Basic Japanese: What You Need to Know!

Basic Japanese: What You Need to Know!

When learning a new language, starting out can be the hardest part. The Japanese language is no exception. It can be quite difficult to take that first step. But don’t worry, basic Japanese isn’t that hard to conquer! There is so much information on the net, it can be overwhelming. We’re here to break it down for you. There are only 3 parts that you need to know about basic Japanese: learning basic phrases, learning the Japanese alphabet, and learning basic Japanese grammar!

Keep on reading for a comprehensive guide on how to jump into learning basic Japanese!

Learn Basic Phrases

The first step you have to do is to learn the basic phrases. Even those who aren’t learning Japanese know the basic “konnichiwa” (こんにちは) and “sayonara” (さようなら). But there are tons of other basic phrases that are used on a daily basis.

To get you started, we’ve listed out a few of the ones that are daily usages in Japan. 

Onegaishimasu (お願いします)

This Japanese phrase is one of the most useful one. In our podcast series, Season 1 Episode 1, we introduced this phrase as one of the most essential Japanese phrases to know. It’s so flexible and can be used in any situation.

“Onegaishimasu” can be translated to “please” and it’s used when making a request. For example, if you’re at a konbini (コンビニ) and the cashier asks if you would like a plastic bag, you can respond with “hai, onegaishimasu” (はい、お願いします). This means “yes, please”.

Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます)

This next phrase is one you definitely will use every day. “Arigatou gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます) translates to “thank you very much”. Just like in English, it’s such a common phrase to say to service staff when you’re out and about shopping, ordering food or paying for something. 

You can also shorten this phrase to just “arigatou” (ありがとう), which is equivalent to the English short form, “thanks”. 

There’s also another word that can be translated to “thanks”, and that’s “doumo” (どうも).

Sumimasen (すみません)

You might find yourself caught on a busy train and want to get out, or trying to get the attention of the waiter. In English, we would use the phrase “excuse me”. That’s “sumimasen” (すみません) in Japanese. You can use this just as you would in English. This is a pretty handy phrase to know, since you’ll definitely be using it during your time in Japan.

“Sumimasen” can also be used to apologise, but a better word for “sorry” is “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい).

Sou desu (そうです)

Up your Japanese language game by learning “sou desu” (そうです). This means “yes” or “that’s right”. While you can use “hai” (はい), this is a more conversational and colloquial language. While talking to people who you’re familiar with, you can drop the “desu” (です) and just say “sou” (そう).

Chigaimasu (違います)

We might find ourselves in a situation where something’s different from what you expected. You might have a waiter serving you a different dish from what you ordered. In this kind of situation, you can use the phrase “chigaimasu” (違います), which means “it’s different”. This comes from the verb word “chigau” (違う), which means “to vary” or “to differ”. You can also use this phrase to talk about things that are different, like varying opinions.

Another phrase that’s similar to this is “machigatteimasu” (間違っています). This means “this is wrong”. 

Daijoubu (大丈夫)

Another phrase that we introduced in the first episode of our podcast series is “daijoubu” (大丈夫). This phrase is quite versatile and can be used in a lot of various situations. One is to say no by saying “it’s okay”. If you don’t want a plastic bag when you’re at the supermarket, you can use “daijoubu”.

This phrase can also mean “I’m okay”, as a response of “are you okay?” If you want to know more in detail about this extremely versatile phrase, check our podcast episode!

~ wa doko desu ka? (〜はどこですか?)

This phrase is one we find the most useful. Especially if you’re not good with directions or not familiar with the place, you might find yourself lost. Or if you’re just looking for the toilet in a restaurant. Approach a staff member and ask “where is the toilet” by saying “toire wa doko desu ka” (トイレはどこですか?). The phrase “wa doko desu ka” translates to “where is”. Just add the place you’re looking for before the phrase!

Learn Japanese Alphabet

One of the first few steps you need to take to master basic Japanese is to learn the Japanese alphabet. While there’s romaji (ロマジ), which is writing out Japanese words in the Roman alphabet, it won’t benefit you in the long run. We highly recommend learning all three: hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字).

Hiragana has 46 syllabic written characters and they’re used to form sentences, along with kanji characters. Katakana also has 46 syllabic written characters but they are used to write out words from other languages. Kanji are Chinese characters that symbolise the meaning of things in just one character.

Many might struggle with kanji, but it’s best to at least recognise common characters like “入口” to mean entrance and “出口” to mean exit. Another important pair is “女” for women and “男” for men. This will get rid of any confusion with the toilet doors! 

Learn Basic Japanese Grammar

Last but not least, learn the basic Japanese grammar. Think about the reason why you’re learning Japanese. Do you want to be able to survive day-to-day interactions, communicate with locals or for work? But regardless of the reason, you have to start somewhere.

The most basic Japanese grammar point is the sentence structure, which is usually subject-object-verb. For example, to say “I eat ramen”, it has to switch to “I ramen eat”. In Japanese, that’s “watashi ha ramen wo tabemasu” (私はラーメンを食べます). 

The particle ha (は) indicates subject and the particle wo (を) indicates object. 

If there’s no action in your sentence, drop the verb. For example, to say “this is a book”, it’s said as “kore ha hon desu” (これは本です).

Simple, right?

Let’s Master Basic Japanese!

As you can see, basic Japanese isn’t so hard once you actually get into learning it! If you follow our three steps to starting basic Japanese, you’ll have a solid foundation to build the more advanced Japanese learning on. Get studying, and good luck! 

6 Simple Ways to Learn Kanji

6 Simple Ways to Learn Kanji

You’ve mastered hiragana (ひらがな). It took you a while to learn katana (カタカナ), but at the end, you did it. Now, for the next step in learning Japanese. There are three writing systems in the Japanese language. The third one is kanji (漢字). This writing system is made up of Chinese characters. If you’re familiar with the Chinese language, memorizing the characters won’t be hard for you at all. Because you already know them.

Not all of us are as lucky. We’ve got to learn kanji from scratch. And let me tell you, from personal experience, it’s extremely difficult. Even some of my Japanese friends find kanji hard!

But hard doesn’t mean impossible. With a couple of tips, you can learn kanji easier. In this article, we list 6 ways to help you master the kanji writing system! 

Learn the Radicals

The kanji for time (toki) is made up of radicals resembling the simpler kanji for sun (日) and temple (寺).

Radicals are a big part of how kanji characters are set up. Radicals are a piece of kanji that gets tacked onto a bigger kanji. There are a total of 214 radicals in Japanese. If you learn all of them, you’ll cover the base characters. From there, you can build up towards your kanji characters. Radicals are also handy for using kanji dictionaries, like the one on Nihongo Master.

When you combine two or more radicals together, even without knowing the big kanji character, you can basically guess what it means. However, radicals change shape when you combine them with another kanji. For example, 水 (mizu, water) changes to 氵 when you see it in the word 海 (umi, ocean).

When you start learning radicals and the ways they change, soon you’ll be able to recognise bigger kanji characters. Over time, you’ll build your kanji vocabulary, just from learning the radicals!

Learn Jouyou Kanji

Japanese Characters

There are over 50,000 kanji in the Japanese language! That’s a lot, even for a Japanese person. So, how do you know which kanji to learn and which not to?

The answer is simple: learn Jouyou kanji (常用漢字). This refers to the commonly used Chinese characters. Younger Japanese kids start off by learning this type of kanji first. If you can memorize Jouyou kanji, you’ll be able to read at least 80% of the Japanese language already!

Jouyou kanji includes simple ones like watashi (私) and ki (木). Over time, you’ll be able to break down big words like 悪循環 (pronounced as “akujunkan”). This word, which means “vicious cycle”, is made up of three kanji characters. If you break it down, you get “bad” (悪, waru/aku), “sequential” (循, jyun) and “circle” (環, wa/kan).

Repetition & Drilling 

You can’t beat the age-old technique of repetition and drilling. This is also known as the traditional way to learn kanji. It uses a lot of paper with square boxes and pen ink. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have those kanji characters locked in your brain.

Take one kanji character that you really want to learn. Then, look at how the strokes are. A lot of people say it’s important to learn the strokes in order. It’s true, because it really helps to memorise the character. Follow the strokes of the characters on paper for yourself.

Copy the stroke order until you’ve locked it in your brain for the day. Then the next day, try recalling it without referring to anything. Do it every day until you can remember it. Then, when you stop drilling that kanji character, wait a few weeks before testing yourself again. If you pass your own test, you’ve mastered that kanji character. 

Do that practice for all the kanji characters you want to learn. Learning to draw kanji will help you remember as well as make your Japanese writing more fluent looking!

Use Flash Cards

Accompany the previous method with this one: flashcards. Not everyone can learn from constantly repeating the same strokes over and over again. Some are more visual learners than others. This means that they need to see a visual reference to learn better. 

I learn better with writing things down, but I know some people prefer visual aids. The flash cards can be of the stroke orders or a picture of what the kanji character looks like. Whichever works best for you, opt for those flashcards.

They’re great for learning on-the-go, as well. Flashcards are small and can be carried around with you. They barely take up any space! Whether you’re commuting or waiting for your dish at a cafe, pop them out and learn!

Take Up Reading 

I know not everyone is a fan of reading. If you’re not, you might want to reconsider. Reading can really help you learn kanji characters. That’s because reading solidifies the kanji characters that you already know. When you are faced with the characters you’re familiar with a lot of times, it’s going to stay permanent in your head.

This method is great when you already know a lot of kanji characters. It shows you the kanji you know in action, reinforcing them, but also showing you new kanji and different usage of the ones you know. Keep a kanji dictionary handy and highlight or take note of what you don’t understand. You’ll be learning new words and kanji in no time!

On top of that, you get to read a new story and see the kanji characters you learn in context!

Build Your Vocab

Last but not least, a great way to learn kanji is by building your vocabulary. I used to do this a lot when I was starting out with learning kanji. If you learn the vocabulary word, you’ll naturally learn the kanji characters used for it.

For example, you’re definitely going to learn the word “to eat” (食べる, taberu). Another essential Japanese word is “dining room” (食堂, shokudou). You’ll realize that the kanji 食 can be pronounced as “ta” or “shoku”. You’ll learn more vocabulary and be exposed to more words that use the same kanji character. After a while, you’ll be able to guess the readings and grasp the meaning just from context.

This method is more useful the more words you learn. It definitely gets easier as well. Not only are you building your kanji character book but also your Japanese vocabulary!

Different people study differently. These 6 methods have different approaches for various types of learners. There’s definitely one that’ll be great for your way of learning. Kanji is important in the Japanese language. Try all the ways out and you’ll be a master at it!