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Complete Japanese: Teach Yourself

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Everyone says Japanese is a difficult language to learn, so it must be, musn't it? Let me reassure you. There are aspects of the Japanese language that are surprisingly straightforward:

  • There is no masculine and feminine in Japanese and most words don't have a plural.

  • Verb endings remain the same regardless of who does the action: kaimasu can mean I buy, he buys or we buy .

  • There are only two main tenses – the past and the present/future: kaimasu covers buy and will buy , kaimashita means bought .

  • Pronunciation is relatively easy and very regular.

So you aren't going to be grappling with a lot of complex grammar rules when you start learning Japanese. Of course, much of the vocabulary is new, but even in this aspect there is a pleasant surprise – the Japanese language has always been a great ‘word borrower’ and it is rich with loanwords from English, for example, aisukuriimu (ice cream), kompyūtā (computer).

Even if you have never studied Japanese before, because of the huge economic and cultural influence that Japan has had worldwide you will almost certainly already be familiar with many Japanese words and terms such as: karaoke , origami , sumō , sushi and manga .

There are more challenging aspects to learning Japanese, but this is the case when you learn any language, and it is often these challenges that give the greatest satisfaction. And you certainly won't be alone in your quest to master Japanese – about 3 million people worldwide are currently learning Japanese.

Complete Japanese aims to help you to interact with Japanese people through a range of everyday situations. It is an in-depth self-study course that will take you from beginner's to intermediate-level Japanese via a logical step-by-step approach. By the end of the course you will feel confident enough to speak, read and understand Japanese in a wide range of practical situations.

Insights

  • You will be asked at different stages throughout the book to listen to words, dialogues and sentences. If you don't have the recording, take the instruction listen to mean read. You don't have to have the recording but it really will help your progress and, in particular, your pronunciation of Japanese. In the early units, certain letters are bracketed to show that they are not pronounced or at most very slightly (see pronunciation guide).
  • Try saying these phrases out loud. Say the sounds smoothly: do-u-zo yo-ro-sh(i)-ku; yo-ro-sh(i)-ku o-ne-ga-i-shi-mas(u); a-ri-ga-to-u go-za-i-mas(u).
  • Listening is an activity you can often carry out while driving, cleaning the house, relaxing in the garden and so on. However, it will depend on the purpose of the activity whether you can simply listen while doing other things or whether you need to sit with the book and focus. So whereas you can drive along in your car and repeat sentences out loud (you might get some funny looks from other drivers but you're not going to worry about that!), it is both dangerous and illegal to try to refer to the book while driving and will certainly require some good multitasking skills to do so while manoeuvring the vacuum cleaner! In other words, adapt the listening task to the situation – it's a great use of time to listen to the recording on the way to work but do some preparation beforehand so that you are familiar with the vocabulary already before you set off on your journey. Or simply listen to the recording and check the book later.
  • Remember, grammar is basically the skeleton of language – it forms its frame and structure – and once you have a grasp of this you can ‘flesh it out’ with the words and sentences you want to say.
  • Not all country names in Japanese are derived from their native language; some have a Japanese name. These include: Kankoku (Korea), Chūgoku (China) and, of course, Nihon (Japan). Some countries have an additional Japanese name as well as their native-tongue-derived name. These include: Beikoku (America), Eikoku (England). England is most commonly referred to as Igirisu .
  • All titles are attached after the name and it is important to use these titles when talking to other people whether you address someone by their first or their surname. If in doubt, it is safest to use the surname and san .
  • You may have noticed that Japanese people say their surname before their first name (or you may not have if you are not yet familiar with Japanese names!). When you say your own name it is best to keep to the western order: first name then surname because most Japanese people are familiar with this, but be aware that Japanese people always give their surname before their first name.
  • This matching of Japanese numbers to English words is only approximate and may lead to mispronunciation so, if you have the recording, listen carefully to the correct pronunciation or ask a Japanese friend to say the numbers and record them yourself.
  • Additional words will sometimes appear in the main dialogues of each unit but they are not key to understanding the overall meaning. When you listen to or read a language you do not have to understand every word – the true skill is to pick out the key information.
  • Meishi Business cards Meishi are very important in Japan and all working adults carry them. Their purpose is not simply to provide name, workplace and other contact details – more importantly, they indicate a person's status and therefore with what level of respect they should be addressed. Always treat a meishi with respect – look at it with interest and then put it carefully away in your wallet or purse. Don't write on it, bend it or treat it casually – this may cause offence.
  • I'd also like to add to the list that learning to read Japanese can be fun and can give you a real sense of satisfaction and progress as well as challenging and stretching that grey matter! I hope I have convinced you to have a try. You can now choose either to move on to learning how to read Japanese or put this off (for now) and move on to Unit 2 – the choice is yours but don't forget to do the End-of-unit challenge.
  • People often assume that Chinese and Japanese are similar. In fact, the Chinese language is very different from Japanese in structure and is not in the same family of languages. Therefore, the writing system which came from China had to be adapted to fit the structure and rules of the Japanese language.
  • Although 1945 kanji sound like a lot to learn, it is worth making a comparison with English because, although we learn the alphabet relatively quickly, it takes much longer to learn our complex spelling and pronunciation rules and we spend many years learning and acquiring vocabulary and understanding different types of text. If you compare English vocabulary to French, for example, you will discover that in a standard dictionary there are over 171,000 English words compared to only about 43,000 French words. Whoever said English was easy?!
  • Shodō (Way of writing or calligraphy) Shodō was introduced to Japan with kanji and many styles have developed since. As in China, it is considered to be one of the fine arts in Japan and the mark of a cultured person. Shodō is written using kanji and/or kana and the main implements are the futofude (thick brush) used for the main part of the text and hosofude (thin brush) for the signature or fine writing. Sumi (Chinese ink) is made from wood or oil soot mixed with fishbone or hide glue. Styles of calligraphy In some styles of calligraphy, such as kaisho , the characters are easily recognizable but in others, such as sōsho (‘grass writing’), the characters are often abbreviated or linked to each other in a rounded and flowing style. A post-war avant garde development has produced styles that are totally abstract and bring calligraphy close to the principles of modern art.
  • The Buddhist priest, Kukai (774–835) is credited with the invention of the kana syllabary. Both hiragana and katakana represent the same set of 46 basic sounds (plus other combination and modified sounds) but the symbols are written differently. This is not an alien idea to English speakers for there are essentially two alphabets, capital and lower case, which both represent the same letters but in Japanese, the two kana scripts exist for different purposes.
  • The Heian Court women used the kana writing system to express themselves through poetry, prose and diaries and so it is that the heights of creativity in Heian literature were achieved mainly through women writers using hiragana, which was given the name onnade meaning ‘women's hands’. Two famous female authors from this time are Murasaki Shikibu who wrote the world's first novel, Tale of the Genji, and Sei Shonagon ( The Pillow Book )
  • Japanese is traditionally written downwards ( tategaki ) and you begin reading from the top right of a page. This means that books are opened from what we would consider to be the back. Nowadays, however, books, newspapers and magazines are often written western style, in horizontal lines ( yokogaki ) from left to right and, in these cases, the book is opened from our (western) understanding of the front.
  • Have you noticed that the order is different from English – in Japanese, the verb always comes at the end of the sentence – rice eat .
  • You may have noticed that there is a word common to the three meal words – asagohan , hirugohan , bangohan – this word is gohan . Gohan means rice and rice is the fundamental component of all traditional Japanese meals, including breakfast.
  • Pronunciation tip : The sound tsu is a single syllable (beat) and the u is very soft. Your tongue should touch the top of your mouth and the sound almost ‘whistles’ through. It is very similar to the last sound in the word ‘ca ts ’.
  • You will find these facts about Japanese grammar markers (particles) useful as you get to grips with Japanese grammar: Particles are always placed after the word they mark Most nouns in a sentence will need a particle, except nouns followed immediately by desu
  • Pronunciation tip : Make sure you say syllables with a macron (line) over them as a double ‘beat’, but say the sound smoothly not as two separate sounds: su-u-pa-a, de-pa-a-to.
  • At this stage I think you will find it useful to have a short summary of the particles you have met so far: wa marks the subject of the sentence – the doer of the action: haha wa bangohan o tabemasu – Mum eats dinner o marks the object of the sentence –the action is done to this: haha wa bangohan o tabemasu – Mum eats dinner ni means to with movement verbs: Nihon ni ikimasu – I go to Japan ni also means for : asagohan ni – for breakfast ni also means on, in, at when used with time expressions: goji ni – at 5 o'clock to means and, with : haha to bangohan o tabemasu – I eat dinner with my Mum ; haha to chichi – Mum and Dad de marks the place where an action happens: uchi de haha to bangohan o tabemasu – I eat dinner with Mum at home
  • By the way, the word shi also means ‘death’ in Japanese, which is why you will never find a room or floor numbered 4 in a hospital or hotel!
  • In this unit, you are going to commit a daily routine to memory. Remember you can listen to it, pause it or read it as many times as you need to and remember to keep persevering because you will really begin to feel that you can speak Japanese. You may find it easier to learn one or two sentences – that's fine, you can always revisit this later and learn some more.
  • Japanese breakfast There is such a range of food and dishes in Japan that it would be impossible to list them all within this book but breakfast is a good place to start! Traditional Japanese breakfast consists of three staple items: miso (bean paste) soup, pickles and grilled fish. Other components of a Japanese breakfast may be a raw egg to whisk into the hot rice, nori (wafers of dry seaweed) to eat with rice, natto (fermented bean curd – an acquired taste!) to mix with rice and greens such as spinach or mountain roots. Green tea is normally served with a Japanese breakfast. This meal involves a fair amount of preparation and the busy lifestyles of Japanese people nowadays may mean they choose to eat a simpler western-style breakfast instead. This is often something like toast, coffee, some kind of simple salad and maybe a fried egg.
  • Hiragana is the phonetic script that Japanese children learn first. They then gradually learn kanji and, as they do so, replace hiragana words or parts of words with these kanji. In a similar way, you will first develop your skills in reading hiragana before adding some useful everyday kanji.
  • Try to invent your own mnemonics by looking at the symbols and thinking of pictures to link them with their sounds. Note your ideas down in a notebook and try to fix them into your head – it will make the learning-to-read process go much more smoothly. Here are a few more ideas (although you may prefer to find your own): く ( ku ) for cu ckoo's beak こ ( ko ) for c oin し ( shi ) she has long hair す ( su ) for s uperman そ ( so ) a string of sa usages
  • Here are some tips to help you de-code the key sentences: Ka at the end shows you it is a question Remember the verb is always at the end of the sentence Wa marks the subject of the sentence and can sometimes be translated as ‘as for’ ( shinbun wa – as for the newspaper) Masen is the negative ending – is not
  • The pictures show some of the typical Japanese souvenirs that you can buy relatively inexpensively in Japan or in Japanese shops around the world. Wooden kokeshi dolls (bottom left picture) are made in many styles and shapes and are often decorated with symbols, pictures and stories from the regions where they are made. The more expensive ones are usually handmade, with the artist's signature on them, and you can visit individual artists’ studios to see the very best that money can buy!
  • The counters marked * are not really used in this book, but they are useful to know. Don't worry about remembering all the counters – I will remind you of the word or refer you back to this chart each time you need to use them.
  • The best way to get the hang of these number counters is to practise them but there is a lot to remember so, of course, you will make mistakes but you will still be able to be understood in most cases. To help you in the initial stages, the words that change will be underlined to warn you.
  • The reason that there are two systems for counting in Japanese is because there is both the imported Chinese system ( ichi, ni, san, shi …) and the native Japanese system ( hito, futa, mi, yo …). These have become intermingled and completely adapted into the Japanese language.
  • Here are some points to remember when using arimasu and imasu : In general, as with all Japanese sentences, context will tell you whether something is singular or plural Note the difference in meaning of desu and arimasu/imasu (see preceding examples) Remember that arimasu is for non-living things (inanimate) and imasu is for living things (people and animals). Trees and plants are considered to be inanimate objects
  • The Japanese currency is the yen. To give you an idea of value at 2010 prices, a cup of coffee costs between 200 and 400 yen, a meal out at a moderately priced restaurant would cost between 1000 and 2000 yen a head, a night's accommodation in a ‘no-frills’ hotel would be about 5000–8000 yen per room and a medium glass of beer in a bar would be between 500 and 800 yen. Check on the internet for up-to-date exchange rates.
  • Here is a tip for converting large money amounts into: If you count four decimal points from the right end of the number, then everything to the left of that is counted in man : 4 | 5163 to left of line remains 4 so yonman (40,000) 65 | 7800 to left of line remains 65 so rokujū goman (650,000)
  • To build up your understanding of the recording, please follow these steps: Listen to the whole recording (all four dialogues) through once without writing anything down. Aim: to get an overall sense of the dialogues Listen to the whole recording again and this time listen out for any words or phrases you recognize. Only jot them down if you have time and/or keep a tally Listen to the whole recording again and focus on specific information related to the questions. For example you could decide to just listen out for items, or numbers or prices (or a combination) Now listen to one dialogue at a time and try to answer the questions. You will probably need to do this several times
  • Set yourself the task of reading bigger numbers in Japanese – any numbers will do such as your pin number, numbers and prices on receipts, the year you or family members were born in – the aim is to get your brain tackling and revisiting Japanese numbers.
  • The particle wa after a noun flags up the subject of the sentence. You can sometimes translate this particle to mean ‘as for’ – eigakan wa (as for the cinema). So the sentence Eigakan wa doko ni arimasu ka means As for the cinema, where is it?
  • Don't underestimate the power of repeating out loud. Saying words in your head just does not have the same effect. Saying words out loud helps you to focus on pronouncing them correctly and helps you to remember them better too. It also helps to build your confidence. Try saying the words in high, low, quiet and loud voices to make the activity more interesting.
  • Translation tips: Remember that Japanese sentences are often ‘backwards’ to English ones, so once you have found the subject marked by wa (if there is one) start from the end of the sentence and work back Divide sentence 3 into two sections, the first section ends with to – translate this first Remember also that a preposition (in front of, next to …) is said after the place it is attached to ( hoteru no tonari means next to the hotel) There is more on this in Explanation 4.1
  • In English, you say first the location word ( in front, behind etc.) then the point/place, whereas in Japanese you do the reverse: point/place of location then location word.
  • Did you wonder about when you use naka ( inside )? You could say either of the following to describe where someone (or something) is: Rie-san wa gekijō no naka ni imasu Rie is in the theatre Rie-san wa gekijō ni imasu Rie is at the theatre Using naka makes the location more specific: she is inside . It is not always necessary to make this clear and then you don't need to use naka : Rie-san wa uchi ni imasu Rie is at home/in the house
  • Points to notice: The sentence order and use of particle o remains the same – object o verb The commands end in kudasai ( please ) unlike English commands when we just say ‘go’, ‘turn’, ‘cross’. So in the English examples that follow ‘please’ isn't always used where kudasai would normally be used in Japanese You use particle ni after the direction words migi , hidari – ‘turn to the left/right’ You use particle no after saying ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘next’
  • This way of refusing gives an insight into the Japanese psyche because you don't openly turn someone down – you imply that you don't want to or can't make it by trailing off at the end of the sentence.
  • Practise saying the days of the week a few times then cover up the Japanese and see how many you can remember. Make small flashcards out of paper or card, write the English on one side and the Japanese on the other and test yourself until you can remember them all. Of course, you can always look back to the table or the glossary to remind yourself if you need to.
  • The word budō covers all the many types of martial art practised in Japan, some of the more well-known being jūdō , kendō (fencing with bamboo swords), kyūdō (archery) and karate. The word dō by itself means path or way and it is a Buddhist term attached to arts that help you to achieve a meditative and harmonious state of mind. Other examples are sadō ( way of tea or tea ceremony ) and aikidō (a martial art with spiritual emphasis).
  • When telling the time all multiples of 5 end in fun , all multiples of 10 end in pun .
  • The wo/o symbol を is only used as a particle and not as a part of a word. You use お ( o ) in words. を is used to mark the object of a sentence: osake o nomimasu ( I drink rice wine ). You will learn more about this in Units 5 and 6. It is sometimes represented by the letters ‘wo’ to distinguish it from the other ‘o’ sound.
  • Reading tip : You may find it helps you when reading rows of words or sentences if you place a rule or piece of card under the row you are reading so that you are not distracted by the rows below. You'll find it easier to keep your place too.
  • Pronunciation tip : When you have a shi sound before the kute, this reduces down to a ‘ sh ’ sound – the ‘ i ’ becomes unvoiced.
  • Make sure you lengthen the first sound when you say ōkii (big). Each sound of the word has one ‘beat’ and your voice smoothly moves from one to the next: o-o-ki-i
  • Translation tip s: Remember that you link two adjectives together by dropping the final i and replacing it with kute to omoimasu at the end of a sentence means I think that . So, when you are translating into English, this is your starting point – I think that … – then find the subject (marked with wa ) and the verb or a version of desu ( is – dewa arimasen, ja nai … ), and then the rest should fall into place
  • Hazukashigari is linked to hazukashii and they carry overlapping meanings of shy , embarrassed and ashamed . However, when you are making observations about someone else's shyness you use hazukashigari ( seems shy ).
  • How do you know whether an adjective is i or na ? It's not always obvious but the following points will help you: The majority of adjectives are i adjectives All i adjectives end in i (and this is always written in hiragana) Some na adjectives end in i but if this is preceded by an ‘ e ’ sound then it must be a na adjective (e.g. ki re i, yū me i) Adjectives that don't end in i can't be i adjectives! (e.g. majime, jōzu) Some dictionaries (e.g. learner dictionaries) list when an adjective is na If the word is only made up of kanji with no hiragana i at the end, it must be a na adjective – you can see this in all dictionaries that include kanji
  • Remember I said that wa can sometimes be thought of as meaning as for ? It fits well in this scenario where you have two nouns and an adjective: Roger-san wa bōringu ga jōzu desu As for Roger, his bowling is skilful Haha wa atama ga itai desu As for my mother, her head hurts
  • Points to note when describing physical attributes: In Japanese, you talk about people's heights as high/tall or low/short rather than big or small mijikai ( short ) refers to length not height Noses are not big in Japanese but high ( takai ); also wide ( ōkii ) Very dark eyes are referred to as black ( kuroi ) rather than brown ( chairo ) Average length hair is shoulder length ( kata gurai )
  • Did you notice that you only use desu once, at the end of the sentence?
  • With i adjectives (this includes tai desu – I want to ), you simply replace desu with to omoimasu : hiroi desu → hiroi to omoimasu. With na adjectives and nouns, you replace desu with its informal form da then add to omoimasu : akarui hito desu → akarui hito da to omoimasu; kirei desu → kirei da to omoimasu .
  • Here is a recap of desu and its negative forms: am, is, are am not, is not, am not, is not, are not ᅠ are not (formal) (informal and more informal) desu dewa arimasen ja arimasen (ja nai desu) Kirei desu → Kirei dewa arimasen She's not beautiful/It's not clean Yūmeina hito desu → Yūmeina hito ja nai desu. He's not a famous person
  • The Japanese phrase for I've caught a cold might look rather daunting at first. Try breaking it down like this: hi-i-te hi-i-te shi-ma-i hi-i-te shi-ma-i ma-sh(i)-ta
  • When saying a word, try to move smoothly from one sound to the next – it shouldn't sound disjointed. Be especially careful of this when ( u ) follows a sound
  • Notice that when you change Japanese i adjectives into the past tense it is the adjective itself that changes form: tanoshi i desu, tanoshi katta desu . This is different from English when it is the verb ‘to be’ which changes: it is enjoyable, it was enjoyable .
  • Remember when you see the ending katta it is the past tense of an adjective ( it was ) and when you see kunakatta it is the past negative ( it was not ) When you see kute this is an and link between two adjectives deshita is the past tense of desu ( is, was )
  • You can use either dewa arimasen deshita or ja arimasen deshita to form the past negative. Ja is simply a more informal (‘squashed’) version of dewa. Even more informal is ja nakatta desu – you will hear this a lot in everyday Japanese speech and can use it yourself outside formal/polite situations.
  • The weather Weather is an important subject in Japan – people are more likely to make comments about the weather when they meet up than ask casually after someone's health. A useful phrase to remember for good days is: Ii tenki desu ne! It's nice weather, isn't it?
  • The Japanese seasons Japanese life and customs are traditionally closely linked to the four distinct seasons (kisetsu). These are: haru spring natsu summer aki fall/autumn fuyu winter
  • Japanese language in the workplace From the phrases in Explanation 7.9 you can see that the politeness that runs through the Japanese language is also part of work life. Women, who traditionally are often in the inferior roles such as OL (office lady – clerical, making the tea) use the most polite and humble language. However, in situations where you don't know people well (which is usually the case for foreigners working on short-term or new projects with Japanese companies) you should keep to polite Japanese phrases and language (masu/desu) so that you don't sound disrespectful regardless of whether you are male or female. As you become more familiar with the people you work with then you can begin using more informal language but be led by your peers in this. Even if a superior speaks to you very informally you should still show respect to them through your language and use polite Japanese – this is the normal order of things. However, it would seem that the Japanese language is changing in response to the new demands and expectations of an increasingly global society to such an extent that some Japanese companies are having to teach young people how to use respect and polite language in the workplace. Only one generation ago this would have been totally unthinkable.
  • As explained in Unit 6 there will not be a complete English translation but there will be English questions so that you can check your general understanding and some true/false Japanese questions as well as some for you to answer in Japanese so that you can practise structuring sentences. Write the Japanese answers down in a notebook then check against the answers in the back.
  • End of Part 1 – keep reviewing Congratulations! You have completed Part 1 of Complete Japanese and are halfway through the whole course. You can keep returning to Part 1 at any time – try and find a balance between recapping on learning and moving on to new learning. Use the recording to refresh your memory and to work towards perfect pronunciation. You can also refer to the grammar index at the back when you want to look up any particular grammar point. And keep returning to the activities in Part 1 to recap on your learning.
  • Hints for remembering : Sunday and Monday are easy – they are the same as in English (Monday was originally moon day in English too) Wednesday and water both begin with W; Thursday and tree begin with T Friday is money day – many people get paid on Fridays Saturday is earth day – you might do the gardening on this day! Tuesday in English derives from Tiw who was the Norse god of war. Connect fire day with war day and you have Tuesday!
  • Remember that a verb is an action word such as run , eat and play and is a word that you can put a pronoun in front of such as I, s/he , we , it , you and they ( I run , she eats , you play ). We shall start, in Unit 8, with a grammar process often referred to as the ‘ te ’ form.
  • Translation tip : Treat sentence 1 as a string of events – I get up, then I eat … – the function of the te form here will be covered in Explanation 8.2.
  • It will be useful for you to practise these new rules even if you find it easier simply to remember each te form as it comes along. At some stage in your learning you will probably find that the rules fall into place and that you do find them useful.
  • It is the last verb in the sequence which tells you the tense (present, past, future). The other verbs simply remain in their te form.
  • There is a more informal version of ikemasen, which is dame desu. This can sound quite direct and impolite; for example, a teacher might use it with pupils or a parent with their child.
  • Kanji radicals will be pointed out to you as they appear in new kanji. They are useful to help you home in on the general meaning of a kanji but won't give you the exact meaning.
  • There are some interesting new meanings here: population focuses on ‘mouths to feed’; in the public eye is literally that – the people's eyes.
  • Translation tip : Remember that the ending te imasu means am (do)ing and the ending te imasen means am not (do)ing .
  • The simple present in English is I do , I eat etc. In Japanese, this is shimasu , tabemasu . The simple past is I did , I ate etc. and in Japanese it is shimashita , tabemashita .
  • Using teimasu puts an emphasis on the number of times or regularity with which you do an action; in other words, it emphasizes that you are in the habit of doing it.
  • You will normally find the verbs sundeimasu ( live ), motteimasu ( have , possess ), shitteimasu ( know ), shindeimasu ( die ) in the teimasu/teimashita form (although not when used to talk about future actions). The teimashita form puts it further into the past – I lived , I died , I knew .
  • When the meaning is I have done and still am the implication is that that the action is temporary – I am still in America at the moment (but I will be returning) . If the action is permanent you use mashita : Ryōshin wa Igirisu ni kaerimashita My parents have gone back to England (and are staying there)
  • The person whom you want to do something takes particle ni as you can see in the last example ( Miki-san ni ). This is because the subject is the person who wants the action. In English ni might translate literally as for – I want for Miki to teach me Japanese .
  • The difference between hoshii and tai here is that hoshii is used for things you want whereas tai is used to talk about things you want to do .
  • About Japanese families There are some interesting cultural differences between English family terms and Japanese family terms. First of all, in English, we don't have separate terms for own family and other's family although we do have ways of showing more respect to other people. For example, we might say ‘my Mum’ but use ‘your mother’ rather than ‘your mum’ in a situation where we were being polite. However the difference is that we choose when to say, for example, ‘your mother’ or ‘your mum’ whereas the terms are used fairly rigidly in Japanese. Secondly, although in Japanese you use humble terms when talking about your family to other people, you do something different when directly addressing your family. In this situation you use respect words for older family members and informal ‘soft’ words when addressing younger family members. Look at the following chart. English addressing own family softer words (used by small children) mum okāsan mama ( okāchan – used in rural areas) dad otōsan papa ( otōchan – used in rural areas) older brother onīsan, aniki (boys use) onīchan, aniki older sister onēsan, aneki (boys use) onēchan younger brother use first name + chan (e.g. Takashi-chan) younger sister use first name + chan (e.g. Eri-chan) grandma obāsan obāchan grandad ojīsan ojīchan So you can see that the respect words used for other people's family are also used when directly addressing your own, with the use of chan to soften the words when used by small children (although children of all ages and adults in front of children tend to say obāchan and ojīchan to grandparents). A third interesting point that makes Japan different from the West is that within the family you normally only address brothers and sisters by their name if they are younger than you. Otherwise, you address them as older brother or older sister . Husbands and wives will call one another Mum and Dad in front of the children (we often do this, too but not always) and anata ( you ) in private rather than using first names. They would use first names, however, to address each other when out, for example, with friends. Of course, you are more likely to hear these words being used than to use them yourself although if you stayed long term with a Japanese family you would be treated like a family member and begin to use these words.
  • When you write month and date you must write it in that order only – first month then date. If you also include the weekday this comes third: 2月18日(月曜日)= February 18th (Monday) or Monday 18th February 5月2日(日曜日)= May 2nd (Sunday) or Sunday 2nd May
  • The Japanese calendar The kanji for year is 年. It contains the left part of bamboo (竹) and behind that a square shape, which we shall interpret as a house. In Japan, bamboo decorations are placed in front of houses at new year, hence the link with year . The most common way to write years from the western calendar is like this: 2008年 You may also see this: 二〇〇八年 However, the Japanese also have their own system of numbering the years based on the length of rule of their Emperor. This is the system of 年号 ( nengō ) – era names. The present Emperor, Akihito, began his reign in 1989 and this era is called 平成 ( Heisei ) which means ‘attainment of peace’. To work out the Heisei year from the western calendar year, begin with 1989 as year 1 and count up from there. So 2008 is Heisei 20. This is how 2008 is written using this system: 平成二十年 You can also use Arabic numbers: 平成20年
  • The last two examples show that the meaning is the same whether you say ‘to Osaka’ first or ‘by bullet train’ first. The important thing is to use the particles correctly, the order is less important but always say the verb at the end.
  • From now on there will not be a complete English translation but there will be English questions so that you can check your general understanding and Japanese questions for you to answer in Japanese so that you can practise structuring sentences. Write the Japanese answers down in a notebook then check against the answers in the back.
  • This is a good activity to do while you are driving, cleaning or jogging with ear phones.
  • At this stage in your learning you will probably feel there is a huge amount of remembering to do! By now you have learned or at least been exposed to a large number of Japanese words, phrases and structures. Unless you are lucky enough to have a photographic memory, you are not going to be able to recall everything! But you can help yourself greatly by keeping a vocabulary book . You can keep words alphabetically but remember this is already done for you in the back of the book. You might want to arrange words instead by themes such as food, travel, places, dates and numbers. You could also try keeping a list of structures by theme, too – i adjectives, na adjectives, verbs – and jot down rules as you learn them with one example. Look at this book regularly, test yourself by covering up either the Japanese or English side and see if you can remember the words.
  • Translation tips: Remember to first find the subject of the sentence (marked by wa) It often helps to translate ‘backwards’ – find the verb at the end and move back through the sentence Bōringu no shikata literally means bowling how to play – turn this backwards and you have how to play bowling
  • Remember : you take the stem of any verb (drop masu) then add tai desu. To change the tense, you first drop i then add katta (past), kunai (negative) or kunakatta (past negative). As with verbs, sometimes the particle wa is used instead of o (or ga). In particular, if you don't mention the subject of the sentence, wa sounds more natural in negative sentences.
  • Jōzu and heta are used to talk about skills and practical activities that you are good at or bad at, for example, sports, crafts, arts – ‘hands-on’ activities. If you want to talk about your strong (or weak) point or your talents (including academic or professional skills), you use tokui ( good at ) and nigate ( poor at ). The structure remains the same: person wa subject ga tokui/nigate desu .
  • Kirai is a strong word – don't use it about people. In any case, it's better to say you don't like something very much using amari ( not very ) and the negative of desu: person wa noun ga amari suki ja arimasen ( a person doesn't like something very much ). And if you really like something use totemo suki desu.
  • By the way, you cannot use nagara if you are describing the actions of two different people, only when it is the same person doing both actions.
  • Here is a summary of how to form the stem: verbs – drop masu tabemasu → tabe i adjectives – drop final i omoshiroi → omoshiro na adjectives – drop the na jōzuna → jōzu
  • You have already met the plain (dictionary) form in the opening and build-up activities. One of its uses is as an informal (casual) form of speaking. As an adult and a foreign speaker of Japanese you will mostly use polite forms ( masu and desu ) when you speak Japanese but you will hear plain forms being used and you yourself may use them with closer friends and in close relationships. It is also more appropriate to use plain forms with children. Men use plain forms much more than women, women tend to be more polite and use more respectful language.
  • How do I know if a verb is group 1 or group 2? All group 2 plain form verbs end in ru so if the plain verb doesn't end in ru (e.g. su , u , ku , bu , mu , nu , gu ) then it must be a group 1 verb Many group 2 verbs have an e ending before the masu or ru (e.g. tab e ru , neru , dekak e masu , d e masu ). Group 1 verbs never have this so e indicates a group 2 verb There are a number of verbs ending in either ru (plain form) or imasu (polite form) which could be either group 1 or group 2 (e.g. wakaru/wakarimasu (group 1) and okiru/okimasu (group 2). If you know both the plain and masu forms then you can work out which it is following this rule: If it is group 1, then ru becomes ri (and vice versa – waka ru → waka ri masu ) If it is group 2, then ru is dropped or added not changed ( okiru → okimasu ) Some dictionaries aimed at non-Japanese speakers indicate whether a verb is group 1 or group 2.
  • Did you notice that the structure is very similar to Explanation 10.3 except you use suki in place of dekimasu ? In the same way, you can replace suki with any adjective to add a description to what you do.
  • The important thing to remember is that you say the reason first ( headache ), attach kara or no de then say the result ( staying at home ). It can help to think of kara and no de as ‘therefore’ or ‘so’ rather than ‘because’ in order to get the order right: Atama ga itai kara kyō wa uchi ni imasu I have a headache therefore I'm staying at home today
  • Is there any difference between kara and no de? Generally not; they are two words meaning the same thing (like ‘because’ and ‘since’). However, if you are asking, suggesting, telling or inviting someone to do something it is more common to use kara .
  • Focus particularly on pronunciation and see if you can say the speech out loud from memory or with just a few prompts. This is a good activity to do on a long journey!
  • Be careful not to confuse 入口 ( entrance ) with 人口 ( population ).
  • From now on the dictionary form of all new verbs will also be given in the vocabulary.
  • Do you remember learning te form with kara to mean ‘after’? (Explanation 8.3). There is a slight difference in meaning although in most situations they mean pretty much the same thing. However, te kara carries the nuance of ‘from, since’ and is often used in situations where you have been doing ‘B’ since ‘A’ happened: Nihon ni kite kara, Nihongo o benkyō shiteimasu Since coming to Japan (A) I have been learning Japanese (B) Ato de , by way of contrast, is a definite ‘after one action finishes the next begins’: Nihon ni tsuita ato de haha ni tegami o kakimashita After I arrived in Japan I wrote a letter to my Mum However, in most cases you can use either so don't worry too much about this. Now can you link each of these pairs of clauses with ato de to make full sentences:
  • Yo adds even more assertion to the advice ( you know , I tell you ) but doesn't always need to be translated into English. You can ‘soften’ the advice to make it more friendly or tentative by changing desu to deshō , which has the meaning probably : Denwa shita hō ga ii deshō You'd probably better phone Kono kusuri o nonda hō ga ii deshō You probably ought to take this medicine
  • You may have noticed that sometimes the ending is dari not tari . This happens when the verb ends in da , such as nonda ( drank ) and yonda ( read ). These verbs become non dari , yon dari and so on.
  • Notice that, with verbs, you don't need no after hō ga .
  • There isn't much difference in meaning between the two examples but whereas in English we use intonation to emphasize something, in Japanese you use sentence order to achieve this with the more important or emphasized information normally coming towards the end of the sentence.
  • You can use ippai to say you are full up or you don't want any more: Sumimasen, mō ippai desu Thank you (sorry) but I'm full
  • If you want to say yesterday morning , last Saturday and so on, insert no between the two words like this: kinō no asa, senshū no doyōbi.
  • Remember to read through the vocabulary then to listen several times, giving yourself different targets each time (e.g. listen for specific vocabulary, listen for new structures, listen for general meaning, listen for information relating to the questions).
  • Kanji compounds: countries The names for countries that you have learned are borrowed words such as Amerika ( America ), Doitsu ( Germany ) and Igirisu ( England ). However, there is also a Japanese word using kanji for most countries of the world. For example: China is 中国 meaning middle country because it is in the centre of Asia. The kanji for country is 国 made up of 囗 which is a surround showing boundaries and 玉 meaning jewel or king . Therefore a king rules to the boundaries of his country . Here is a selection of country names in kanji. Generally the kanji were chosen not for their meaning but because their pronunciation is close to the sounds (syllables) of a country's name but the meaning is given, anyway. These kanji words are often used in newspaper articles: 英国 England (‘excellent’ country) 米国 America (‘rice’ country) 独国 Germany (‘independent’ country) 韓国 Korea (kanji means ‘Korea’) 豪州 Australia (‘outstanding province’) 新西蘭 New Zealand (‘new west Holland’) 仏国 France (means ‘France’ and also ‘the Buddha’) 西国 Spain (west country)
  • All verbs follow the rules you have learned apart from the two irregular verbs kuru ( kimasu ) and suru ( shimasu ): kuru → koyō , suru → shiyō .
  • The use of omotteiru means literally that another person (or you yourself) is in the process of thinking about doing something. It is used to talk about other people's intentions because it makes it sound more tentative, implying that you can't be 100% sure of another person's thoughts.
  • You can also use to suru in the continuous ( teiru ) form if you are about to do something: Asagohan o tabeyō to shiteimasu I'm about to eat breakfast
  • You will find that the negative is used a lot in Japanese to add uncertainly and therefore respect (as it sometimes is in English – wouldn't you like another cup of coffee? Shouldn't you phone your mother? ).
  • Notice in the third example that it is not always necessary or natural to include the word ‘decide’ in English although by implication a decision has been or will be made.
  • Notice that for months you do something slightly different – you add ka and don't need to use kan . You can also use nen ( years ) without kan .
  • Reading tips : Remember that borrowed words are changed to fit Japanese pronunciation so you may need to say the word a few times to work out the meaning Try shortening u and i sounds to fit the word back to its original English pronunciation Do you remember the rules for changing hiragana sounds using these marks: ゛( tenten ) and ゜( maru )? These apply in exactly the same way to katakana. (Look back to Unit 5 if you need to review this) Unique to katakana is the use of a dash ー to indicate the lengthening of the sound. For example: キ = ki; キー = kii (or kī)
  • When working out the meaning, remember that there is no sound for ‘ti’ or ‘tu’ in Japanese, chi and tsu are used instead.
  • Notice that there is a symbol for ( w ) o although this has only a grammatical function, normally written in hiragana. It used to be used for writing telegrams – telegram messages were traditionally written only in katakana – so it is rarely used nowadays.
  • Reading tips : Remember there is no distinction between ‘l’ and ‘r’ in Japanese so if an ‘l’ sound won't work, try ‘r’. For example, hotel is pronounced hoteru . You will find it really helps to change ru into ‘l’ as a general rule Also, there is no ‘th’ sound in Japanese – s sounds are used instead
  • The reason you do this is because double aa would sound awkward and be difficult to say → aanai.
  • Translation tips: The ending nai de means don't do and can also mean without doing The ending kunakatta is the past negative of adjectives ( it wasn't ) Check the vocabulary for the meanings of words and structures in bold Your translation will often move ‘backwards’ to the English order, so find your subject (if there is one) then go to the verb at the end and move backwards In sentence 9, there are two people – Katie and Ian – doing actions at the same time, so work out what each person is doing
  • Points to notice: You make the plain forms of i adjectives by dropping desu You make the plain form of na adjectives by using plain forms of desu The negative desu forms have layers of politeness, not a simple choice of two
  • You will find it safer when speaking Japanese to use either the most polite or the polite forms of the negative.
  • Points to notice: The plain verb form before aida is either teiru (present continuous) or iru ( to be ) The verb form is always plain present tense Aida means throughout the whole time whereas aida ni means at some point(s) during that time The person/subject of the aida part of the sentence takes particle ga not wa The same person can do both actions with aida in which case the particle is wa : Miki-san wa Amerika ni iru aida ni ryokō o shiteimashita During the time Miki was in America she did some travelling aida can also be used with two nouns to mean between : Tokyo to Ōsaka no aida ni between Tokyo and Osaka
  • So remember these basic rules: Nagara for the same person Aida for two different people/throughout the time Aida ni for two different people and during the time Uchi ni with the negative
  • The first two sentences could mean either if or when, it isn't always clear without context. You can use moshi to make if sentences crystal clear.