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Japan is an important country, both in terms of trade and culture. The Japanese language is considered to be especially difficult for westerners to learn, but the rumors are somewhat exaggerated.


True, the language does have a different syntax from most western tongues. But most students come to terms with it quite quickly.


In addition to the large native population (over 120 million), there are quite a few Nipponese speakers around the world. There are strong communities in South Korea, Brazil (there are over a million speakers there), Hawaii, Australia, and Canada, to name a few.


For English speakers, it comes as quite a relief to learn that Japanese does not use genders for nouns, unlike most romance languages. Also, there is no differentiation between plurals and singular forms – the benefit here is that there are fewer words to memorize!


Written Japanese

The same cannot be said for written Japanese – there are 4 different forms of writing in use:

  1. Hiragana – this is a syllabic form, and it’s widely used in Children’s literature
  2. Katakana – this form is mostly used for foreign words
  3. Kanji – this form is based on the Chinese system, and there are 2000 characters to memorize
  4. Romanji – this form is based on the roman alphabet. It’s a recent addition and employs simplified letters


As you can imagine, learning 4 different written forms for each word is quite challenging. Most teachers recommend that students focus on the spoken language first, and then learn the written forms when they are comfortable speaking the language.


If you intend to live in Japan, written skills are essential. Otherwise, you’ll be lost trying to decipher street signs, menus and newspapers.


About 10% of all web users speak Japanese, so there are plenty of online resources to improve your skills as you progress. The Japanese language is challenging, but there are many rewards for persevering, including improved career prospects in international trade and diplomacy.

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