History of the Japanese Language

In international Darwin, a city of native English speakers, the Japanese language is known to be difficult, and all students and any given tutor of the language will tell you for free that it takes a high amount of contact hours to succeed, and more time commitment than just a year or two.

That shouldn't discount though the fact that a Japanese course, whether for personal enjoyment, education, or business is very rewarding.

There are lots of natural and cultural wonders to see in Japan
Japanese lessons can open you up to a unique culture. |Source: Visual Hunt

Learning the language may also enhance your lived experience because its community counts around 130 million native speakers worldwide, thus even without being able to visit Japan presently, you'll still be able to chat and learn with speakers and other students online via your webcam, as well as face to face with others learning it in your community in Darwin.

Students just starting a course in Darwin, whose first language is presumably English, can consider our short lesson in the outline of Japanese:

The Japanese language saw its creation around 600AD after a group of Chinese sailors settled on the archipelago.

With them came a lot of Buddhist customs, which included culture, cuisine, education and writing. Which are all still present in contemporary Japanese society, and helped to form the eventual basis for the societal structure of modern-day Japan.

Understanding this plays a core part in coming to grips with hierarchy and the role of cultural nuance in the Japanese language.

Japanese itself is comprised of 3 writing systems, which you will learn throughout the course of your learning: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

The Core of Japan and Most Difficult Part of Japanese Education for English Speakers: The Writing Systems

Hiragana is the first writing we will face: getting down to business with this set is one of first lessons you are going have in your Japanese education, which you are likely to find in the teaching of some daily greetings.

Hiragana forms a base from which to understand the other scripts too since it is used to show the phonetics of the other ones.

This often confuses beginners in Australia, because it is a syllabary rather than an alphabet, which means that each character is made up of a corresponding consonant and vowel sound.

These characters are mostly round in shape, and for most, an a, e, i, o, u vowel sound attached.

This writing is very common to see, and once your tutor has approved your ability to write and read them, you'll be able to get by in almost any everyday situation.

Your teacher will spend a lot of time getting your level up in this since it will be one of the most essential skills in years to come in your Japanese learning, even once you're advanced.

Next up comes Katakana: you have to learn a similar amount as the script mentioned above because it requires the same amount of if not more skills and study time than Hiragana as it has all the same sounds, yet it is written completely differently!

It is in general used for foreign loan words and onomatopoeic phrases i.e. phonetically pronounced words from various languages, including in the 辞書 (ディクショナリ).

But don't fret, you will surely find this one in use in your everyday life.

This example that we've just given has first the word for "dictionary" in Kanji, then Katakana for people to get a general idea.


The Japanese language has many different rules
Learning a new writing system may seem daunting but it's rewarding! |Source: Visual Hunt

Now for the most advanced script, as all tutors are likely to tell you and help you with, Kanji.

Kanji can take years to learn for beginners and the advanced student of 日本語 (Nihon-go: Japanese language) alike, as it requires multiple skills.

So even if you've got a history of learning Japanese, this section of learning will require your full attention (as well as motivation). がんばろう!(Ganbarou ! - Good luck!)

This is the case because the learning process consists of : 1) refinement of writing, 2) knowing the meaning of the characters, 3) memorising pronunciation, and 4) contextual understanding.

As a high portion of Japanese is derived from Chinese, you will focus a lot in your class on the character's radical, which is its profile, meaning that it's listing in the dictionary is will be categorised by its number of strokes.

To follow, you have to add to that the necessary skills for memorisation of the pronunciation of that character, since there is no phonetic clue to its sound in its written form.

Then, you will need to actually help yourself write it (which you'll be free to do in your own time as this refinement really does take the time or actual years to learn, and entire lessons can't be dedicated to just this).

To further complicate your learning, a general Japanese pronunciation exists, known as 訓読み (Kunyoumi), and pronunciation of Chinese origin, 音読み (Onyoumi), meaning that you need to know both and when to use it. 

This might sound like a lot to learn, so if you're feeling like you will have a lot of questions for your tutor, and want more information about speaking education since we've only touched on writing, then consider getting one on one classes with tutors on Superprof for answers to questions small or large.

From advanced to beginner learners, Superprof tutors are ready to help with this journey!

The utility of knowing Japanese

So far we've gone through the writing systems you'll learn throughout your course. But now the all-important questions, where and with who can I use this new language?

Travelling to Japan takes a rather small amount of time from Australia, particularly when departing from Darwin, so it's no surprise that many Australian airlines have daily services to Japan.

And although Japanese is only spoken as a native language in its home islands, a grasp of the language will make your experience a lot easier, as English is not often spoken well, especially in small towns and outside the city.

Japan also has a highly advanced education system, which has particular relevance for those in the engineering community and IT community, having many internationally approved courses of great refinement available for international students.

The one catch?

Being in Japan, they're all in Japanese of course, so bad luck for the Australian English speaker from Darwin trying to find their course if they can't master this element.

Check out some courses here (of which some are indeed offered in English, but do require some knowledge of Japanese).

International economics is closely linked to international relations
Japanese is an official language in many international institutions.

Finally, though only spoken in isolation, you'll find Japanese is still a highly influential global language.

In fact, not part of the general knowledge of most people, Japanese is an IMF and G7 official language, which means that the voice of the Japanese people and their interests is regularly heard on a global scale.

Thus, if wanting to get into international affairs, Japanese is a smart language for you to learn!

Pedagogy of classes

So what will you learn in your classes then? Typically, for beginners, it would go as follows:

  • Commencing with daily greetings: こんにちは (hello) and learning the first few lines of Hiragana: a, sa, and ka lines
  • Then, moving onto daily questions and answers, as well as self-introduction sentences. You'll then move on to practising the next set lines of Hiragana: ta, na, ha, and ma characters.
  • Once you've been approved by your teacher in this, you will finish off the Hiragana sets: ya, ra, wa, and start to learn finer grammar points and adjectives. whilst getting an outline of Japanese culture.

How will lessons be structured?

Asking questions throughout your class will ensure you know more
Show some initiative in learning your chosen language: Japanese! | Source: ESLactive

And what will these classes look like then? Will they be face to face or online over webcam? And how will they be laid out to best serve your new skills, experience, and level?

  • The class will likely start with a warmup, where you get to review the lessons learnt the previous day or week's teaching, and this will likely be a speaking exercise where you have to think on your feet.
  • The teacher will probably then run something like a pop quiz to consolidate information and make sure your time will be well utilised during that lesson before you move on.
  • When you're in the swing, your course will typically work on writing skills to ensure that you can note down what you hear, which will be approved by the teacher, and possibly followed by a dictation.
  • New materials and topics will be introduced and consolidated, likely with both grammar and vocabulary, which will be practised through free speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice.
  • Then, in the end, you will have some free time to practice writing and speaking with partners and can foster a social experience in the class, which may well bolster your skills and create friendships that go beyond the course.

Keep in mind that this is at the discretion of the teacher, so is subject to change from one class to another.

We hope this guide has been helpful for you, and has given you a general idea about Japanese, as well as helped you take the next steps on your language learning journey!

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