There are some people out there that get the idea in their heads that they only want to learn how to speak Japanese, and nothing else. Maybe they have some Japanese friends they want to talk to. Maybe they will be traveling in Japan and want to be able to mingle with the locals. Maybe they love anime and only care about understanding it.
If you only need to speak (and by extension, listen) to Japanese, then why spend all that additional time going through the complicated writing system? Save the time with romaji, and focus on what really matters to you.
I’ve seen beginners tread down this path. Romaji presents the appearance of a shortcut for the “speaker only.” But there are so many reasons why romaji is a bad idea, even if you think you never want to touch the written word.
But first… the one reason I find completely acceptable to use romaji for those who only want to speak Japanese…
You have a one time trip to Japan for a short period of time (up to a few weeks), and you will never use that Japanese or step foot in Japan again. In this scenario, it’s probably not worth the trouble to learn the basic characters of Japanese for such minimal use. Get yourself a guidebook that uses romaji, or some online app, and you’ll be good to go.
Assuming this isn’t you (which if you’re here, shouldn’t be), here’s why you should not learn romaji even if you only want to learn to speak Japanese.
10. The kana (hiragana and katakana) are easy to learn
9. Limited expansion
You may start off thinking you only want to speak. This changes quickly. Most people that start off studying Japanese have a small set of narrow goals. This set grows over time. Don’t waste all that beginner time when you could start yourself off right with learning the kana.
Your pronunciation is going to be off. While romaji tries its best to get the sounds correctly, it just doesn’t always do the best job. If you want your spoken Japanese to sound good, you need to learn the Japanese sounds through kana.
7. Some romaji systems are counter-intuitive
How would you pronounce the following sounds:
Si – Tu – Hu – Ti – Sya
Depending on the system, these are actually pronounced:
Shee – Tsu – Fu – Chee – Sha
6. You are hindering the growth of your “Japanese brain”
By using romaji, you keep the English link inside your brain strong. The stronger the link, the harder it is to connect with and actually think in Japanese. To speak and listen you are going to want your brain in Japanese mode.
5. You probably will fail
I don’t want to sound too negative here, but there are very few people who get to any good level of speaking by using romaji. There may be the occasional anecdotal story, but what are the chances that you are going to be that rare exception?
4. It’s not going to be as much fun
You are probably learning Japanese because you think it’s cool and has something special about it. With romaji, you’ll take away a large chunk of that special feel, and turn it into English. It feels amazing to be able to use Japanese characters.
3. To get good speaking/listening you need to practice reading
You can obtain a moderate level of spoken Japanese without ever diving into reading. But if you want to get better, you probably are going to want to read at some point.
2. You will limit your access to learner materials
Japanese was meant to be learned through kana (and eventually kanji). Regardless of the teaching methods used today, traditional or new, almost all places teach in kana. Don’t restrict what material you can use.
1. You open up Japan for yourself
If you are studying Japanese, then you probably like Japan. With romaji, you can only look at Japan through a narrow filter. If you want to be able to access the real Japan, you need the keys.
Romaji for speaking success?
I’d say steer clear if you want any kind of results that are going to make you happy in the long run.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.