As you may have guessed, in Japan people use Japanese to communicate! Japanese is a wonderful(ly complex) language and we are blessed with an opportunity to learn it!
As we want to reach the Japanese people with the gospel and speak heart-to-heart, we need to communicate fluently in Japanese. This is a high value for our community and we aim to transition the community to function bilingually in Japanese and English at some point. As we are still in the early stages of pioneering YWAM Sendai, and there is only one Japanese on our team, we are currently functioning in English.
One measureable goal for all of our non-Japanese team members is to reach N2 (second highest) level on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This is the standard language test set by the Japanese government. This is the level many businesses in Japan require of their non-Japanese staff.
It is expected that all of our non-Japanese team members will spend a good portion of their time during the first couple of years in Japan studying the language. Of course, this will look different depending on the person. This could involve self-study, language classes, and conversation practice. Likely a mixture! We will help each person set measureable goals to work towards.
Before even coming to Japan, below you will find some tips on developing a good foundation.
First things first: Hiragana
Hiragana and Katakana are the basic syllabic scripts that make up the Japanese writing system, along with Kanji (Chinese characters). Think English alphabet. Kind of. But different.
Every sound in Japanese can be written in kana. As a rule of thumb, Hiragana (the curvy characters) are used for Japanese words and grammar particles, while Katakana (the straight characters) are used for imported words. Like foreign names.
We pretty much require all new team members to read hiragana before they arrive in Japan. Don't worry - this is the simplest part of learning the language! :) Its all about memorisation. If you focus, you will pretty much learn it in a week! While you're at it, learn proper pronounciation too. Read out loud as you memorise the characters. And for bonus points, learn to type too! Don't bother learning to write at this point. Though you can if you want. Typing is where its at in this day and age.
A word of caution: stay away from something known as romaji!! These are Japanese sounds in latin alphabet. Your brain will use this as a crutch. Pretend it does not exist. Seriously. Learn hiragana!
The Japanese language and culture blog, Tofugu, is rather helpful. Check out the resources on this page!
We also recommend checking out the OMF language resources on this page. They have resources for learning Christian terminology that are particularly useful for missionaries.
Okay, so maybe you already know hiragana? Or you just learned it in a week or so. (Congrats!) And you're still raising financial support. Which means you have more time to study the language! ;)
Seriously, the more ground work on this you do before you arrive, the better. A solid foundation will really help!
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Japanese grammar (which you can focus on when you're immersed in it in Japan), it is good to learn to read basic kanji, touch up a little more on pronounciation, learn to read katakana, and practice typing it too. If you can work on these things before coming to Japan, it will help immensely as you then can focus on grammar without the distraction of learning these basic things from scratch.
No worries if you don't have time to make it this far before coming! (Just make sure you learn hiragana ASAP!) The more you learn the better.
Just keep going through the Tofugu page we linked to earlier and you will make good progress.
In terms of kanji learning, they do recommend Wanikani, which they made themselves. I (Gary) use it and think it works extremely well! You can take a trial for free, which is nice. They also tend to do a New Year sale where you can get lifetime access for a really good price.
May God guide you and open your mind to this exciting and interesting language!