” (I can go), and you need to know the rule for this change. "watashi wa mimasu” (I watch) doesn’t change to “watashi wa mikemasu”.
Also, the rules are different for each expression:
  • I go: watashi wa ikimasu.
  • I can go: watashi wa ikemasu.
  • I need to go: watashi wa ikanakereba narimasen.
  • I should go: watashi wa iku beki desu.
When you look at the verb “ikimasu”, you notice that only the “i” doesn’t change and the rest after the “i” conjugates. The expressions for “need to” or “should are” are attached after that. This system is different from that of an “add” language.


Accepting this new concept quickly is important for learning Japanese. In the beginning, everyone tries to translate his or her own language to Japanese. This is natural. But, please be aware of the unique rules and sentence structures in Japanese.
I’ve been teaching Japanese for over 10 years and learning English for over 20 years. From my experiences, I’ve realized that adaptation, educated guessing, and simplification are very important skills for studying languages. If you have these three abilities, you have what can be called linguistic sense. 

  • Adaptation: When you learn from one or two examples, you can apply this to other words
  • Guessing: Even though you don’t know every word or grammatical expression, you don’t stop trying to understand and you can guess meanings.
  • Simplification: When you find it hard to directly translate what you want to say from your own language, you simplify it and try to speak with the words and expressions you already know. 

I believe these three skills help you. If you find learning Japanese stressful, try to change your method. You should enjoy it. Good luck! Gambatte kudasai !