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Background to Japanese

In Perth, full of native English speakers, the Japanese language is renowned for being difficult, and as all students and any tutor of the language will tell you for free, this is not false.

However, that should not discount the fact that a Japanese course, be it for education, business, or personal enjoyment, is highly rewarding.

Learning the language can also enhance your living experience as its linguistic community bears 130 million native speakers worldwide, so even if you can't visit Japan at present, you'll still be able to learn and chat with native speakers and other students online with your webcam, as well as those learning it in your community in Perth, face to face.

Travelling through Japan is easier with an understanding of the language
Explore the Japanese language and its many wonders. | Source: Unsplash - Image by Jase Bloor

For students just starting a course in Perth, and whose first language is presumably English, we give here you a short lesson in the outline of Japanese:

The Japanese language originated around 600AD when a group of Chinese sailors settled on the islands.

They brought with them many Buddhist traditions, including education, culture, and writing, which are still visible in Japanese society today and formed a basis for the societal structure of contemporary Japan, a core part of understanding the hierarchy and role of cultural nuance in the Japanese language.

The language itself consists of 3 writing systems, which you will learn throughout your course: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

The Difficult Part of Japanese Education for English Speakers: The Writing Systems

Let's face up to Hiragana first: to get down to business with this one is the first lesson you are likely to have in your Japanese education, on top of learning some daily greetings.

Hiragana creates a base from which to understand the other scripts as it will be used to show the phonetics of the others.

Often confusing for beginners in Australia, it is a syllabary rather than an alphabet, meaning that each character comprises a corresponding consonant and vowel sound.

They have predominantly rounded edges, and for most, an a, e, i, o, u vowel sound attached.

It is very common to see this writing, and once your tutor has approved your writing and reading of them, you'll be able to get by in most everyday situations. Your teacher will spend a lot of time getting your level up in this, as it is one of the most useful skills in years to come in your Japanese learning, even once you're advanced.

It might seem small now, but the study of these characters will make the life of the student and tutors easier. がんばって ください as the Japanese say!

Next is Katakana: there's not as much to learn with this one, although requires the same if not more skills and study time than Hiragana as it bears all the same sounds but it is written completely differently!

It is typically used for foreign loan words and onomatopoeic phrases i.e. things that are phonetic, including in the 辞書 (ディクショナリ).

But don't be fooled, you will definitely see 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.

Learn about the different Japanese characters
Japanese writing systems are as complicated as they sound for English speakers! |Source: Pixabay - Image by Monaharris

This then brings us to the final and most complicated element of your Japanese lessons: Kanji.

These are the characters that take time, even years, to become understandable for beginners and the advanced student of 日本語 (Nihon-go: Japanese language) alike, as it employs multiple skills.

We're sorry to tell you Perth that the business of Kanji is complicated, so you have to face this part of your lesson motivated.

It is so because the skills incorporated involve 1) pronunciation memorisation, 2) writing refinement, 3) retention of the meaning of the character, and 4) contextual understanding.

Deriving from Chinese, you will focus a lot in your class on the character's radical, that is, its profile, meaning that in the dictionary is will be categorised by its number of strokes.

Then, you have to add to that the skills required to memorise the pronunciation of the character, as there is no phonetic way to tell what it says.

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 time (even years as mentioned) to learn.

Finally, to further complicate your learning, there is a general Japanese pronunciation known as 訓読み (Kunyoumi), and a pronunciation of Chinese origin, 音読み (Onyoumi), meaning that you need to know both and when to use it. 難しいですよね (Difficult, isn't it)?

Does this all sound like a lot to learn? Feeling like you will have a lot of questions for your tutor?

And what about oral education, we've only touched on writing?

Get one on one classes with tutors on Superprof for answers to questions small or large. They're happy to help and can offer guidance for beginners through advanced students.

Benefits of knowing Japanese

So we've talked a lot about the writing you will see in the course of your studies, but then who are students going to use their new found skills with?

Travelling to Japan takes a relatively small time from Australia, as it's one of our many neighbours in the Asia-Pacific.

Whilst Japanese is only spoken as a native language in its homeland, it will make your experience a lot easier as English is not often spoken well, especially in regional towns and smaller cities.

Japan furthermore has a highly advanced education system, particularly relevant to those in the engineering community and IT community, which has many internationally approved courses of great refinement.

The one catch?

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

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

For Australian lovers of everything Japan, there's obviously the benefit of being able to engage more deeply with Japanese culture than you would through English alone.

As mentioned, the idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture are deeply embedded into their language and day-to-day interactions, so to really understand the cultural impact of Kabuki or your favourite manga, time to polish your Japanese language skills!

Finally, though only spoken in isolation, Japanese is still a highly influential world language.

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

Therefore, if you're wanting to get into international affairs, Japanese is a wise skill to nurture!

Have you thought about using manga to help you learn Japanese
Having a firm grasp of the Japanese language will help you engage more deeply with its culture, like in Manga.

Pedagogy of classes

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

  • Start with daily greetings: こんにちは (hello),おやすみなさい (goodnight), and learn the first few lines of Hiragana: a, sa, and ka lines
  • Then, you'll move onto daily questions and answers, as well as basic self-presentation. You'll then practice the next few lines: ta, na, ha, and ma characters.
  • Once you've been approved by your teacher in this, you will finish off the Hiragana: ya, ra, wa, and start to learn finer grammar points and adjectives (which is no small task, even in beginners Japanese), whilst getting an outline of Japan and its people.

What lessons would look like

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 most 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 then do something like a pop quiz to consolidate information, and make sure your time will be well spent during that lesson as you move on.
  • Once in the swing, your course will typically work on writing skills to make sure that you can note down what you hear, which will be approved by the teacher, and possibly followed by a dictation.
  • New content will be introduced and consolidated, probably both grammar and vocabulary, which will be consolidated through free speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice.
  • Finally, you will have some free time to practice writing and speaking with partners to foster a social experience in the class, that may well bolster your skills and create friendships beyond the course.

Bear in mind that this is at the discretion of the teacher, and is subject to change from class to class.

Learning doesn't always have to take place indoors
Learn Japanese in the sun in Perth. | Source: Michael Wills Photography

Where to look for schools

Obviously, the choice can be overwhelming and may require and advanced search, but students can rest easy knowing there are free resources that show the group of language courses available.

With classes ranging from beginner to advanced, which can focus on education, business, or general Japanese for English speaking students.

These classes may change in terms of intensity and content depending on the need of the given student, so make sure you work out if you need the language skills for a certificate, for university, for business, or just for enjoyment, as this will dictate the kind of education you'll look for in your search.

We hope this article has been helpful and has helped you take the next steps in your language learning journey!

If you're keen on finding out how to get fluent in speaking Japanese, check out our guide.

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