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Learning Hiragana and Katakana

Background - an ancient volumetric Japanese re...

The second Japanese class on Edufire ended today and Eri had a lot of fun teaching it. Thank all of those who attended. I hope you enjoyed the classes and learned some new Japanese.

Eri has posted a couple new classes as well. One for those wanting to learn to read and write Japanese (hiragana and katakana) and another class for practicing conversational speaking (this class is limited in size so if you are interested I recommend you sign up soon). You can find the classes here:

Japanese classes

For those serious about learning Japanese, learning hiragana and katakana as fast as possible is very important to not only reading Japanese, but for pronouncing it correctly as well. The sooner you get away from the English alphabet the better.

In the class, Eri will be showing you the correct way to pronounce the characters and how to write them. The class will be recorded, so those attending can watch it over and over again for review.

If you already know how to write and read the characters, then you are ready to sign up for the conversational class and start speaking Japanese.

Japanese classes

Imasu and Arimasu

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japanese words arimasu

Japanese has two words for “to exist”. Unlike English, which uses different words depending on whether the object is singular or plural, Japanese uses different words depending on whether or not the object is alive . います (imasu) is used when discussing plants and animals (including humans) and あります (arimasu) is used for basically every object that isn’t alive. あります(arimasu) can also hold the meaning of “I have”.


Inu ga imasu.

There is a dog


Kuruma ga arimasu.

There is a car.

It can be confusing when you first  start using these words, but it gets much easier with practice. If you are having trouble remembering which one is which then I suggest that you come up with some kind of relation in your mind. For instance, “I”masu is used for things that are “I”kiteru (the Japanese word for alive or breathing). This should help you from getting them confused.

Is It Hard To Learn Japanese?


It depends. Probably not the answer that you were hoping for, but bare with me for a second. It depends on whether you want to learn to speak Japanese or if you also want to learn to read and write. If you want to speak Japanese (which is the case for most people) then it is actually much easier than most people think.

The reason for this is that there are fewer possible sounds and more “solid” rules than English. Japan has a total of 5 vowels and 13 consonants, compared to English’s 12 vowels and 24 consonants. It’s true that some of the Japanese sounds are not in the English language and and can be difficult for native English speakers to pronounce. Compared to English however, pronunciations of consonants in Japanese don’t change. So while some of the sounds in the Japanese language might be difficult to pronounce, they never change.

Compared to English where there are many exceptions to grammatical rules,  Japanese grammar has very few exceptions. Verb conjugations are also very structured with few exceptions. So basically, Japanese is pretty straight forward once you learn the rules.

The one place where Japanese is more difficult than English is in the number of words used. According to a recent article in the Japan Times Online, it takes about 10,000 Japanese words to comprise 90% of all sentences in modern Japanese magazines. This is quite a bit higher compared to English which requires about 3,000 words.

But don’t panic quite yet, these statistics are a little bit misleading. First, many of the the words in modern day Japanese magazines are actually foreign words, with the biggest chunk of those coming from the English language. So with out learning any words at all you already have a decent Japanese vocabulary. Second, there are far fewer words used in common everyday speech. So if your goal is to to speak Japanese fluently, you are looking at a much smaller list of words.

If you want to read and write Japanese then the slope is a little steeper. Japanese has three distinct alphabets with the largest containing over 2,000 complex characters used in common writing. There are also various readings of the character depending on whether the word origin is Japanese or Chinese.

By now you are probably thinking that you will stick with speaking. And I will openly admit that learning to read and write Japanese does take quite a bit of time and some hard work. On the plus side, the Japanese writing system is also very structured. While some of the characters can be complex, they are also very logical.

For those who are interested in working or living in Japan, the ability to read and write in Japanese is crucial. There are a fair number of bilingual foreigners in Japan that speak Japanese. There are far fewer who can also read and write. Adding this additional skill opens up far more opportunities in Japan.

There are also far better study tools then there were a few years ago. Having spent countless hours writing characters over and over again, I can definitely say there are also far more effective methods.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of these methods and discussing what I think are some great materials for learning to read and write Japanese. Japanese Words Newsletter subscribers will also receive an exclusive deal on some great products designed specifically to teach you to read Japanese. If you aren’t already a Japanese Words Newsletter subscriber, you can sign up for free here. As a member you also gain access to the members page containing additional Japanese resources and links.

Keeping Yourself Motivated to Study Japanese

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Regardless of whether you are just starting or have been studying for quite some time there are always stumbling points. Times when you feel you will not attain the level of fluency you had hoped, that your progress is going to slowly, or that the immediate benefits you are receiving just aren’t worth the amount of time you are spending studying Japanese. I have certainly gone through these times myself. It’s pushing through them that will keep you on the right track to become a great Japanese speaker. So here are some simple motivation tips I have used to keep myself excited about learning Japanese.

Focus on why you started Learning Japanese

With all the studying, the flash cards, the kanji, and the speaking drills it can be easy to lose track of why you started learning Japanese. Since that reason also probably gave you quite a bit of motivation, take some time to think about it. I recommend writing it down so you can look at it again later. If the reason you started studying Japanese doesn’t get you excited, I recommend that you choose better one. You will be putting a lot of time into becoming fluent in Japanese. You will be much more likely to get there if you have a good reason for learning.

Speak Japanese with a native speaker

All that practice is important, but it’s actually speaking in Japanese that’s the fun part. If you are not able to find a native speaker, then at least try to find someone who you can converse with in Japanese. I used to sign up for tutoring when I was a student so I could practice speaking with Japanese exchange students. Even a fellow student studying Japanese is better than nothing. Just be sure to only speak Japanese.

Look at your overall progress

Language progression is accomplished in a lot of small steps. Each new word or grammatical structure you learn helps you understand and communicate just a little bit better. You may have learned 10 new words today, but compared to yesterday you still don’t feel you’ve made much progress. This can be a little bit depressing. Progress can be much easier to spot if you look at it overall. Look at your progress from the time you started until now. An easy way to do this is to go back and look at the material you started with. You will be surprised how easy it seems compared to when you first started learning . It’s much easier to see the distance you covered if you look at all the stairs you have climbed, rather than just the last step.

Break your Japanese study goals into smaller parts

Setting goals is a good thing. But what if you goal is really big? Maybe your goal is to speak business level Japanese so you can eventually work in Japan. If you are just starting out, it may seem if you will never get to that point. In this case, it can be very helpful to set a number of goals in between. Maybe set goals for learning 100 kanji by a certain date, speaking for 10 minutes in Japanese, passing the JLPT 4 this year and 3 next year. With each goal you acheive you give yourself a small reward. This will not only help you stay motivated, but also keep you working towards your goal.