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Learning Japanese Conversation, as Familiar as Sony

September 3, 2009

Japan is both a thrilling and exotic, yet familiar culture. When people hear “Japan” they think of a faraway country in the East, with Kimono’s, Anime, and Samurai. Although Japan has these culturally different aspects that make it seem exotic, they also have household names such as Sushi, Nintendo, Toyota, Panasonic, etc. Learning the Japanese language also at first might seem exotic. The grammar structure is actually quite different than English, and learning the characters and vocabulary for conversation also might seem like a daunting task. However once a student acquires some basic grammatical patterns the Japanese language can also become familiar, well almost as familiar as Sony!

Before explaining the basics of Japanese conversation a disclaimer will need to be added to this article. First of all it is not recommended to seriously learn Japanese without a tutor or some professional instruction, especially in the beginning. It’s like golf, you don’t want to start by learning the incorrect way to swing, as later on it will be harder to fix. Students can easily mispronounce words and learn Japanese in a way that Japanese native speakers might not even recognize! Secondly and more importantly it is recommended for every student who wants to learn Japanese to start with the alphabet Hiragana, or to learn that alphabet while acquiring Japanese conversation skills and vocabulary. Most students could be discouraged by this, asking when learning Japanese conversation why do I have to learn how to write Hiragana? The point is not to just learning to write Japanese, the point is when a student learns Hiragana, they learn the basic sounds of the language (a, I, u, e, o). They learn the vowels, consonants, and an alphabet that explains the language better than any basics in the beginning could do.

But without further ado let’s teach some basics for introducing yourself in Japanese, because after all speaking is the most funnest part of learning a language (that was an intentional grammatical error, FYI). When someone meets someone for the first time, they would say in formal English “How do you do?” In Japanese, someone would say “hajimemashite.” Note pronounciation will not be covered in depth in this article, but keep in mind each piece of a Japanese word is a two or three letter sound. So for Hajimemashite, it would be Ha-ji-me-ma-shi-te. Another typical translation for this word is “Nice to meet you,” however keep in mind this word is only said in the beginning of a conversation when you meet someone, the word is literally a derivative of “beginning” in Japanese.

Naturally, the next phrase to learn is “my name is…”. Here the most basic grammatical pattern in Japanese is introduced, and once learned is repeated over and over again. Unlike English, Japanese grammatical patterns have few exceptions, once learned they can be used at will. (Is Japanese feeling as familiar as Sony yet?) The pattern uses the particle は, pronounced “wa” in English, and desu (de-su) at the end of the sentence. The structure is as below:

(subject)  wa  (descriptive phrase) desu.

It literally means “It is” or “I am”, depending on what the subject of the sentence is. You still might be confused, so let’s apply this form to make it clearer:

– (Watashi) wa (Abe) desu.

Watashi (wa-ta-shi) means “I”. This literally means “I am Abe.” Let’s try another example:

– Watashi wa turkey desu.

Do you know what this means? Literally, it means “I am a turkey.” So, to add this phrase to what we’ve learned so far:

Hajimemashite.

Watashi wa Abe desu.

Watashi wa turkey desu.

(How do you do? I am Abe. I am a turkey.)

But wait. Keep in mind with the Japanese language, as well as culturally in a lot of instances, everything must have both an opening and a closing. The opening is “Hajimemashite,” and the closing, which I’ll introduce to you now is: Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu (Yo-ro-shi-ku O-ne-gai-shi-ma-su).  It literally means “It’s nice to meet you.” Combing it looks like the below:

Hajimemashite

Watashi wa Abe desu

Watashi wa turkey desu

Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu

(How do you do. I am Abe. I am a turkey. It’s nice to meet you.)

I know you still might be confused, but just keep in mind: when learning language you must open your mind. A lot of students after reading this article might think, “But wait, what does Hajimemashite mean? What does this Yoroshiku mean, and why was there no real thorough explaination of the origin of these words grammatically?” The answer is simple, they’re colloquial, and they are phrases that have evolved to mean exactly what has been translated here. Beginners of Japanese introduce themselves like this,  native-speakers who have been speaking Japanese all their life also might introduce themselves like this. To learn Japanese, students need to learn the structure, and repeat it over and over. You’ll kill yourself questioning every little detail, just learn the situation, repeat it and repeat it, and start practicing with your Japanese friends!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 1:49 am

    Dude, GREAT blog. This whole site that you have set up is top-notch. Well done. I stumbled across it as I was looking for an article like yours so that i can get some help to learn Japanese.

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