Japanese: Lesson 1

Download this 4 disc audio course here:


It is unfinished, there are intended to be another 4 discs.

I recommend downloading and listening to the audio course. But here is a text sample of the start of the first lesson:


You already know some Japanese words that have been adopted into English:

Karate is pronounced kara-te in Japanese. Karaoke is pronounced kara-oke. Kara-te means empty hand in Japanese. Kara-oke means empty orchestra.

So how would you say "empty" in Japanese?


In Japanese there is no word for "it", you just leave it out. In Japanese it is very normal to leave out any part of the sentence that is already understood.

The Japanese word for is is da, spelt D A. But in Japanese "da" always goes right at the END of the sentence, after everything else, instead of in the middle like it is in English.

So how would you say "It is empty" in Japanese?

?It is empty.|Kara da.

How would you say "It is sushi" in Japanese?

?It is sushi.|Sushi da.

"da" can mean "is", "am", "are" or "to be". They are all the same in Japanese. All just "da".

It’s also normal to leave out the "I", "you", "she", or "he" when they already understand who you are talking about. You also leave out words like "a", "an" or "the", they don’t exist in Japanese.

So if teacher is "Sensei" in Japanese, how would you say "I am a teacher"?

?I am a teacher.|Sensei da.

And how would you say "She is a teacher"?

?She is a teacher.|Sensei da.

The same, yes.

"Da" is what you use when talking to your friends, and it is the form you will find in the dictionary.

But when talking to anyone who is not your friend, you use the more polite form "de su". It is spelt D E S U, but people normally drop the U and pronounce it "des".

So how would I say "I am a teacher" when talking to someone who isn’t a friend?

?I am a teacher.|Sensei desu.

DES means the same as DA, but is more formal.

Do you remember what "Kara-te" means?

?kara-te|empty hand

So how do I say politely "It is a hand."

?It is a hand.|Te desu.

And to a friend?

?It is a hand.|Te da.

Japanese uses the hiragana alphabet, where each letter is a combination of consonant plus vowel. The letter TE is easy, because it looks just like the line on your right palm.

te: て

and it means hand.

The letter TA is even easier. It looks just like the lowercase english letters T A but with the front and back of the A missing.

ta: た

To change the letter "ta" into the letter "da" you add a double qote symbol in the top right hand corner.

da: だ

The Japanese full-stop or "period" is like an English one, but it is hollow, so it is a small circle rather than a dot.

So if you are writing to your friend, let’s call him "Tom", how would you write "It is a hand", in Japanese?

?It is a hand.|て だ。

Writing in Japanese isn’t so hard.

You can probably guess how to write the letter "de". Changing "te" into "de" is the same as changing "ta" into "da". You just add the double quotes like this:

de: で

The letter "su" is a bit harder, since it doesn’t look like anything much.

su: す

It is a horizontal line, with a vertical line that goes through it and does a loop-the-loop. I imagine it looks like a soup spoon, but it takes a bit of imagination to see it as that.

Now try writing "It is a hand" politely.

?It is a hand.|て です。

In Japanese, if you want to say "I like something" you have to say it backwards as "Something is liked." Actually, most languages say it backwards. English is the odd one out.

The word for liked is "suki". To remember it, think "I like it, and I starting SOOKING when I don’t get it". SUKI is spelt S U K I.

So how would you say politely "It is liked"?

?It is liked.|Suki desu.

Literally you are saying "liked, is". But it means "it is liked" or as we would say "I like it".

The letter ki looks sort of like a picture of an old fashioned key.

ki: き

You can make any sentence into a question, or a kawestion as I like to call it, by adding ka on the end. It makes a sentence into a yes or no kawestion. You also need to add ka onto the end of any kind of kawestion, for example, "who ate my cake?" is not a yes or no kawestion, but it still needs "ka" on the end. The "ka" is like a kawestion mark, but in Japanese you pronounce it.

How would you ask politely "Do you like it?", literally "Is it liked?"

?Is it liked?|suki desu ka?

And how would you say politely, "It is sushi. Do you like it?"

?It is sushi. Do you like it?|Sushi desu. Suki desu ka?

If you are talking to your friend Tom, then you will use the plain form instead of the polite form. You could say "Suki da ka?" which would be perfectly correct, but in real life people don’t say "Suki da ka?". When you are asking Tom a question, you will just say "Suki?" by itself. People normally drop both the "da" and the "ka" when they ask a friend a question. How how would you say to Tom, "It is sashimi, do you like it?"

?It is sashimi. Do you like it?|Sashimi da. Suki?

Sashimi is raw fish. In the likely event that you don’t like like Sashimi, then the opposite of "Suki" is "Kirai". Kirai means "dislike". Think "it is so bad it makes you cry". "Kirai".

The Japanese word for "no" is "Iie", with a doubly long "i" sound. It is spelt I I E, "IIE". So how would you answer politely, "No, I dislike it" or literally, "No it is disliked".

?No, it is disliked.|Iie, kirai desu.

Kirai is spelt K I R A I in our alphabet, or starting with the hiragana letter ki that you already learnt.

On the other hand, the letter ka for a kawestion is spelt K A in our alphabet, and it looks sort of like an upside down cup if you use your imagination.

ka: か

It sounds like the "ka" sound in "I can’t do it", and if you write the word "can’t" you can see the letter ka in it:


The letter "ra" which is used in both "kara" and "kirai", looks like a broken number 5.

ra: ら

The top of the 5 is broken off and floating above it, and the bottom looks a bit squashed out of shape. But it still looks like a 5. To remember that RA looks like a 5, just say "ra" 5 times... ra ra ra ra ra.

Kirai has 3 letters... ki, ra, and i.

i: い

The letter "i" looks like round brackets, aka parentheses. I sometimes think of it as a picture of an Igloo from above.

Do you remember how to say to your friend Tom, "It is empty"?

?It is empty.|kara da.

So how would you write that in hiragana?

?kara da.|から だ。

Sometimes you might want to say "It is very empty". In Japanese "very" sounds like "totally". It becomes "totemo" in Japanese. "Totemo" comes before the word it describes, just like in English. So how would you say politely "It is totally empty"?

?It is totally empty.|totemo kara desu.

How would you say to your friend Tom, "It is totally liked"?

?It is totally liked.|totemo suki da.

There is also another way of saying that you really like or dislike something. You can say that you like it so much you will die without it. Or you dislike it so much it makes you want to die. Just put the word "dai" in front of "suki" or "kirai". Then it becomes "daisuki" or "daikirai". Daisuki sort of means love, and daikirai sort of means hate.

So, using "dai" how would you say politely, "I really like it."

?I really like it.|daisuki desu.

And I really dislike it?

?I really dislike it.|daikirai desu.

And how would you write that?

?daikirai desu.|だいきらい です。

In addition to "ka" making a kawestion, there is another ending you can put on the end of a sentence. Adding "ne" at the end of a sentence means "isn’t it"?

How would you say politely "it is very empty, isn’t it?"?

?It is very empty, isn’t it?|Totemo kara desu ne.

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