Learning Japanese is a total culture shock to anyone who's only been exposed to Western languages. The writing looks complicated (and it is, horribly) but that's only the tip of the iceberg. The grammar and vocabulary of all the European languages look really similar after you've experienced a language that's totally off the wall (to us).
2 types of words which correspond to nothing in European languages. They are used largely in place of adjectives. There are 'i-adjectives' which are conjugated like verbs:
- Individual characters in Japanese writing usually represent what, for us, are consonant-vowel pairs. For example, the name of the famous game designer Miyamoto could be written in 4 characters of the hiragana script: みやもと (mi ya mo to). You can usually also write names in the Chinese-derived kanji script, but that is far more complicated.
- No clear concept of what a word is. In Japanese writing, there are often no spaces between words.
- No plural or gender, or articles. neko, depending on context, can mean, "a cat", "the cat" "cats".
- Verbs can be conjugated in the past or nonpast tense. There is no future tense; use nonpast for both present and future actions. Subject and object can be omitted, and will be deduced from context. A single verb can be a full sentence. Some examples:
- Taberu. = "(someone) eats/will eat."
- Tabeta. = "(someone) ate."
- kawaii neko = "cute cat(s)" (conjugated nonpast)
- kawaikatta neko = "cat(s) that was cute" (conjugated past)
and 'na-adjectives' which are very much like nouns.
The verb is at the end of a clause. In order to figure out what's the object, subject, etc of the clause, you use "particles" which resemble prepositions and conjunctions. Anata wa taberu. = "You eat (something)." Here you have anata="you", plus the particle wa which indicates that anata is the topic of the sentence. Another common particle is o or wo, which indicates that what precedes it is the object of the clause. Anata o taberu. = "(someone) eats you."
Nouns (and na-adjectives) can be "conjugated" like verbs with the help of a word-like grammatical construct, the copula. Most beginners know it as desu, but it has many forms. Thus, not all sentences require a verb: they merely require a word conjugated like a verb. Examples of more complete sentences:
Words can be conjugated not only in past and nonpast, but also positive, negative, polite/normal, plain, etc. These various conjugations are expressed using a different grammatical construct in English (or not at all; some nuances are untranslatable).
- Neko desu. = "(something) (is) (a) cat(s)."
- Kawaii. = "(something) (is) cute."
I could go on forever: this is like comparing cars and bicycles. I love learning Japanese even though I'm bored by European languages, because of all this difference.
Or maybe it's just because I watch so much anime.