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Interesting facts about the Japanese language

Japanese is the official language of Japan, which has a population of over 125m. There are also around 2.5m people of Japanese origin, many of whom speak Japanese as their first language, living in Brazil and the rest of the Americas, particularly the United States. One also finds a sizeable expatriate presence in major cities such as London, New York and Paris.

In Japanese just like English, words have no gender. Japanese doesn't use articles as prolifically as English does and there's no way of showing whether a word is singular or plural. E.g. the word  友達 [tomodachi] can mean a friend, the friend, friends and so on. Sounds confusing, but once you get the hang of it, this actually makes things a lot simpler.

The most obvious challenge is probably learning the characters, but unfortunately, there's no getting around them! However, if you want to stick to spoken Japanese and just learn the Romanised script, then it can be a lot easier than learning many other languages. There are no pronunciations or tones to remember and each syllable is given equal emphasis.

Getting used to Japanese grammar can be a bit tricky because of the word order, which is Subject Object Verb. Great if you're used to other languages, such as German or Turkish which have similar word orders, but possibly a little confusing for English speakers unfamiliar with it. So, the verb is placed at the end, meaning a simple sentence like "I watch television" would be "I television watch".

A knowledge of Japanese will help immensely if you intend to learn Korean as the two languages are grammatically very similar. Chinese is very different in this respect although learning the Japanese characters would prepare you for the bigger task of learning the Chinese ones.

Along with the language skills, a softening of the voice, a discreet awareness of the other person's personal space and undemonstrative body language go a long way when it comes to courtesy and showing respect in Japan!​


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