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)
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.
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 !