I had a session with my language instructor the other day where I learned a few interesting insights into the language and culture that go well beyond speaking the language (I am awful at it as I travel in and out of Japan too often).

If you wonder about the Japanese accent when they speak English it is not because of their ability to say a word, it is because of how the Japanese approach language. In their culture, there are a fixed number of language sounds (a little over 100). If you learn those sounds, you can speak any word in Japanese, which technically makes the language simpler to learn. This is very different than English which has an infinite and always changing range of sounds. These are the only “sounds” in Japanese:


Therefore the Japanese take new words and attempt to fit them into the above patterns. For example: Australia fit into Japanese sounds becomes “Osutoraria” as those are sounds that match up to the above. The interesting thing about this is that when Japanese are speaking English (they learn it in Junior high), it also accentuates or exaggerates their accent as they attempt to “fit” the new word into their known language sounds.

It also explains why you will hear English words littered through a conversation as there is simply no way to fit the Japanese language sounds into certain words, so they remain English.

Forget about trying to read the language, it is a combination of 3 languages (Hiragana, Katakana and Chinese) which takes children 10+ years to learn and has 10’s of thousands of characters. Not going to happen for this westerner.

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