Did you know learning a second language makes you smarter? Research shows that bilingualism increases cognitive function as you age and delays the onset of dementia. In addition, you become more tolerant and improve your cultural intelligence. That’s a competitive edge for people who work with globally distributed teams.
Although it may be a herculean task to speak like a local, being bilingual, or even a polyglot, builds your brain muscles. An MRI scan has proven that some parts of language students’ brains have enlarged compared to those in a control group. So, if you want to develop more of your global and social skills, then why not learn Japanese? It’s not that tough as you think, and learning it has more pros than cons.
Pros of Learning Japanese
It Isn’t a Tonal Language
Tonal language means the word has different meanings depending on the tone used in vowel sounds. For example, in Chinese, the term “ma” can pertain to either the particle for asking a question, a mom, horse or scold — all depending on the speaker’s tone. It requires mastery and familiarity of the given tones because incorrect ones convey different meanings, resulting in misunderstanding.
But this is not the case in Japanese or Nihonggo — what a relief for you. You just have to know the rhythm and cadence in how the words blend with the accent and pitch, like high and low. For example, the term “hashi” can be a bridge, a ladder or chopsticks. But the context itself — like if you’re in a restaurant — will do the heavy work for you, as the waiter will understand that you’re asking for chopsticks and not a ladder.
It Lacks Gender Nouns and Articles Like “A” and “The”
Unlike English, you don’t have to use gender nouns and articles like “a” and “the.” The nouns don’t change and don’t refer to masculine or feminine. There are still a few exceptions, including father “chichi” and mother “haha.” But in general, locals rarely use pronouns, so you can ditch the “I,” “he” and “she” and don’t need to think of the “a’s” and “the’s” when constructing sentences.
The Japanese language emphasizes verbs and particles compared to other languages to compensate for the limited use of gender nouns and pronouns. Furthermore, particles like “wa,” “ga,” “ka” and “ni” have a more significant impact on the structure and meaning (more on this on the next point).
Its Basic Grammar is Easy to Understand and Adaptable
Japanese’s basic grammar structure is S-O-V (Subject-Object-Verb) — a stark contrast to what you’re used to, which is S-V-O, like “Sheila cooks a meal.” The correct order in Japanese would be, “Sheila meal cook.” This makes Japanese more fun and interesting to learn, as you flex your brain muscles to get used to it.
Introducing your name is also so easy because it has simple grammar structure, like “Watashi (I) wa (particle) Krisette (name) ‘desu’ (I am/to be).” You can skip the pronoun (“watashi”) and particle (“wa”) and just say, “Krisette desu.” But there’s a great catch because just by adding the particle “ka” at the end, you can turn it into a question — like “Krisette desu ka?” (“Are you Krisette?”)
Moreover, as you speak Nihonggo with locals, you may skip the subject and object and just focus on the verb because the context does the heavy lifting. So, if a friend asks you out for lunch, respond with “tabeta” or the past tense “taberu” (to eat), and he will understand that you already ate.
It Has English Loan Words and an Alphabet System for Foreign Words
Locals use loan words in daily interactions. “Internet” is pronounced as “intaannetto,” while “table” is “teeburru.” In short, they sound like the original English words but carry that Japanified pronunciation, so it’s easy to figure out the word, especially when in the right context.
These are beginner-friendly and easy to remember, and Japanese has its alphabet system called Katakana for foreign words. That said, for a native English speaker like you, you’ll be amazed at how many words you can learn even in just a few weeks.
Cons of Learning Japanese
It Has a Complex Writing System
If you want to be a master of the language, expect to learn the three scripts. Aside from Katakana, there’s Kanji and Hiragana — all these with hundreds and thousands of strokes and characters you should study. For anyone who’s writing in 26 alphabets like in English, writing in Japanese is of no small feat. Kanji has tens and thousands of words, while there are 2,136 characters for daily use.
For Chinese learners and natives, the learning curve is less steep because Kanji characters are derived from traditional Chinese characters but are much simplified. However, as you learn to write, you want to make sure that a change in the strokes will affect the word’s meaning, like in the case of the bird vs. crow.
Its Homophones Can Be Overwhelming
The Japanese language has 45 basic syllables, which can intimidate a beginner thriving in 26 alphabets. What’s more, these 45 basic syllables are pronounced in one way. While some linguists may find this exciting and a lot easier to learn, the non-bilingual may find these homophones challenging because they have different meanings.
However, the context helps the speaker and listener understand each other. So, “hana” can be either a flower or a nose, and “kaku” is either to itch or to write. The writing system can also dispel these homophones because even if they sound the same in pronunciation, the characters are different from each other.
3 Ways to Effectively Learn the Japanese Language
Ready to upskill and become bilingual? There are plenty of creative ways to learn the language. Make the most of your time and invest in yourself.
1. Enroll in a Japanese course on Plimseur
There’s no better way to learn the language than enrolling in a course. Fortunately, you can learn at your own pace using the famous Pimsleur Method. You’ll be speaking like a local in no time, with its proven and tested approach that features real-world contexts and flexible vocabulary. To effectively learn the language, you must also learn the locals’ culture. Pimsleur makes it convenient for you, as you will learn how to respond appropriately in certain situations.
2. Use entertainment, like movies and TV shows
Learning never stops, even while watching TV and listening to music or a podcast. When watching movies on Netflix, turn on the subtitles so that you can familiarize yourself with characters. If you want to go further, then watch a Japanese film to immerse yourself in the pitch and accent while reading the English subtitles. Also, music has its way to activate brain activity, so tune in to Japanese radio.
3. Label your home items in Japanese
You will surely learn many words and phrases, mainly if you use Plimseur for essential Japanese words. Take it one step further and label home items, as that will allow you to practice how to write and use visual memory to retain what you learn from the courses. Learning doesn’t have to be boring — it’s a lifestyle worth pursuing