Welcome to Kiki and Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! in blog form for your quick referencing convenience where Kiki and Koko take turns button-mashing the keyboard until coherent Japanese language blog posts appear~!
Oh, Caracteres romanos… More commonly known in Japanese as: Romaji…. Or is it Rōmaji… Roman-ji? Roomaji? Rômaji…? RômaZI…!? If you’re brand new to learning Japanese, chances are, you’re using a textbook or a site that’s using what’s called …we’ll say: romaji.
Romaji, (ローマ字), is literally translated as Roman characters (letters). It’s basically what we’re using and you’re reading right now, most likely… unless you’re reading a translated version of this page. Only, in context, it’s used as what we’d call, romanisation.
Romanisation is basically when Japanese is written using the roman/latin alphabet for those who don’t read Japanese script. As we explained in this article about the Japanese writing system, Japanese doesn’t normally use the Roman alphabet. And, obviously, most of the Earth’s population that doesn’t know Japanese language won’t know how to write in Japanese. So, basically, romaji is there to romanise those characters so everyone can read it. That sounds great! When in Rome, am I right?… Not exactly…
Let’s look at it this way: Japanese usually doesn’t use romaji for communication, yet beginners and even intermediate level Japanese learners use it to try to learn how to communicate. (You can see why reading is so important in this article)
But, we’re not trying to be sticklers of course, it’s absolutely wonderful to learn a language in any capacity. But, think if you were unable to read street signs or books or …anything in your native language, but you knew how to speak a bit. You’ll feel like you’re spinning you’re wheels a bit, tyres in the mud— like despite the amount you’ve learned, you’re still not feeling immersed. And, that can be very discouraging to people! And, we don’t want that~
Sometimes romaji even makes learning new vocabulary more difficult, not knowing the proper pronunciation on paper due to the barrier of reading, all of the extra letters making the word look too long—The visual of Japanese writing can help you memorise those words, learning two concepts at once. It’s learning smarter~
So, okay, maybe we haven’t convinced you, maybe you think: They’re just trying to trap me into learning… Reading’s for squares. To which we might wonder why you’re this far into the article…. But! Silliness aside, here’s the real reason why romaji is the crutch that will double cross you—Inconsistency.
If you’ve tried to learn Korean with romanisation, you’ll understand right away—Those K/Gs and P/Bs… But, the writing system takes like a half hour to learn, tops. *ehem* but, that’s… a story for another day…
Consistently inconsistent. Well… Sort of. You see, here’s the thing: There is more than one type of romanisation, and they all spell Japanese words differently which makes it seem like they’re pronounced in wildly different ways. Like romaji! Is it romaji, rōmaji, roomaji, rômaji, rômazi…!? Depending on the textbook you look at, all of them could be used. There are several different forms of romanisation and some are favoured over others—one moreso with even the Japanese government itself.
But let’s not be too stringent– don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to write in Japanese. This is all in good fun to show that if you’re looking to really learn Japanese, learning how to write and read is helpful and important. Every textbook has to start out somewhere, and when you’re learning how to read and write, you sort of have to use it at first if you’re studying on your own. But, basically, our warning is to be careful!
And, seriously, after you get going, it gets easier. The more you know, the more you’ll be capable of knowing. Everything seems difficult when you look at an entire language at once, but if you take it one step at a time, little baby steps—little bite sized pieces— You’ll find you didn’t need romaji afterall…..or roomaji……..rômazi?… Good night, everybody!