Japan is a bit of an unknown country as far as the western world is concerned but it is quietly and surely making its mark on the globe. It is the center for all technological advancement and a rising financial superpower. The land of the rising sun still seems a mystery though and its language a complete puzzle to many of us.
So, is it really that different and what should you look out for if you are going to learn Japanese?
Japanese is likely to have many differences and points of confusion amongst English speakers as it belongs to a completely different group of languages. It's own group in fact.
The alphabet has to be the biggest difference and the most apparent upon first contact with Japanese. Although it uses some Latin script, it usually uses one of its three recognised scripts and this is the first thing you are going to have to learn if you are going to master the language.
Pronunciation is also difficult if you aren't used to it but upon closer inspection it is in fact much easier than English. Japanese uses five vowel sounds which are either long or short and 15 consonant sounds. There are far fewer complicated combinations to worry about with Japanese and you will soon get the hang of it if you spend time and revise the alphabet whilst practising its pronunciation. It is also a good idea to make a note of different intonation patterns used in the Japanese language and how they differ from the English equivalent. This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding if you don't get this right as the meaning of a Japanese sentence can be altered by differing intonation.
Japanese Verbs are only conjugated by tense and are not altered to convey who is doing the action (the subject) or how many people are doing the verb (number). This can be confusing but just remember to think your sentences through thoroughly before you say them and you should be fine.
The sentence order of Japanese is also a very big cause of confusion as you often find that people try to convert an English sentence into Japanese by translating every word one at a time. This is wrong and you must think Japanese if you are going to improve your language skills. Using idioms and sticking to their rules of grammar will make you sound a lot more authentic.
There is one small consolation and that's the fact that a lot of English words have been infused into the Japanese language and that they are generally quite patient with English people learning their language. This will help you to find the right words to express what you wish to say.
Japanese is not really harder than English but you need to get into the right frame of mind and stop thinking about a verbatim translation. When you begin to think in Japanese you will become instantly more authentic and the process of learning a language will become far more fun and natural.