Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Quick Lesson about Romaji

What is Romaji? Romaji is a way for the Japanese language to be written out with the Latin alphabet. It may be already noticeable that it's the English words we use to help ourselves pronounce Japanese words. Here's an example:

Japanese text:   ねこはコンピューターをみています。
Romaji:      Neko wa KONPYUUTAA wo miteimasu.
Translation:       The cat is looking at the computer.

The are many styles of romaji. One style writes out the Japanese character that would be used, and another just uses a macron (the line above a vowel to denote that it is a long pronunciation) for long characters. Another example:

高校 = こうこう = koukou = kōkō = high school

In this example, the word is pronounced with a long O sound for both O's. However, this is just an example of two different styles of romaji. There are more and they get pretty technical. I use a mix of different kinds because it's the way that I learn it best, and I suggest that you do the same. As for now, just work with what you're comfortable with. As you learn hiragana and katakana, you'll realize that you'll run into minor issues, such as both ず and づ both having the same sound, "zu". For these situations, I suggest finding a way that works for you, such as writing ず as "zu", and づ as "du" or "dzu".

One last thing to note. In the first example with the cat looking at a computer, you may have realized that romaji is written in all caps for katakana. I am unsure if this is a certain style of romaji also, but it helps denote which words are written in hiragana and which are written in katakana. For those of you who like to karaoke to Japanese songs, you may already know this fact if you look up song lyrics and read the romanization.

In short, romaji is just a way for Japanese to be written with the Latin alphabet. You may even call it an unofficial alphabet of the Japanese language. Pretty much all English speakers learning Japanese depend on romaji to help them read and understand Japanese when they first start off. However, after you've learned all your hiragana and katakana, you'll rarely be using romaji anymore (and you shouldn't depend too much on it either, since you want to push yourself to actually learn hiragana and katakana). This is why I think it's best to write romaji in a way that works most efficient for you. Develop your own style to it, but also keep in mind the other styles too so if you come across it, you can recognize and read it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

メリ クリスマス! Happy Holidays!

I haven't posted in a while, but I'm going into winter break for a month! Now that I have time, I'll definitely get back to reviewing my lessons with you all!

みんな、勉強していますか? Have a happy holidays!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pronouncing in Japanese

So, is speaking in Japanese difficult? No, it's not. In fact, it's very easy and if you're an English speaker, you should be able to pronounce correctly every sound of the alphabet.

Most Japanese sounds have vowels in them, and they're pretty much the same as in English. The majority of the sounds consist of a consonant and a vowel. As for how to pronounce the vowels? It's easy:

A = pronounced "ah"
I = pronounced "ee"
U = pronounced "ooh"
E = pronounced "eh"
O = pronounced "oh"
N = it's a hard "nn" sound

For consonants and vowels, they're also easy. "Ka" is simply pronounced "kah" and "se" is simply pronounced "seh" like how the vowels are pronounced. They just have a consonant in front.

Worried about the tone? Don't worry. Tone is different across different areas, regions, age groups, etc. and so it would be best to just try and imitate what you hear. Just keep in mind that there are two tones: low and high. That's it. And each sound is pronounced with the same amount of stress and duration (a sound can get a longer duration with the addition of another character, but we'll discuss this in the upcoming posts). As long as you get this down, speaking Japanese will be simple. It also helps to listen to Japanese people speak and try to imitate what they say to understand the flow of speech.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Introducing Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji

The Japanese language has 3 alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Why 3 alphabets? They each have different uses.

ひらがな (hiragana) - this is the standard alphabet. These 46 characters are used for native words (48 if you count the obsolete WI and WE characters). Think JAPANESE words. Hiragana is also used to write everything that kanji can't cover, such as particles.

カタカナ (katakana) - this is their alphabet for foreign words, or all other words that aren't native words (46 characters also). For example, if Japan borrows a word from another language, such as ORANGE, it is spelled using katakana (オレンジ = ORENJI). In many cases, reading a word in katakana that is borrowed from another language such as English, you might be able to figure out what the word is since it is written to sound like it's supposed to from that language( ORANGE = ORENJI, CLASS = KURASU). Some words will combine both katakana and hiragana (i.e. サボる = skip class). Other uses for katakana include emphasizing a word (similar to writing all caps in English), or if you're a manga reader, it's used for sound effects.

漢字 (kanji) - Chinese characters. A single kanji character may have multiple readings, may sound similar to its original Chinese pronunciation, but may also have its own Japanese pronunciation. Kanji is used for JAPANESE words. That means Kanji is used in place of some Hiragana. For example, the word うみ (umi = sea), but in kanji it is this character: 海. Okurigana is when kanji is mixed with hiragana, such as 楽しい (tanoshii = fun). Furigana is when the hiragana readings are placed above the kanji so those unable to read the kanji will be able to.

It doesn't take long to fully memorize hiragana and katakana, but there are thousands of Kanji and only a few thousand are commonly used in Japan. It's easy to forget the kanji you've learned because there are a lot... but you're an eternal student, and you can do it. がんばりましょう!

Monday, October 31, 2011

始めは。。。 (The Beginning)

I have to visit Japan one day. I need to. And when I do? You bet I'd better know how to speak their language! But to go a while without reviewing what you've learned, especially if it's been years, you can easily forget everything!

I am determined. I'm always going to be learning something new, so why not accept now that you'll always be a student, no matter what? There won't ever be time that I'll perfect the Japanese language, so let's make ourselves comfortable and create a place where 学生 (students) can study and review what we all have a passion for: 日本語!