Do you really need to learn basic Japanese for travel even on a short trip? In a world where simple English is understood in most places around the globe and where you can get instant translation services on your smartphone (assuming you have access to wifi or data), it may seem unnecessary to learn some of the local language before visiting a new place. While it does seem somewhat old fashioned to memorize common terms and phrases, I’ve found that knowing just 10 or 15 key phrases without having to refer to a book or my phone enriches my travel experience.
With my camera always in my hand it’s pretty hard to hide the fact that I’m a tourist, but the locals always seem to get friendlier once they see that I’ve made an effort to speak their language. It worked so well for me in Italy that I suspect you could even get away with wearing a fanny pack if you study hard enough.
This picture was taken in the Tokyo subway system when I was last in Japan. It looked like an interesting ad but the only word I understood was “apartments”.
While not really useful for reading signs and apartment ads, I really enjoyed working out of my Japanese phrase book on that trip because Japanese is actually a very easy language to pronounce for English speakers. Japanese is made up of a few common syllables and their sounds can be easily described using the English alphabet. A guy I found on the Tofugu blog called Koichi came up with this great cheat sheet (click to download the .pdf from the blog):
But just because it’s easy to pronounce, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to remember. As a Canadian I speak both French and English which made Italian fairly easy to learn [averagetraveller.com] because I could recognize the root or base of many words but even with my basic knowledge of Cantonese Chinese I don’t have that luxury with Japanese.
I think the only words I memorized last time were hello, good-bye, please, thank-you, and excuse me – more of my Canadian side showing I guess. Good old cramming will be needed to bulk up my vocab for the upcoming trip but luckily there are some great resources online:
- Fodor’s Basic Japanese Phrases
- Matador’s 10 Extraordinarily Useful Japanese Phrases
- Japanese for Dummies
And just as I did to learn Italian, I’m also using the videos offered by the Travel Linguist to study on my phone when I have 5 minutes to spare. They offer up Level 1 -3 videos for Dining, Greetings, Directions, and Common Phrases on YouTube for free. Here are three of the Level 1 videos.
This post was shared with
- Travel Tip Tuesday hosted by Walkingon Travel and Suitcases & Sippy Cups.
- Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Traveller’s Sandbox