Japanese Language Facts

Japanese Language Facts

The Japanese language is exciting and colorful! If you’re thinking about learning Japanese, you’ll be opening doors for yourself in personal relationships, business, and from a cultural aspect. You’ll have an additional 130 million people you can connect with, and you’ll also be a better person for it. 

While you may be a little intimidated by learning Japanese, we bet you already know some Japanese words. If sushi, karate, karaoke, and bonsai sound familiar to you then you already know some Japanese.

Are you shocked by the amount of Japanese you already know? Well, we have some Japanese language facts that will help you get an introduction!

1. Japanese is the fastest spoken language

Slow down! The Japanese language is naturally quick and agile. If it’s hard to keep with listening to Japanese, you’re not imagining it. Japanese is the fastest spoken language that has been measured.

According to A Cross-Language Perspective on Speech Information Rate, the Japanese language is spoken at a rate of 7.84 syllables per second. Spanish came in at a close rate of 7.82 syllables per second. English on the other hand is much slower at 6.19.

2. Japanese uses honorifics

When showing respect in Japanese, you’ll use honorific prefixes and suffixes. Honorifics help to define the relationship between the person speaking and who they’re speaking to.

Popular honorifics use are:

  • San (さん) – San is used both formally and informally between adults of equal status. The English equivalent is Miss or Mister.
  • Sensei (先生、せんせい) – Sensei is used for authority figures. An example in English is using Dr. or Prof. It can be used to address teachers, doctors, and anyone else who has achieved a certain level of mastery in a skill.
  • Chan (ちゃん) – This term is often used for little children, young people are something you find cute. You may also use chan for close friends. Chan isn’t typically used for strangers or acquaintances, though.

3. Japanese has three writing systems

Yes, you read that correctly. Japanese has three writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

While the Japanese language doesn’t have a formal alphabet, hiragana and katakana are closest to an alphabet.

Hiragana and katakana are really just two varying ways to write the same 46 sounds.

Kanji is a bit more difficult to learn as they are over 6,000 kanjis. A single kanji can represent an idea or just a word. You’ll find that menus and other written media use hiragana and katakana to explain kanji.

According to a FluentU article, you don’t need to learn kanji to speak Japanese but it’s really helpful for your language learning to know it. Besides, if you wanted to read a Japanese newspaper, you’ll have to know at least 2,000 kanjis.

If all that sounds confusing don’t worry, your language tutor will help you learn and understand the writing systems.

4. There are no names for the months in Japanese

In the modern Japanese language, the months don’t have formal names. The months, in Japanese, are numbered from one to twelve. So January is ichi-gatsu. Japanese speakers, use the kanji for the moon with the number associated with the month. Therefore January is 1月.

This wasn’t always the case though. According to Namiko Abe, a Japanese Language Expert, the traditional names for months came from the Heian period (794-1185). According to Abe, even though the older names aren’t used when saying the date, they’re still used in poems and novels. The traditional names are also used alongside the modern names in calendars.

So January used to be mutsuki (睦月) which translates to the month of harmony.

5. There is no future tense

Talk about living in the present! The Japanese language doesn’t have a future tense, instead, it uses the present tense to talk about the future.

Want to hear something else that’s shocking? English is the same way. If you’ve studied other languages such as Spanish or French, you’re used to doing conjugations in the future tense. But you may not have realized that English doesn’t have a future tense either.

You already know how to talk about the future in English, but how do you do it in Japanese?

According to Fluent U, you should use context, time, words, or special grammatical constructions.

For example, this sentence, 僕は俳優になります translates to I’ll become an actor. Even though it’s written in future tense, you know that “I become an actor” doesn’t really make any sense and so it’s implied that you’re speaking in the future.

As you can see, Japanese is pretty extraordinary. While you can watch Japanese tv and use books to learn Japanese, getting a language tutor would make the most sense. A language tutor will be able to help you break down the writing systems and help you have actual conversations in Japanese.

Whether you’re a beginner or have been trying to learn Japanese for years, our tutors can help you achieve your language goals. Don’t believe us, take a trial class and see for yourself!