Learning a new language – Japanese

There ought to be fun while learning, so why restrict yourself to modules that only help to pull up your grades? So I went and took Japanese 1, LAJ1201 for my elective (breadth).

As in all languages, we begin by learning the most polite form of expressing ourselves, so let me try to introduce myself in Japanese first.

はじめまして。王です。シンガポール人です。シンガポールこくりつだいがくのがくせいです。どうぞよろしく おねがいします。

In Chinese:


In English:

Hello, how do you do. Please address me as Mr. Wong. I am Singaporean, also an undergraduate studying at the National University of Singapore. I am pleased to meet you.

I found out that the Japanese language is somewhat in between Chinese and English. It has alphabets called Hiragana and Katakana like the English ones but almost all are pronounced like vowels. A combination of these alphabets makes up a word, not unlike English, and some of which can also be written in Chinese characters called Kanji. The style of writing in Japanese is similar to Chinese characters, which was why I said Japanese has both elements.

All three languages meant the same thing, but each language has its own unique way of expression. For example, シンガポール (Shingapooru) is formed by the alphabets (Katakana) as in Singapore in English. シ (shi) itself does not have any meaning like “s” in the English alphabet. The Chinese 新 (xin) on the other hand, literally means “new”. However, in this context, it is used as a direct translation to the sound “sin” in Singapore. Then again, the word の (no) implies ownership, which is similar to the Chinese use of the word 的 (de). Notice the similarities in the writing also. A student of NUS is written as NUSのがくせい (NUS no gakusei). NUSのがくせい can also be written in Kanji as NUSの学生, which is similar to the Chinese form NUS的学生 (NUS de xue sheng). See the link? By finding such similarities with languages that we already mastered, it would be even easier to pick up the new language because it helps us to remember the concepts faster.

There is something called “mora” in Japanese language. It can be said as something akin to syllable, not exactly too. It is more like the beats or tempo in a music piece. The time interval between two alphabets or letters must be the same. The Japanese word for “Welcome” is いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase). Without understand the mora, you can pronounce it as yee ra shai ma se or yee rashai mas or whatever, but it would not sound as Japanese as it should be. The correct pronunciation should be alphabet by alphabet: yee ra s* sha yee ma se, consisting of a total of 7 morae.

But the Japanese writing shows 8 alphabets!

There are some special alphabets that combines two of the original ones together, such as this しゃ (sha). Hence, we will pronounce this with one mora. The s* is a silent consonant as indicated by らっし (ra s sha), but it still holds the time of one mora, so we will just be silent for one mora before proceeding to “sha”. However, when you speak it fluently, the “ra” will end with a hiss sound as you prepare to launch into “sha”.

Another interesting element of Japanese is the devoicing of vowels, something that most Japanese themselves do not even realise because they have been doing it naturally.  The devoicing of vowels (i, u) occur when the vowel is at the end of the word or in between voiceless consonants (p, k, t, s, h). Hence, deshita is pronounced as “de sh ta” and gozaimasu is pronounced as “go za yee ma s”.

I will continue to use Japanese whenever I can! That’s all from me.



4 thoughts on “Learning a new language – Japanese

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