Japanese|June 21, 2011 6:47 am

Learning Japanese: 3 Important Differences Between English and Japanese

Want to learn Japanese? Great! It’s a cool language. It looks cool. It sounds cool, and, of course, Japanese culture is very interesting, from their movies to their Manga, to their social customs. Japanese can be a difficult language to master, though.

One way to make it easier is to compare it directly to the English language. This post is going to discuss three core differences the languages have. Understand them and you will learn Japanese quickly and easily.

By the way, if your looking for Japanese language learning software, check out my new Rocket Japanese Review.

Word Order

In English, we order our sentences in the following way:

Subject + Verb + Object.

For example, look at the simple sentence, “I love you.” In this sentence, the verb is “love.” “I” is the one doing the loving, so it is the subject. And, of course, the one being loved is “you,” so it is the object.

Therefore, we write the sentence. I (subject) love (verb) you (object). In Japanese things are bit different. In Japanese sentences, word order is done like this:

Subject + Object + Verb

Watashi wa (Subject [I]) anatao (object [you]) aishiteru (Verb [love]). Understanding this one fundamental difference between English and Japanese will greatly increase the speed at which you learn—remember it.

Subject and Object Markers

Another major difference between English and Japanese are grammatical components called subject and object markers. Japanese has them. English does not. These markers can be quite complex. Here, though, I will just give you the basics. The markers, in Romanized form, are “Wa” and “Wo.”

These markers do just what you think; they mark the subjects and objects of sentences. Let’s look at the example sentence, “I ate Japanese food.”

English word order: I ate Japanese food.

Japanese word order: I Japanese food ate.

Japanese word order with markers: I wa Japanese food wo ate.

As you get deeper into the Japanese language, you’ll learn more about how these markers can be used to change the emphasis of a sentence. For now, though, just be aware that they are there, and remember to use them when speaking.

Formality

In English, we more or less speak the same way to everyone. For example, you would say “Good morning,” to your boss, your spouse, your friends, and to a complete stranger. In Japanese, things are quite different. You must speak to different people using different levels of formality.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss the following Japanese morning greeting:

ohayo” (informal) or,

ohayo gozaimasu” (formal)

If you see your spouse in the morning, you would say, “ohayo.” When you get to work and see your boss, on the other hand, you would say, “ohayo gozaimasu.”

To most colleagues, you would use the more formal, “ohayo gozaimasu,” but to the ones you have developed close relationships with, you can drop the formality, saying, “ohayo.” When speaking to strangers, always use the more formal version.

Using the correct formality is very important when speaking Japanese, as speaking informally to strangers, superiors, or those older than you is quite rude. To get a better understanding, imagine that you have a teenage daughter who brings a teenage boy home for dinner. This boy comes into your home, approaches your father and says, “Hey gramps, what’s up.” You would consider this boy to have poor manners, right?

Summary

Japanese is an interesting but difficult language to learn. We can make it far less difficult, however, by comparing it directly to the English language. Remember the difference in word order,  the use of subject and object markers in Japanese, and the various formality differences between the two languages and you will have great success learning the Japanese language.

Best of luck with this and all of your language learning endeavors.

Ryan Wiley

Founder

The live in Asia Blog

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