If you’re interested in Japanese in general then check out the first half of this article, but if you’re more interested in learning Japanese then skip down to the second part of the article. Either way, we hope we manage to answer some of the commonly asked questions about the Japanese language.
How many people speak Japanese?
Approximately 128 million people speak Japanese, mainly residing in Japan. Which makes Japanese a popular Asian language for people to learn.
Where is Japanese spoken?
Japan is only an official language in Japan, although there are Japanese communities in other countries that speak Japanese as their first language. In other countries, Japanese people will often congregate together and have a small Japanese community within that country, just like other people from different countries. So if you’re looking to find people to practise Japanese with, you’ll probably be able to find a community that’s closer to you than Japan.
What writing system does Japanese use?
Japanese has three main writing systems.
The first one is Kanji. Kanji is the reason that people often think Chinese and Japanese are more similar than they are. Kanji consists of adopted Chinese characters that are used along the other two Japanese writing systems. This writing system is the only similarity between Chinese and Japanese, but it does cause confusion. This writing system is not an alphabet, but instead uses characters to depict a word or meaning.
The other two writing systems are hiragana and katakana, which are syllabic, meaning each letter represents a sound or phoneme, meaning with these writing systems you should be able to pronounce the word even if you don’t know what it means.
How similar are Japanese and Chinese?
A common misconception is that Japanese and Chinese are similar or that they come from the same language family; well this just isn’t true. Japanese and Chinese are completely different language that belong to different language families with different grammar, phonemes and vocabulary.
They do share one alphabet, but apart from that the languages are completely different and a Japanese person would not be able to understand a Chinese person speaking Chinese and vice versa.
About learning Japanese
We’re thrilled you’re considering learning Japanese and we hope that by answering some of these commonly asked questions, we can convince you that Japanese is the language for you.
How long does it take to learn Japanese?
Most people can get to a decent level of fluency in Japanese within 1 – 2 years. Of course, if you’re living in Japan, studying intensively and using Japanese in all your interactions then you may be able to reach fluency in a shorter time. And if you’re living outside of Japan, dedicating one hour a week to Japanese then it’s going to take you a lot longer.
Regardless of how long it takes you, try not to compare yourself to others and just do what works for you. Sometimes it just takes a bit longer for some people than others, but this isn’t a bad thing. If you enjoy it and can see yourself progressing then keep going!
Why should I learn Japanese?
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider learning Japanese:
- To travel in Japan and meet local people
- To own KTV
- Japan has the third highest GDP in the world
- It’s a gateway language to other Asian languages
- To read manga and watch anime in Japanese
If this hasn’t convinced you yet then check out our full article on why to learn Japanese here.
What is the official Japanese language exam?
The official Japanese language test is the JLPT which stands for Japanese language proficiency test.
The test has five levels N1 through to N5, with N1 being the most proficient. The test is divided into three sections:
- Kanji and vocabulary
- Listening comprehension
- Reading comprehension and grammar
What resources can I use to learn Japanese?
- Duolingo is free and has a Japanese course
- FluentU allows you to watch Japanese videos and download the transcripts at the same time (but it isn’t free)
- Hello talk allows you to find language partners
- Imiwa is a great Japanese dictionary that you should download for learning Japanese or if you’re just visiting
What Japanese movies should I watch?
You should have a look at our comprehensive list of Japanese films to watch here for recommendations, but here are some of our top picks.
How can I practise my Japanese reading skills?
The most popular way you can practise your Japanese reading skills and be part of the culture is to read manga. Some of our favourite manga series include Chobits and Fruits Basket.
You can also use NHK Easy Japanese News, to help you improve your reading.
How can I practise my Japanese writing skills?
- Use italki to write diary entries that native speakers can correct and give you feedback on
- Kana is a free app that helps teach you the alphabet
- Kanji Senpai is a great app that teaches you how to write characters and letters and what the stroke order is supposed to be
What Japanese music should I listen to?
One of the most famous Japanese bands in the world is AKB48. But they’re not a band in the sense you might be used to. Instead they’re more like a company with young girls joining all the time, performing with the band for a series of years, then graduating when they get older.
Japanese hip-hop is also becoming much more popular, so if you’re into something a bit more chilled out you should definitely try the following mixes.
We hope you’ve found our common questions about Japanese useful. If you have any other questions about Japanese or if you have different answers to ours then please let us know in the comments below.
If you have any other languages that you’d like us to answer commonly asked questions about, then let us know that in the comments below too. We’ve covered Arabic, German, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Korean and Chinese so far and we’re always happy to do more.