Why we don’t use the alphabet to teach you Japanese words
August 28, 2014
Why no use of the alphabet for Japanese words (romanization)
When studying a new language it’s always fun to learn those first few words. It feels exciting and adventurous. However, as the phrases grow so too grows the difficulty in remembering. By far, however, the most difficult part has to be learning to read.
English speakers are actually pretty lucky. Many of the major languages use the same alphabet as English or something that looks similar. Of course there are different letters and symbols, but the familiarity helps put us at ease. However, when learning an eastern language, we are not so lucky.
Learning to speak is as old as people and learning to speak a second language is probably almost as old. So many countries have come up with a “sounding system” to represent words for people who are learning to speak their language. The romanized Japanese words are called romaji.
Romaji gives the closest representation using the English alphabet for the pronunciation of Japanese words. This system kind of helps the new learner to wrap their head around what it is that they are trying to say. It puts us at ease. But unfortunately it does another thing; it gets our brain to give us the wrong information. Because our native language is so ingrained in our minds, when we hear these new sounds, they are automatically associated with what we know. That’s why it is so difficult to hear all of the different sounds and subtle nuances of a new language. Using the English alphabet to learn Japanese only serves to solidify that reliance on what we already know.
Starting off by learning the basic sounds and the basic writing of Japanese will help you start off in the right direction. That may be an uncomfortable way to go about things for some people, but that is how we learned our first language. It will also help us to learn things without having to first try to understand it in English. It will also give us the chance to make mistakes as little children do!
One of the hardest things about learning Japanese is hearing all of the little syllables that seem so quickly strung together. I still sometimes miss one or two. But in the beginning, I missed a lot! I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling him about missing having real cheese. (Japanese people still aren’t big fans of cheese.) The word for “real” is one syllable different than the word for homosexual. My friend kept looking at me strangely. He finally asked me what on earth I was talking about. I used a different word for “real” and then he finally understood! I’m sure he was relieved that I wasn’t trying to strike up a conversation about homosexual cheese.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride
So in learning Japanese (or any other new language) you are going to have a rough time at first. You’re going to make mistakes. However, those mistakes will also be some of your greatest teaching points. They also make great stories!
As you go through the Japanese lessons, you will notice that the real Japanese words appear and not words written using the English alphabet. This may be a little overwhelming at first. At language101.com, it’s not our intent to teach you how to read. Nor is it our intent to teach you with through written language. The learning comes through the hearing, repeating and timed practice. All of us learned our primary language by listening and repeating. So that feeling of “wow, this is hard” will only be at first. You’ll become accustomed to it. The learning will come from practice. Your brain will begin listening to and remembering the words and phrases. Then you will begin to
have fun with learning.