· Nouns are gender neutral- the le, la and les that plagued French classes don’t exist in Japanese.
· No articles
· No verb conjugations to memorise
· No emphasis on number – little distinction between singular and plural
Unfortunately, after this, Japanese gets considerably more challenging.
· Learners of the language must familiarise themselves with not one, but three written methods which include Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.
· The sentence structure employed in Japanese can be a difficult concept to grasp, particularly for Anglophones, as the main verb is located at the end of the sentence.
· The lack of conjugations mentioned listed among the ‘easy elements’ list can also pose problems. The lack of verb conjugations relating to a person can mean that the subject of the sentence is not always clear and Japanese is seen as being quite ‘fuzzy’.
But it is not just the nuts and bolts of the language that must be learnt; nuance and subtlety are essential elements of mastering Japanese. Japan has a culture of politeness and discretion and this is reflected in the language. Honorifics are an array of suffixes that are a fundamental aspect of Japanese socio-linguistics and proper usage is essential to avoiding causing offence, for example, to use a honorific suffix when referring to oneself is considered incredibly arrogant. They can be difficult to translate as many don’t directly correlate with a word in English and a whole word phrase may be needed to capture the sense of the word.
But it is the non-verbal communication that is so prolific in Japanese that can causes the biggest translation challenges. Japan, unlike many Anglophone countries like Britain and the US, has a very non-verbal culture. Opinions and desires are not openly expressed and vague, indirect approaches are taken to address the situation. Maintaining a harmonious and respectful atmosphere is of the utmost importance in Japan and this is reflected in their lexicon.
Words in Japanese often have a deeper meaning, sometimes even an alternative meaning, so direct translation is often impossible. In polite conversation, agreement rather than opinion is expected and anything other than this can be perceived as rude and abrupt. Hand gestures and subtle facial signals are also telling and often preferable to confrontational verbal communication but how does one translate a telling inhalation or nod of the head? It is such subtlety of language that makes native-speaker translators so indispensable because as with all languages, to understand a language is to understand a culture and this is particularly true of Japanese.
Be sure to keep up to date with our twitter and facebook pages as we’ll be posting more interesting facts about Japan as the month progresses.