Friday, March 2, 2012

The Language Barrier...

As soon as I found out we had orders to Japan, I ordered a Japanese for Kids DVD, 2 picture dictionaries, a full Japanese-English pocket dictionary, and my favorite, Instant Emersion Japanese CD-Rom.  Before we arrived, I could count to 100, I knew words for basic phrases, colors, foods, body parts, clothes, and greetings.  As soon as I got to my first store off-base, I got to the check-out stand, and didn't understand a word!  I panicked a little until I could see the price on the cash-register, then fumbled through the unfamiliar coins I had and handed her the appropriate yen.  Then, finally, I recognized a word, "Arigato!"  (Thank you!)  I smiled, said "Arigato" back, and realized everything would be okay.

Then... I tried looking at cars.  Ha!  When you come to a car you like and "think" is in your price-range, but the tag says something like this... 
Oh boy.  Where to start?  It was very clear that the Japanese spoken words I had learned were not going to help me much without learning to write.  Therefore, I bought a book on learning to write Japanese, and another on Kanji symbols.  This particular vehicle has 92,000 km on it, and is listed for 180,000 yen (around $2200.)  Other than that, I'm still not sure. ;)

What I have learned is that Japanese use a combination of 3 writing styles, Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji, with occasional Romanji (sounds spelled out with Roman letters.)  Hiragana and Katakana are two different writing styles of the same "alphabet."  Though unlike ours, their alphabet has 46 basic sounds, that can be changed into different sounds with diacritic markers (shown below).  Kanji is not based on sound, just complex symbols than mean specific things.  There are thousands of Kanji, adopted from Chinese characters.  If you're curious, look at the "cheat sheet" I have made below, which you can print at home  (makes 2 to fold in half on letter sized paper)...

Hiragana/Katakana, with a Few Basic Kanji Symbols
Now you or I can read anything written in Hiragana or Katakana.  Though unless the meaning of the word is known, (or phrase since they do not separate words) it'll require further translation.

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