Did you know that Japanese has three different alphabets? I didn’t until today!
The first is Kanji. There are 214 Kanji characters, some of which are known as radicals. Radicals are characters which are used to form other characters.
Romaji is the way of writing Japanese using the Roman alphabet. Romaji literally means Roman. All Japanese words can be written in Romaji, making it easier for us Westerners to pronounce Japanese words, or at least know whereabouts in Japan we are!
Kana is a writing system based on syllables. There are two components to this – katakana and hiragana. They each consist of 46 characters which are basically simplified kanji. If you know this and are looking at a Japanese text, you should be able to distinguish between the more complex kanji characters and the simplified kana. Hirigana is the first text taught to Japanese children, so is a good place to start if you’d like to learn Japanese – although you must realise that in the Japanese language, hirigana is used mostly for grammatical endings of words or particles. Katakana is used mainly for words which cannot be written in kanji, such as names or places.
Confused? Unfortunately there’s no way around learning these things if you’d like to study Japanese! Luckily, Langauge Trainers offer Japanese lessons all over the UK, check the home page for details.