Andrei Zodian‎ > ‎Biography‎ > ‎Languages‎ > ‎

Nihongo (Japanese)

I was first introduced to the Japanese culture as a kid, watching Kurosawa / Mifune movies preceded by someone's erudite commentary. I really enjoyed them, and not just because I had taken Shotokan karate as a kid. Later on, I was transfigured by Miyazaki. I found this remarkable culture to be a wonderful and enticing mix of contrasts and decided that I won't visit Japan until I learned at least basic Japanese.

One thing I noticed (and love) about Japan and Japanese people is this sense of collective vocalized joy. This is to some extent present in animated Japanese movies (which I haven't watched so much, compared with most other Western people who share my love of Japanese culture), but it can be experienced by anyone by simply entering an izakaya (aka traditional dive bar as in Toronto and Tokyo). It doesn't matter who you are, you will be greeted loudly by the entire staff, in a chorus, giving you a VIP feeling. Additionally, women tend to speak in high-pitched voices in a different manner than men.

My first attempt to learn this language took place while a student at U of T. I was exploring the possibility of entering an exchange program and "study abroad" which took me to the International Student Centre, located back then right across from Koffler Centre, North of Wallberg building, close to the NE corner of St George and College. I've thus discovered the posting wall, which was full of notes of students wanting to learn a foreign language or foreign students seeking an ESL tutor. Among them, a few offers of foreign students to teach their native language in exchange for English lessons. I responded to a few, and finally started to learn Japanese with Misa K, a Japanese girl, who was also teaching English to foreign students for a living. As such, despite her claim, her English was quite good and she did not really need my help or lessons. Despite Misa being a wonderful and very devoted teacher who had bought me a Japanese-English dictionary and even baked me cookies for our "classes", I did not make a lot of progress as back then my focus was my main studies. Although I suspect Misa was quite frustrated and disappointed with my slow progress she never showed it, and her focus and dedication in what was essentially a volunteering effort increased my respect and sense of wonder for her culture. 

Once I discovered Duolingo, I re-started my efforts to learn. After having taken a break to focus on Chinese, which I find harder than Japanese, I'm coming back to Japanese after learning that a friend and wonderful person started in Osaka the Mad Cat Hostel.

  1. Hiragana (the simplest and first to learn, sometimes replaced by Romaji in learning; it has a "beginner" or even "girly" reputation and it is not used as much as the next g w)
  2. Kanji (Chinese characters; main alphabet w)
  3. Katakana (used for foreign words w)
1+3="kana" and most Japanese words are made of a combination of 1+2.

Grammar is otherwise quite simple:
  • The subject is optional and may be omitted.
  • The predicate is always at the end of the sentence.
  • Nouns do not have gender. Most also don't have separate plural forms.
  • Verbs do not change according to the subject (he/she/it). They also don't change according to number (singular/plural, like I/we or he/they).
  • Particles, which mark words as subject, object, etc., always follow the word to which they relate.
  • Personal pronouns (I, you, etc.) differ according to the level of politeness and formality that is needed in each situation.
A few more resources for beginners:

That is how I discovered the influence of Chinese, and figured that if I have to learn some Chinese to be proficient in Japanese, I might as well learn them both at the same time.
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