Japanese is the language
spoken in Japan
. It has 3 main alphabets
- hiragana: phonetic characters for japanese words and grammar.
- katakana: phonetic characters used for onomatopeia and foreign words.
- kanji: complicated characters mostly from chinese, representing an idea, with two different pronunciations: japanese, which was formed by matching an already-existing japanese word to an imported kanji, and chinese, which was formed by japanese-izing an already existing chinese pronunciation of that character.
When kanji appear alone, they usually have the japanese reading, but when they appear in combination with other kanji, they usually take the chinese reading.
This is like how English has two words relating to teeth
- tooth, which usually occurs alone, and
- dent-, which appears in combinations with suffixes or prefixes to give it more meaning, as in dentist, dental, trident, etc. In japanese those words could have two kanji, meaning "tooth person", "tooth study", "three tooth", and they would be pronounced the chinese way.
Children use more "native" japanese words and phrasal verbs, and come to use more kanji compounds as they get more educated. That's the same way a kid will say something like "get away" and an adult will say "escape". Kids know lots of concrete words, which are mostly japanese in origin, and as they study more abstract things, they see more chinese kanji compounds.
Japanese is not Tonal, and Chinese is, so when they brought over the kanji from China, a lot of information was lost - there might be 4 tones for the syllable "shu" in chinese, each with a different meaning and its own kanji. But in japanese, they lost this tone information, but kept the different kanji. So there are tons of kanji that have the same sound. This is hard.
The set of sounds used in Japanese are pretty much a subset of english, except for the occasional ryu difficulty (it's not pronounced rye-yu, it's ryu).
Japanese is a monosyllabic language. So, there is a big difference between the words "isho" and "issho" - the first has two syllables, the second three. The basic form is consonant plus vowel. Except for vowels and the letter N, the basic sound units of japanese are "k s t n h m y r w" + one of "a i u e o". Converted to english, there are probably lots more even length words in Japanese than odd. However, you can double the consonant sometimes, for example in the word "haka" if add the doubling symbol between the ha and the ka, it comes out as "hakka".
Because of this, there are no consonant clusters like st, tr, etc. "stack" becomes su ta kku. "elvis" become e ru bi su, since there's no b/v or r/l distinction. Also, there are no articles, plurals or spaces between words. In general to English speakers, spoken Japanese seems easy, but to Japanese, English is really hard.
It's a very captive language; 95+% of speakers are native speakers.
Hard things about Japanese are the ~2000 kanji, polite speech, and the total unwillingness of japanese people to ever correct a mistake.
The alphabetization system of such a complicated language is explained in japanese alphabet. The basic principle is that things are organized by the first sound, not by the first "letter" as an english speaker would think of it. This means the order is
- a i u e o
- ka ki ku ke ko
- sa shi su se so
- ta chi tsu te to
- na ni nu ne no
- ha hi hu he ho
- ma mi mu me mo
- ya yu yo
- ra ri ru re ro
- wa wo