Japanese is Possible!
Information you will need
- Using the Internet
- Plain vs. Polite
- Japanese Music
The vowel sounds in Japanese are as follows:
A as in "father"
E as in "seven eleven"
I as in "Easter treat"
O as in "open, Pope"
U as in "fruity moogle"
You'll notice that the vowels are pronounced
the similarly to Spanish, Italian, and Latin (and several other
Pronunciation of these vowels is very
consistant. There are no silent vowels (although sometimes the
Japanese choose not to voice a vowel). Each vowel sound
is pronounced distinctly.
For example, the word
would be pronounced "KAH eh roo". In English, you might want to
pronounce it "KAY roo" or "KAY ruh".
The vowels 'i' and 'u' are weak vowels. That means
that many times they are not pronounced. The most
important example is:
desu (the u is silent - pronounced DESS)
However, don't just go around dropping u's
and i's. People will have no idea what you're saying.
Consonant sounds are generally pronounced the same
way as in English, but there are a few differences:
Prounounced like a combination of 'L' and 'D', with a bit of 'R'
mixed in. It's pretty close to how the R is pronounced in Spanish.
(It isn't "trilled", however) In Spanish, an R sounds a lot like a
'D'. Consider this: Say "lu." Notice how you drag the tip of your tongue along the roof of your
mouth. To say a Japanese
R, just briefly touch the tip to that spot at the
moment you say the consonant, and use a little
more "punch" in your voice.
You can pronounce it like an F, but often it sounds more like an
There is no accent in Japanese, meaning there is no
emphasis on a particular part of a word. English and
Spanish have accents, Japanese does not.
Japanese does have pitch inflections, and
this is their substitute for accents. For example, in
English, we put stress on a certain part of a word to make it sound
right and this is marked by an apostrophe-like symbol in the
dictionary. In Japanese, they do not put stress on their
words but raise the pitch of their voices instead. In Chinese,
there are patterns to move between five different pitches
to distinguish a word's meaning. In Japanese, there are only
two pitches, but the only real way to grasp where to raise the
pitch of your voice is from
listening to Japanese speech and repeating it.
For practice in this area:
- Listen to Japanese music
- Watch subtitled (or Japanese language)
Listening to Japanese music is enjoyable, and helps you
out tremendously in many areas. You can download MP3s
from many websites, and purchase import CD's from many
other websites. If you don't know what's good, try
downloading MP3's of different songs. When you find
out what artists you like, support them by purchasing
Some songs I would recommend to anyone are the
Xenogears Creid songs. Inspired by the famous Xenogears
game for Playstation, these songs are eclectic and
beautiful! The lyrics are easy to understand in many of
the songs, and the songs are very unique. Some of the
songs don't even have lyrics, but they're still wonderful!
For links to great Japanese and Anime related
MP3 sites, scroll to the end of this column.
Grammar Terms - part 1
You'll need to know a few basics about grammar to
be able to make sentences. I'll go over the basics,
to be fair to those of you that slept through English
The person or thing that performs the action of the sentence's verb.
The man jumped through the frog.
"man" would be the subject of the sentence, since
he is the one who jumped.
A word used to describe a person, place, or thing
The man jumped through the holographic frog.
"holographic" is an adjective,
since it DESCRIBES the frog. Since frog is a noun,
any word describing the frog would be an adjective.
A word used to modify a verb
The man quickly jumped through the frog.
"quickly" is the adverb, since it describes how
he jumped. Jump is the verb, so any word describing
how he jumped would be an adverb.
entity on which the verb is performed
The woman ate the apple.
Now figuring out the direct object is straighforward -
simply ask the question, "She ate WHAT?"
The question would be answered, "the apple".
So "apple" would be the direct object.
For practice in this area:
- Purchase a good Japanese grammar book
- Find websites that cover grammar
- Review an English grammar textbook
Plain vs. Polite form
Unlike English, Japanese has distinct levels
of formality in speech and writing, four main ones to be precise. One
speaks differently among friends than to one's boss. In America,
that difference would mainly be reflected in tone
of voice, and use of slang words, contractions and so on.
In Japanese however, there are actually different words
and verb endings for this purpose.
If you've watched Anime, you may have noticed that
royalty (princesses, kings) speak differently than
most other characters. There are hundreds of examples,
including "Ayeka" from Tenchi Muyo.
In most Japanese language courses, the polite form is
taught first. The instructors reason that you can use
the polite form anywhere (including with friends). The
plain form is only acceptable with friends and close
However, the plain form is by far more
common in songs, books, manga, anime and on television. Since
this website is somewhat focused around anime, and for other good
reasons, we will
begin by teaching the plain form. Here are a number of
- Anime and video games tend to use the
plain form, and that is where most people will use their Japanese
skills unless they go to Japan. Even if you make Japanese
friends in America, they will speak to you with the plain form and
will definitely not feel insulted if you do the same. I
personally have had conversations with Japanese teenagers, and
they have told me that I sound funny because I speak so politely (I learned Japanese starting with the polite
form and I consider myself a polite person anyway, so
that's why I use it.)
- Once you've learned a lot of Japanese, and are making
progress, it's no problem to learn the polite form later.
- For motivation, you need to hear what you're learning.
It makes it more "real" - it makes you realize you can
actually understand some Anime if you learn this word or
It's a big source of motivation to hear an Anime character
say a phrase you're trying to learn. If you focus on the
polite form, you won't hear it used much. It's been my
experience that I learn "popular Anime" words about 10 X
faster than other more obscure words. Besides, to remember
a word 4 months later you have to use it (or hear it used).
- Japanese people cut Americans some slack when it comes
to speaking Japanese. When a Japanese speaking American
is encountered, the last thing on their mind is "What
form is he using?" They are often glad to hear that you
are learning Japanese, and you will often be complimented
if your vocabulary exceeds 10 words. Times have changed
since feudal Japan, where speaking rudely to a Samurai
would cost you your life.
- In the present tense, the plain form of
verbs is the form that is printed in dictionaries. This
means that you can just pluck a word out of the dictionary and
throw it into a sentence with no conjugation.
The independent Japanese student's best resource!
There are many webpages on the Internet devoted to the Japanese
language, and you can find help on just about every topic.
Some examples of things I have seen on webpages:
- Popular words
- Verb endings
- Java-based games and software
- Info on Kansai Ben dialect (and others)
- Making your Windows PC "Japanese
- Software to help you learn
- Software to help you learn Kanji
- Web-based Japanese-English
If you want to find resources such as these, go to any search
engine. Type a few words like "Japanese study learn" followed
by specific things you're looking for.
For example, if you're looking for software to drill you
on the hiragana alphabet, try:
Japanese study learn hiragana program
Also remember to try more than one search engine. They all
use different databases. Try one of the "comprehensive" search
engines that search all of them, such as
The Mother of All Search Engines.
Once you find a good site with a links page, follow the links
and see what's out there. You'll find some pages with even
better links pages - follow those as well. Search engines are
a good start, but there is no substitute for links pages.
Here's something you can start playing with - a free Japanese
word processor. It's very small (about 4 MB) and is very
advanced yet easy to use. It's called "NJStar Japanese Word
Processor 4.2" You can download it from NJStar's Website.
Once you download it, the next step is to download the
latest version of the EDICT Japanese-English dictionary (optional).
You can find it at various FTP sites, but it's rather hard
to find. You can download the latest dictionary files
To install it, unzip it to "C:\Program
Files\NJStar Japanese WP" or wherever you installed it. You also
need to go into that directory and click on 2 programs - "E2jdic"
and "J2edic". They both take about a minute to run, and you should
be all set. You will now have MANY more words in your E-J and J-E
dictionaries than you had two minutes earlier.
Another good word processor (the one I use), is JWPCE,
available at this link:
To the JIP forum participants - "Thank you!"
I would like to thank those of you that have contributed
to the "Japanese is POSSIBLE" forum. Teaching a broad
subject such as Japanese is a major undertaking, and
any help is greatly appreciated. The Internet is the #1
source of information for someone learning Japanese on their own.
The URLs posted so far will prove VERY helpful to any
student, regardless of their experience.
I would also like to say something to the many students
that visit the JIP forum in seach of information.
Although much of the information is helpful, some of it
may confuse and overwhelm beginners. There are many parts
to learning a language, and this column can only address
them one at a time. In the meantime, many people are offering
their assistance, posting information to the forums.
Since there is no central organization or lesson plan
among the various posters, there are bound to be some
things posted that are "too advanced" for some students.
When you see a post that you don't understand or feel
you're not ready for, don't worry. The subjects will
all be covered in detail in future "Japanese
is POSSIBLE" columns. They will be explained so that
everyone can understand them.
To those who post in the forums, please understand that
the posts ARE appreciated. Since there are JIP readers
far beyond the beginner stage, there needs to be
information for them as well. Also, the posts help me
to design the course.
I have one link right now. Hopefully, I'll add more later:
Next week - Your first step into real Japanese grammar.
We'll have sentence structure, particles, and a whole lot more. You don't want
to miss it.