If you know anything about the history of Spain and Japan, you know that there are few similarities between their cultures and languages. Culturally, and linguistically, Spain has a major influence from ancient Rome as well as the long Moorish rule of the country.
By contrast Japan had its most powerful influences from Asia, mostly Korea and China. The different forms of Japanese writing have their roots in Chinese writing, although Mandarin Chinese and Japanese are linguistically completely different.
The Mandarin Chinese language is a good example of a language that is in a separate category than both Japanese and Spanish. Chinese uses a complex set of tones to communicate meaning. A good example is the word, “ma.” That word can mean anything from “mom” to “horse” to even a kind of “pronounced question mark” at the end of a sentence to indicate that you’re asking a question. There are 5 different ways (tones) that you can use to pronounce “ma,” and each tone would change the meaning of the word completely.
In contrast, Japanese and Spanish do not use such complex tones to change the meaning of words. Japanese and Spanish are, in that way, in a separate category than Mandarin Chinese and other tonal languages like Vietnamese and Thai.
We can also separate Japanese and Spanish from languages like English. When a person learns English as a second language, they often struggle with English pronunciation rules. English is not one of the languages where one can easily understand the pronunciation of a word just as it is written, and there are complicated rules to when things are pronounced in different ways.
By contrast, Spanish and Japanese have consistent pronunciation rules that make it possible to see the written word and know how to pronounce it. In Spanish, once you know the sounds of the Spanish alphabet and some straightforward pronunciation rules, you’re pretty much set to see and be able to pronounce Spanish words.
In Japanese, the language’s sounds are represented by a small number of Japanese characters called, Kana (Hiragana and Katakana) each of which represent a syllable in the language. If you master the sounds related to those small number of syllables, you can piece together the pronunciation of any Japanese word.
So at a high level, Japanese and Spanish share the characteristic that their written forms can be used to easily convey the pronunciation of words clearly and consistently. But even as we dig deeper into the pronunciation, we see more similarities between the two languages emerge.
The vowels in…