My first experiences with Japanese

The first foreign language I learned in school was Japanese. I started learning it in primary school when I was in Grade 2 (around 7-8 years old). Japanese interns would come to my school and run Japanese classes where they would sing songs while teaching us basic Japanese greetings. Although I did learn Japanese again in Grade 3, it wasn’t until Grade 4 when I really did become interested in Japanese. I have learnt so much in Grade 4 including how to write in Hiragana, folk tales such as Momotaro, festivals like Tanabata and how to eat sushi. We even had one-day incursion dedicated to learning about Japanese culture including karaoke, kendo and sumo. One of the reasons why I enjoyed those classes was because they made it fun. However, they did not teach sentences in Japanese, obviously because it wouldn’t be fun. After Grade 4, I stopped learning Japanese.

After a period of no Japanese, I decided to learn the language after completing high school. I thought because I was studying games design, knowing Japanese would give me an advantage in the games industry based in Japan.

Japanese is probably one of the first languages I’ve taught myself. This is also the first time I realised that not every language follow the same sentence structure as English. The Japanese language uses the Subject-Object-Verb structure much like Turkish.

English  Kenichi (S) eats (V) bread (O).
Japanese  Kenichi-san (S) wa pan (O) o tabemasu (V).
English  I (S) went (V) to school (O).
Japanese  Watashi (S) wa gakkou (O) ni ikimashita (V).

Another observation I found in Japanese was that counting objects can be complicated than English. There are separate words used for counting objects based on shape, types, time and groups.

English Japanese
age in years sai
animals (except birds) hiku/biku
days nichi
flat objects mai
long objects hon/pon
people nin
round or boxy ko
years nen

For example:

Japanese English
ju go sai 15 years old
ni mai 2 cards, 2 pieces of paper
san nin 3 people
ni hon 2 pencils, 2 sticks, etc

A similar counting system can also be found in Bahasa Melayu.

Another feature I learned about Japanese is that there are verbs conjugations based on formality. In other words, verbs have a conjugation for either talking to your parents, your boss or to the emperor and another conjugation for talking to your friends or kids. Usually in English, for formality, one just says the sentence and just add “Sir” or “Madam”. But in Japanese:

English Kenichi (S) eats (V) bread (O).
Japanese (formal) Kenichi-san (S) wa pan (O) o tabemasu (V).
Japanese (informal) Kenichi-san (S) wa pan (O) o taberu (V).
English  I (S) went (V) to school (O).
Japanese (formal)  Watashi (S) wa gakkou (O) ni ikimashita (V).
Japanese (formal) Watashi (S) wa gakkou (O) ni itta (V).

See the difference?

As mentioned earlier, I can read Hiragana. I know some Katakana but I’m very poor at Kanji.

These were some of the stuff I never learned when I was in primary school. For good reason, because these seem pretty complicated for ten-year olds and it wouldn’t be fun learning them. But looking at this again, the sentence structures seems simple and straight forward. Probably, the more challenging part of Japanese is the reading and writing.


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