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Japanese as a language

The language|

The Japanese language is spoken by 127 million people.

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Although it is reputed to be an extremely difficult language, Japanese has some features that seem to deny this.

Speaking is relatively easy, because there are few sounds that are new. There are a number of different forms of politeness, however, which depend on the status of the partner in conversation: you would use one specific form in speaking to another student, but another form in addressing your teacher.

Japanese grammar is fairly straightforward: verbs do not have finite forms, there is no plural of nouns, there are no cases and no articles; the syntactic function of words in a sentence is created with the help of small suffixes, 'particles'.

Irregular verb forms, which in languages like French can cause problems, are unknown in Japanese. And the problem of word gender – knowing whether a word is masculine, feminine or neuter, as in German – is non-existent as well, since Japanese does not have articles.

The hardest part of the Japanese language is probably its script. There are three different ways of writing in Japanese. First you learn to use the hiragana script. This is a kind of alphabet of 46 sounds. In principle, you can write all Japanese words with it. There are five basic sounds that could be compared with the vowels we use in Dutch: a, I, u, e and o. Together with another 'character', these sounds are recurrent.

The second script you learn is katakana. As a language, Japanese has incorporated many foreign words. In writing these loan words, a special script, katakana, is used. It has the same sounds as hiragana, but one sound less.

After learning hiragana and katakana, it is time to learn kanji. Kanji is a script with characters that are derived from Chinese characters. Even though, in principle, you can write everything in hiragana, you need a lot of ink and paper to do it. This is why the Japanese came up with the idea to write a word instead of in five hiragana sounds, in one or two kanji. There are over 10,000 kanji in Japanese, but if you know 2,000, you can read a Japanese newspaper. Of course, it takes some time to learn this many kanji, and that is why learning kanji has plenty of attention in our curriculum. Once you get to know kanji, you will see that many of the characters are not as abstract as they seem. A large number of the basic characters are actually simplified drawings. Some words in Japanese consist of more than one kanji, and if you know the meanings of the individual characters, you can infer the meaning of the word as a whole.

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