I’ve been asked a few times if I could do a version of the Japanese Verb Conjugator that displays proper Japanese text rather than Romaji. This is something I’d definitely like to do in the future however there’s a couple of things stopping me at the moment: firstly I don’t know how to go about doing the required programming using Japanese characters. Secondly even once I’ve worked that out it’s bound to be a pretty time consuming job to actually do it.
One thing I’ve noticed while trawling through the web is that some people - language purists and/or serious students maybe – discourage or actually look down on the use of Romaji. A link to this site from a well known Japanese language guru’s website is qualified with the statement “shame about the Romaji”; Various statements I’ve read include “learning Romaji is lazy”, “Japanese people don’t learn Romaji “ and “Romaji is evil” (I think the last one was a joke). The logic being that you should do things properly and take the time to learn Japanese by using Japanese characters, just like the Japanese people do.
A couple of things to say in defence of lazy Romaji users like myself…
1: In some cases Japanese people do learn Romaji. Firstly It’s sometimes used for typing Japanese text even on Japanese keyboards. Even more strangely – according to my wife who is Japanese – some children’s text books use Romaji as an aid for Japanese children to learn Hiragana. Is that weird or what ? Learning a foreign alphabet in order to help you learn your own writing system! Ok this knowledge was gleaned from my son attending a Japanese school for children in London, but they are using proper Japanese primary school text books.
2: For many people who learn a foreign language, initially at least, their aim is to be able to verbally communicate - that’s what makes learning a foreign language fun after all. Saying the right words is what’s important – the fact that it’s Romaji in your head doesn’t matter to the other person. The only time I’ve reached anything like real fluency in another language was studying Spanish full time at university for four years including a year in a Spanish speaking country. Most people haven’t got the luxury of that much time due to work and family commitments. In my own case I need to learn new stuff at work almost every day and only have a limited capacity in my head for other things. The priority for the average person planning a holiday or business trip is to learn enough of the language to find their way around and maybe make some friends with the locals. They don’t need the extra complication of learning hiragana and katakana, not to mention thousands of Kanji.
Don’t get me wrong – if you’ve managed to achieve fluency and master reading and writing Japanese I take my hat off to you, especially if you’ve done it without living in Japan and/or studying it in full time education. If you are planning to live and work in Japan then I would agree it's vital to learn as much as you can. It’s to my own shame that I haven’t even mastered Hiragana and my own son has been patronizing me since he was four. Maybe it’s about time I did that Kana version of the verb conjugator!