The Japanese writing system is one of the most unique in the world. It is also one of the most difficult to learn for those unfamiliar with it. One of the most common questions people ask about the Japanese writing system is whether it is written from left to right or right to left. In this blog post, we will answer that question and provide a brief overview of the Japanese writing system!
Is Japanese Left To Right?
No, Japanese is written from top to bottom and right to left. While some languages like English are read left to right, Japanese is traditionally read from the top of a page down to the bottom and then from right to left. This means that each line of text starts from the far-right side of a page instead of the far-left side.
History Of Left-To-Right Writing
- The earliest Japanese was written using Chinese characters, which were read from right to left.
- By the 8th century, a writing system called “man’yōgana,” which used individual syllables instead of words was invented and written from top to bottom.
- In the 10th century, the kana syllabary was invented, which combined the Chinese character writing system and man’yōgana and allowed for the writing of Japanese words rather than just syllables.
- In the 11th century, a left-to-right format called “Sengoku kanji,” which read Chinese characters from left to right became popular.
- In the 12th century, Chinese characters lost their meaning and became used for phonetic writing only. This was called “kanban” and also written from left to right.
- By the 17th century, a new writing style had developed that combined Chinese characters and hiragana, which were written using a mixture of left-to-right and right-to-left.
- By the 19th century, the Japanese writing system had been standardized as it is today –– with a combination of Chinese characters and two syllabaries (hiragana and katakana), written from top to bottom, left to right.
- In the early 20th century, vertical writing became less common, and horizontal writing was adopted.
- By the mid-20th century, printing techniques had developed that allowed for left-to-right printing of Japanese text.
- Today, the vast majority of Japanese is written from left to right. However, there are still some vertical writings and right-to-left writing styles used in specific contexts.
How Does The Japanese Language Work?
- Japanese has three writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
- Japanese uses particles to mark the grammatical functions of words in a sentence.
- Japanese sentences are often structured differently than English sentences, with the verb usually appearing at the end.
- Using honorifics is essential to properly express respect in Japanese.
- Japanese often relies on context and subtle cues rather than explicit statements for communication.
- There is no singular/plural distinction in Japanese nouns, making it important to pay attention to the context for understanding meaning.
- Adjectives and adverbs have distinct endings that must be added to the end of each word.
- Japanese has a variety of politeness levels for communication, ranging from very polite to casual.
- The conjugation of verbs is an essential part of expressing meaning in Japanese.
- Japanese uses specific counters and numbers when referring to certain objects or quantities.
Benefits Of Learning Japanese Left-To-Right
- Improved reading comprehension and speed in both Japanese and English.
- Ability to accurately interpret Kanji symbols, making learning other languages easier.
- Enhanced memory retention for words, phrases, and grammar points due to the ordering of characters from right to left rather than left to right in English.
- More efficient use of time by reducing the number of steps needed to read a text.
- Improved pronunciation and intonation when speaking Japanese due to reading the language in the native order.
- A more natural understanding of Japanese culture through expressions, slang, and other features often not found in books or dictionaries aimed at foreign learners.
- Increased ability to read and understand native Japanese texts, allowing access to materials not usually available in English or other languages.
- Improved recognition of Kanji characters by learning them in the correct order rather than just memorizing individual symbols.
- Development of a better grasp of the whole language, as reading left-to-right in Japanese allows readers to see the natural flow of the language.
- Ability to read faster, thus providing access to more Japanese media and resources in a shorter time.
Resources For Learning Japanese Left-To-Right
- The Japan Foundation’s “Kana and Kanji” book series teaches readers how to write the characters with step-by-step instructions.
- “Genki Japanese Language Course” textbook, which emphasizes left-to-right reading and writing for beginners.
- The “Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese” online guide provides a comprehensive overview of the language with lessons for both beginners and advanced learners.
- The “Let’s Learn Japanese Basic I & II” textbooks, which offer an introduction to the left-to-right reading system by providing exercises and quizzes.
- The “Japanese from Zero” series covers the basics of Japanese writing, grammar, and vocabulary with a focus on reading left to right.
- FluentU’s online courses, which come with video lessons that demonstrate how to read the language in its native form.
- The “Japanese for Everyone” textbook series provides a comprehensive introduction to the language and offers practice in reading left to right.
- The “Japanese Left-Right Reading Handbook” from Tuttle Publishing covers the basics of mastering the left-to-right system with examples and exercises.
Tips For Making The Switch To Left-To-Right Writing In Japanese
- Practice reading simple words left-to-right until you get comfortable with the order of characters.
- Start writing simple Japanese sentences in left-to-right form, focusing on one character at a time.
- Notice how certain Kanji are pronounced differently in left-to-right and right-to-left reading.
- Revise words and phrases you’ve already learned in English to the left-to-right order.
- Memorize the characters of each word, as well as their pronunciation, by writing them down several times in left-to-right form.
- Read aloud sentences written left to right to get used to the flow of the language.
- Set aside specific times throughout the day to practice writing Japanese in left-to-right form.
- Use flashcards with kanji characters written left to right and their meanings on one side and their pronunciations on the other side.
- Listen to audio recordings of native Japanese speakers reading left-to-right and imitate their pronunciation.
- Have a native speaker of Japanese or an experienced teacher check your writing for accuracy.
Learning to read and write Japanese from left to right can be intimidating, but with practice, it is possible to become fluent in a relatively short amount of time. By using resources such as textbooks, online courses, and native speakers, learners can become more familiar with the language’s ordering system and gain the ability to understand more complex written material. With dedication and hard work, anyone can master the left-to-right system of the Japanese and reap all the benefits it has to offer!
Q: Is left-to-right reading more difficult than right-to-left?
A: Not necessarily. While the learning curve of left-to-right may be slightly steeper, it will eventually become just as natural as right-to-left.
Q: Do I need to know Kanji to read left to right?
A: Not necessarily. While it is helpful to understand the meaning of each character, understanding the phonetics can help you get by.
Q: What are some good resources for learning Japanese left-to-right?
A: The Japan Foundation’s “Kana and Kanji” textbook, Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese online guide, the “Japanese from Zero” series of books, FluentU’s online courses, and the “Japanese Left-Right Reading Handbook” from Tuttle Publishing are all great resources for mastering the left-to-right system.