Lesson 1: Introduction & Basic Phrases

Japanese can appear to be a very complex and confusing language, especially to native European speakers. The writing systems consist of sometimes complicated symbols that can easily scare off any beginner. Don’t be afraid; it can be done! You can learn basic Japanese really quickly. All it takes is some concentration and memorization. After you get the basics down, you can focus your time on perfecting your speaking habits, learning new verb conjugations, and expanding your vocabulary. Japanese is a really fun and interesting language to learn!

People learn Japanese for many different reasons. It is a useful language to learn if you are interested in visiting Japan, teaching English in Japan, or doing business with Japanese companies. You can also enjoy new music, movies, and television with your new found language skills.

The hardest aspects of Japanese for beginning students are usually the three writing systems. The sentence structures and verb conjugations can also throw you off, especially if you are a native English speaker. Japanese sentences occur in subject – object – verb form whereas English sentences are in subject – verb – object form. Japanese can also be confusing because the language relies on particles but does not have articles like English does. Also, Japanese sentences tend to omit the subject and are usually vague. English, on the other hand, typically includes a subject in its sentence structures and is a more specific language.

Japanese has three writing systems—hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Each of these writing systems can be transliterated into Roman alphabet characters. This technique helps new learners understand how a Japanese symbol should be read. Speakers of European languages tend to match a symbol with the Roman characters it sounds like, and this helps them to remember how to pronounce the symbol. This type of writing is called romaji or the Romanization of a text.

As a beginner, you should concentrate on learning hiragana first, then katakana, and finally kanji. Many Japanese lessons designed for beginners will show Japanese words in hiragana and katakana along with their transcribed romaji as a learning aid.

The list below contains useful words and phrases to get you started with Japanese. They are written first in English, then in hiragana, and finally in romaji.

Hello/Good afternoon.                        こんにちは                            konnichiwa

Hello (when answering a phone).       もしもし                                moshi moshi

Good morning.                                    おはようございます            ohayou gozaimasu

Good night.                                         おやすみなさい                    oyasumi nasai

See you later.                                      じゃまた                                jya mata

See you.                                               じゃね                                    jya ne

Goodbye.                                             さようなら                            sayounara

Please.                                                 おねがい                                onegai

Thank you.                                           ありがとうございます        arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me.                                          すみません                            sumimasen

Nice to meet you.                               はじめまして                        hajimemashite

I am ____.                                           わたしは___です。        Watashi wa ___ desu.

How are you?                                      おげんきですか。                Ogenki desu ka?

I am fine/well.                                    わたしはげんきです。        Watashi wa genki desu.

What time is it?                                  なんじですか。                    Nanji desu ka?

What                                                   なん/なに                               Nan/nani

Why                                                     なんで/どうして                   nande/doushite

Where                                                 どこ                                        doko

When                                                   いつ                                        itsu

Who                                                     だれ                                        dare

11 thoughts on “Lesson 1: Introduction & Basic Phrases”

  1. hi! my name is alice, when i grow up i would like to become a japanese translator. I am 14 and i’m just a beginner, do you have any tips and anything i should know?

    1. Hello Alice,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize for just now replying–I only recently saw that it was posted!
      I think it’s great that you want to be a Japanese translator. You will have to work hard, but I think it’s worth it!
      First off, I’m going to give you some information I wish I had known when I was in high school. That is this: plan your college career as soon as possible, especially if you are sure you want to be a Japanese translator. You will need to find a college that offers a degree in Japanese translation, or Japanese Language. The second of the two will be easier to find. Get at least a 4 year degree in one of those areas. If you can, go to graduate school as well.
      It is also a good idea to decide what area you would want to specialize in for translation. Many companies will hire translators to work on legal documents, medical texts, business, science, etc. You can take classes in college to help you prepare for this too.
      My other advice to you is to keep studying Japanese for now, and then continue that education formally when you go to college. Look for some Japanese textbooks (such as Genki Japan or Japanese Demystified), get a good Japanese dictionary, and keep using websites like this one. Build your vocabulary by making flashcards, and watch Japanese movies or TV shows to get used to hearing the language. You can also try to connect with native speakers online. Many websites exist that can link you to native speakers that are more than happy to help you practice Japanese in exchange for you helping them with English. Also look into getting some specialized Japanese books. I, for example, have an entire book dedicated to Japanese verbs and another dedicated to kanji. (And kanji is something you want to begin learning as soon as possible!)
      I hope this advice helped!
      Good luck!!
      – Courtney

  2. Hi! My name is Donna.I’m 14 years old & I have decided to learn Japanese starting this year as I want to go to the Soka University for my studies when I grow up(I do not intend on attending a Course,I’d like to be accustomed to the language there). Along with this I am learning other languages as well, namely German & French,because I believe that this is the age when I can learn the most.Also,according to the aptitude test that I gave,my linguistic skills score was higher than other students.I’ll be moving to 11th grade this month.I really want to learn this language & I am determined,so please guide me on how I should go about it.Can you please advice me & give me some useful tips for the study material,guides e.t.c. ?

    1. Hello there!
      I think it’s great that you want to learn Japanese and study there. It is a hard task, but you can do it!!
      I agree it is best for you to start learning languages now. The sooner, the better. Research shows that our language learning abilities diminish greatly by the time we are 12. That doesn’t mean learning languages to fluency is impossible beyond 12, it’s just that our brains are no longer accustomed to learning other tongues.
      If you do not wish to take courses in Japanese, I recommend making the most of any resource you can get your hands on! One of the biggest tips I can give you is to use more than one source for learning Japanese. Too many people rely on only one outlet, and that will just get you stick in a rut!
      I recommend using print and online sources. Get some Japanese textbooks (Japanese Demystified is a good one) and look at the study materials on jbox.com. Make flash cards for the alphabet and kanji characters. Drill the flash cards until you are familiar with them, then make new ones for kanji you don’t know yet. Kanji is probably one of the hardest obstacles students of Japanese must face.
      You should also get a Japanese dictionary and a kanji dictionary. You can Google search these terms and see which dictionaries students recommend. You can also use online ones (there is a link to a Japanese dictionary and a kanji dictionary on this website, under the “blogroll” header on the sidebar).
      Don’t forget to practice writing the kanji, too! Stroke order is important!
      I recommend using Google to find several websites that have Japanese lessons. Use them all, this way you will get supplementary vocabulary. It’s hard to get it all from one website (though I try to give you a lot of vocab on this website!)
      You should also get a Japanese verb book. These kinds of books will show you the verbs and all of their conjugations.
      Lastly, I recommend listening to Japanese music and watching Japanese TV. This way, you can hear native speakers talk! You can also look for video/audio lessons online.
      Good luck!

    1. Ohayou gozaimasu! Genki desu ka?
      I’m glad the lessons have helped you! I hope you can continue to study Japanese!

  3. konbanwa!!!!
    ogenki desu ka? ^^?

    i’m 16 years old and i live in Holland, i’m in love with this language for over allmost 3 years now, but i couldn’t find a good website with japanese, but i’m sure this will help me!!!

    jya mata!!

    hugs from Holland! ^-^/

    1. Genki desu! Ogenki desu ka?

      I understand! I began loving Japanese at around your age too! (So it’s been about six years now, wow!) I hope you find this website very useful and are able to learn a lot of Japanese!

      Jya mata!

  4. Thanks for this site 🙂

    I feel like I’m good in speaking Japanese for a little time, I’m happy

    arigatou gozaimasu ^^

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