Japanese culture and language are inherently connected. One cannot be learned without learning the other. In order to learn Japanese vocabulary, read and speak the Japanese language, knowledge of Japanese culture is necessary.
Japanese culture and, by extension, the Japanese language, may sometimes seem shrouded in mystery. However, there many ways to learn to master the language like native Japanese speakers.
According to the Modern Language Association, enrollment in Japanese went up by 94.9% between the years 1986 and 1990 (Saito).
In the last few decades, the study of the Japanese language and culture has become very popular in the world, due, in part, to the enormous success of the Japanese economy worldwide, particularly during the late 1980s.
A Bit of Japanese Language History
From “karate” to “karaoke”, from “adzuki beans” to “Zen Buddhism”, the Japanese language has had a big role to play in the construction of modern English vocabulary and world languages. Japan has been a leading light in exporting oriental traditions to the world for centuries.
Some come and go as fads (bringing up a “Tamagotchi”); some take root (“bonsai”) and spread. Breeding giant fish (“koi”) or eating raw fish with rice (“sushi”), Japanese is ubiquitous nowadays.
More than 130 million native Japanese speakers. Japanese is the ninth most widely spoken language in the world. Outside of Japan, there are another 5 million people who speak Japanese – predominantly Japanese descendants in Hawaii and Brazil. The popularity of the Japanese language has catapulted Japanese language services into the global limelight, especially in social and business settings.
After undergoing a long period of rebuilding, following WWII, Japan is now one of the world’s leading industrial powers, especially when you consider how remarkably well the government has utilized human resources to compensate for the country's scarcity of natural resources. An exceptional work ethic and a high level of cooperation between industry and government are the hallmarks of this economic giant in South Asia.
Unlike most global languages, Japanese has an extensive system of grammar to express politeness and formality. Broadly speaking, there are three main politeness levels in spoken Japanese: the plain form (“kudaketa”), the simple polite form (“teinei”), and the advanced polite form (“Keigo”). That said, it may be noted that most relationships are not equal in Japanese society, as determined by a variety of factors including job, age, experience, or even psychological state.
Linguistic Roots of Japanese
There is considerable dispute among linguists regarding the origin of Japanese with conflicting evidence pointing to various roots, including Ural-Altaic, Polynesian, Chinese, and so on. However, the majority seems to be inclined to believe that Japanese is connected to the Ural-Altaic family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, and Korean within its domain.
Korean is most frequently compared to Japanese.
Both the Korean and Japanese languages share key grammar features, such as general structure, vowel harmony, lack of conjunctions, and the extensive use of honorific speech, in which the social rank of the listener dictates the dialogue. However, the pronunciation of the Japanese and Korean languages are significantly different.
Japanese has an extremely complicated writing system. Japanese writing consists of two sets of phonetic syllabaries (with approximately 50 syllables in each) and thousands of Chinese characters called “kanji”, approximately 2,000 of which the Ministry of Education has designated as required learning before high school graduation.
The adaptation of Chinese characters during the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. was the most important event in the development of the Japanese language. By the 12th century, the syllabic writing systems, “hiragana” and “katakana”, were created out of “kanji”, providing the Japanese freedom in writing their native language. Today, Japanese is written with a mixture of the three: “kanji”, “hiragana”, and “katakana”.
Since the mid 18th century, the Japanese have adopted a huge amount of “gairaigo”: foreign words mainly from the English language. These include “teburu” (table), “biru” (beer), “gurasu” (glass), “aisu” (ice), “takushi” (taxi), and “hoteru” (hotel).
The Japanese language also borrows significantly from Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish, such as “pan” (bread) and “igirisu” (the UK), from the Portuguese “po” and “ingles”. Such words arrived in Japan mainly during the 16th and 17th centuries, when European missionaries and merchants started to visit the country.
The Necessity of Japanese Translation Apps
You are probably adept at finding a Japanese learning course online, or learning Japanese by watching Japanese movies, once or twice a day, or even picking up words of the day on the go, thanks to smartphone language learning apps.
But, you still need a translator for reference - for example, while walking the streets of Tokyo, you might need to have a Japanese to English translator to make life easier! Foreign languages need to be translated into your native language for quicker learning. And, language translator apps are a blessing in this regard. Here is why...
When you start learning a new language, you often tend to feel overwhelmed. What you need to feel relaxed is the feeling of convenience. Japanese translation apps can be conveniently downloaded on your smartphone. That is so convenient when you think of the alternative of carrying around a heavy language dictionary!
Free to Use Language Translators
Simply open a language translator app and open your mind to a world of possibilities when it comes to learning new languages and cultures. The best part about language translator apps is that most of them offer free versions containing the same basic functions as the most advanced versions.
Easy Language Learning
Use a language translator app to learn any of the three Japanese languages - hiragana, katakana, or the kanji writing system. Apps offer an easy learning environment, especially when you are on the go.
Effective Tools for Communication
Japanese translation apps aren’t just Japanese-English dictionary apps. Instead, they come with impressive combinations of dictionary-like features, full-sentence translations, and pronunciation aid. Facilitate a conversation in Japanese and clarify your intentions with native speakers by simply whipping out your smartphone, with no need for an interpreter.
What Not to Expect from a Japanese Translation App
A translation app is not:
- A grammar teacher. You won’t learn the intricacies of Japanese grammar with a translation app, no matter how advanced it may be. The purpose of translation apps is to provide you with fast and convenient translations of the Japanese language.
- 100% accurate. All translation apps are computer programs and, so, the translations will never be 100% accurate all the time.
- Always free. While there are many free (and free versions of) Japanese translation apps, not all translation apps come so cheap. It’s up to you to decide what kind of translator you’re looking for and if it’s worth the investment.
- Always ad-free. Most free translation apps have at least the occasional full-screen ad and some banners.
- Always available to use offline. The majority of translation apps rely on an Internet connection to perform the translation process. Some are offline but not all, so if you’re planning to travel without access to Wi-Fi or 3G/4G, be prepared to think outside the box in the event your app can’t perform its tasks.
Top Translation Apps to Learn Japanese
Japanese English Dictionary & Translator Free 英和辞典・和英辞典 (えいわじてん・わえい じてん) by Bravolol
Ideally suited for a beginner or an intermediate Japanese learner or Japan traveler, this app, primarily advertised as a dictionary, offers an in-depth resource for the most common formal and informal phrases you’ll hear in Japan. The app is home to more than 350,000 words and phrases, including far more examples and sentence fragments than any old dictionary, phrasebook, or even Japanese textbooks.
It comes with an audio feature, which you can use to listen to Japanese pronunciation at varying speeds, from tortoise (slowest) to hare (fastest). In addition, the app is entirely offline, so if you’re headed somewhere with no guaranteed Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection, you’ll love the convenience of this handy digital translator.
Waygo Translator & Dictionary by Translate Abroad
Ideally suited for beginner, intermediate, or advanced Japanese learners or Japan traveler, Waygo offers you a way to avoid playing the part of embarrassed 外人 (がいじん – foreigner) anymore.
This is a neat, handy little app geared toward translating languages in their everyday form - be it Japanese, Chinese, or Korean - into English. Unlike other translation apps, Waygo uses your smartphone’s camera function to capture images of Japanese words and kanji, and then instantly displays a translation.
This app can be used for kanji practice as well as everyday translation of signs and notices. With this app, you no longer have to memorize thousands of kanji just to be able to read one sign or an entry in a restaurant menu.
We hope you are now convinced that it is not that difficult to learn the Japanese language and, most importantly, keep practicing it every day, with the help of translation resources. Start your free trial or open an account with the most advanced Japanese learning and translation app. The choice is yours!