While Japanese is by far the dominant language spoken in Japan — 99% of Japanese speak it — as the nation becomes increasingly open to outside influence, other languages, like Korean and English, are becoming more common. On the other hand, some previously healthy local languages, less useful than Japanese, Korean or English in the modern global marketplace, struggle to remain viable.

According to The UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, even Okinawan, with a million remaining speakers, is in peril. Before Okinawan disappears make sure to learn these proverbs:

— “Machushi garu ufu iyoo tuyuru:: One who waits patiently will catch a big fish.

— “Yaasa ru maasaru”: Food is delicious when one is hungry. And, most appropriately,

— “Nmarijima nu kutuba wasshii nee kuni n wasshiin”: Forgetting your native tongue means forgetting your native country.

If you want to write Japanese you’ll have to learn several scripts: Chinese characters (kanji) and two “syllabic scripts” based on Chinese characters — hiragana and katakana. What’s the difference? According to About.com’s overview of Japanese writing:

— Kanji represents blocks of meaning (nouns, stems of adjectives and verbs)
— Hiragana expresses the grammatical relationship between them
— Katakana is used for foreign names, the names of foreign places and words of foreign origin.

Still confused? This may or may not help.

(More info: should you write Japanese vertically or horizontally? | See what your name looks like in Japanese phonetic characters called katatana)

Rōmaji, the traditional way of translating Japanese into the Latin alphabet is becoming more and more prevalent, especially as Japan integrates into an increasingly English-speaking world. In class we’ll stick with rōmaji and say hello and goodbye in Japanese:

Hello: Konnichi wa
Goodbye: Sayonara

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