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Introduction to Japanese


In Japanese, there are 5 basic sounds: [a], [i], [u], [e] and [o].

• The [a] is pronounced like the ''a'' in the word ''pas'' in French (ex.: ''faux pas'').
• The [i] is pronounced like the ''y'' in the word ''copy''.
• The [u] sounds like the word ''who'' in English.
• The [e] is pronounced like the ''e'' in ''enormous'' in English.
• The [o] is pronounced like the ''o'' in ''hello'' in English.

There are other sounds :

• The [s] is pronounced like the ''s'' in the word ''snake''.
• The [sh] is pronounced like the ''sh'' in the word ''shut''.
• The [ch] is pronounced like the ''Cze'' in the word ''Czech''.
• The [h] is not mute, it is pronounced the same way as it is in English, by slightly breathing out.
• The [r] is pronounced a bit like the ''l'' in English.
• The [w] is pronounced like the''w''in English and [wa]is pronounced [oua].
• The [j] is pronounced like ''dj'' as in the brand of car''Jeep''.

Listening to a few sentences :

Watashi wa Akiko desu
Nihonjin desu
Nichiyoubi ni nani wo shimashita ka
Kore wa ikura desu ka
Zenzen wakaranai
Nice meeting you.
I am Akiko.
I am Japanese.
What did you do on Sunday?
How much is that?
I understand nothing.

As you can see, the pronunciation of the Japanese words is not that complicated for an English speaker.


There are four types of writing in Japanese:

- Hiragana (''ひらがな'')
- Katakana (''カタカナ'')
- Kanji (''漢字'')
- Romaji (romaji)

• Hiragana / Katakana : Unlike in English, where we use consonants and vowels to form an alphabet, the ''hiragana'' and ''katakana'' characters are grouped as a syllabary (ex.: ka,ki,ku,ke,ko…).
Then, the word ''anata'' (you,2nd person, singular) is written ''あなた''in hiragana, formed with the ''a'' (あ), the ''na'' (な) and the ''ta'' (た) .
There are 46 characters in each of these two syllabaries. The katakana characters are used in Japanese to write the foreign words.

See them all hiragana / katakana

• Kanji : The kanji are ideograms originating from China. There are thousands of them.However, only 1945 of them are part of the official list called ''jouyou kanji'' and are necessary to read a newspaper and in the everyday life.
Examples :

- 山 ''yama'' (mountain)
- 車 ''kuruma'' (car)
- 郵便局 ''yuubinkyoku'' (post office)

• ''Romaji'' : It is the word used to refer to the Roman letters (our alphabet). The Japanese speakers use them on rare occasions. Some words, such as''CD'' or trademarks (ex.:Sony, Sega…)are written using romaji. However, romaji is used a lot by the non-Japanese speakers who are learning the language.The examples mentioned above (yama,kuruma...)are romaji.

In 99% of the sentences in Japanese (and even in most of the words), there are several types of writing.

Example : スミスさんは日本の食べ物が好きです。"sumisu san wa nihon no tabemono ga suki desu." (Mr Smith likes the Japanese food.)

As you will notice, there is no space in the Japanese sentence.

Learning how to read Japanese is not as complicated as it seems to be. Hiragana and katakana can be mastered within a few weeks(even within a few days for the most motivated ones). Learning kanji is not very difficult either, but it requires a lot of time and self-discipline. However, writing these is sometimes more difficult and it requires a tremendous amount of practice.
Nonetheless, generally speaking,the progress is very quick and encouraging.


Even though being totally different from the English grammar, the Japanese grammar is very simple: The genders don't exist and it is the same thing concerning the singular and the plural, which are not being used either. You can easily conjugate the verbs.

In Japanese, there are many levels of politeness: The verbs are being expressed in two different ways and the structure of the sentence may change according to the person you are talking to.

To summarize, learning Japanese is not as difficult as we could imagine.The simplicity of the grammar and of the pronunciation makes it a simple language to learn. However, learning the vocabulary and the writing requires a lot of time and regularity.

I am hoping to give you all of the tools that you will need to learn Japanese.If you are studying with the courses on this website, you will improve quickly and simply, no matter what your goals are and your level is.

Good luck!

Begin with the course No.1

Author: Tev

Translator: Jass