Japanese (Nihongo)

So why do I find Japanese so fascinating?
I think it's probably because it is just so different to any other language. I am a native English speaker and I did my time with GCSE French. I also know the usually few words (very few word) of German, Italian, and Spanish. All these languages however are fairly similar. Japanese is just different.

Kana

Firstly the Japanese have two alphabets called Hiragana and Katakana (generally referred to by westerners as "kana"). These are slightly different - Hiragana is more rounded whereas Katakana is more angular. The Japanese use the Katakana to build word pronunciations for "foreign" words (such as computer).

Early encounters with the Japanese resulted in approximate translations of each symbol in these two alphabets. This is called "romanji". It is not 100% accurate as some sounds simply do not have any direct equivalent sound in English but they do give a general gist.

Kanji

But Kana is not used on it's own for writing. They also use "Kanji". Kanji are used to represent words and concepts. So for example there is are Kanji symbols for "sun", "moon", "book", "small", "big", "cat". These are pronounced in a certain way - indicated by relevant kana - but it should be noted that pronunciation can change depending on exact context).

Learning more

There are many books that have been recommended to me (although I have yet to buy one as yet), and also lots of web sites. The best bet is to take a course at a local college/university however you can make a start using various web sites. A great way to start is a search on google (or another search engine). This turned up lots of pages for me.

Contrary to popular belief Japanese is not an extremely difficult language to start learn. In fact the basics are *far* more logical than English. You take simple constructs and literally "plug in" words. What makes it more tricky is the entire language uses the "proper manner". You are expected to modify how you speak depending on your relation to who you speak to. This is true of most languages, but even more so in Japanese.