The Best Way To Learn The Japanese Alphabet

September 21, 2023
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The Best Way To Learn The Japanese Alphabet

If you’re looking for the best way to learn the Japanese alphabet, then you’ve come to the right place! We'll provide you with some useful pointers and techniques in this post to aid in your learning of the fundamentals.

Learning a foreign language can both be fun and rewarding. However, given that the Japanese language uses three different writing systems, it can seem scary and challenging for most people. Did you say three writing systems? Of course, that could be very scary! Discover the best way to learn the Japanese alphabet.

Introducing the 3 Japanese writing systems

Hiragana:

Hiragana Practice Chart
Japanese Hiragana practice chart (source: Japademy)

It is the most basic writing system and it provides the foundations of the Japanese language. For this reason, Hiragana is the first writing system taught to Japanese children. It is made of 56 basic characters or 71 including the diacritics and these characters are used to write words that are originally Japanese.

Katakana:

Katakana Practice Chart
Japanese Katakana practice chart (source: Japademy)

Pretty similar to Hiragana, it has the same number of characters and identical pronunciation. The difference is that Katakana is used when writing words that were brought from foreign countries into the Japanese language. For example, big-mac (ビッグマック) or sweater (セーター) or ball pen (ボールペン). Learning Katakana will prove particularly useful when reading menus at foreign restaurants in Japan or when talking about foreign words in general.

Kanji:

Japanese Kanji flashcard
Japanese Kanji flashcard (source: Japademy)

It is the most used script for writing Japanese. However, it is not native to Japan. Kanji was actually brought from China to Japan around the fifth century AD. Did you know that Kanji is also the origin of the two other scripts which are Hiragana and Katakana? Yes, it is! However, the difference between Kanji from the other two scripts is that it consists of over 2,136 characters. That’s a lot! But don’t be intimidated because you’ll surely learn all of them through the learning steps and recommendations below.

The best way to learn the Japanese alphabet

Based on our experience at Japademy teaching the Japanese language to hundreds of students worldwide, we have found that the easiest and best way is to get introduced to learning by following these steps:

Start with Hiragana

As mentioned above, Hiragana is the most basic of the three kinds of Japanese alphabet and it provides the basis for all written Japanese. For this reason, you should start here before moving on to Katakana and Kanji. By just knowing Hiragana you can get by in most Japanese language situations.

To help yourself learn the Hiragana characters, you can follow these steps.

First, get a handout with a list of characters and practice writing them and pronouncing them at the same time. These can be found all around the internet, just download a PDF, print them out and then you can already start your practice session. Here’s an important tip: pronouncing them while you write them will help you to remember them.

Second, find simple Japanese-written paragraphs and try to read them and then write them yourself. This will help you become faster both at reading and writing, which eventually will make you more fluent in the language.

Move on to Katakana

As was also mentioned above, Katakana has the same number of characters and identical pronunciation as Hiragana. Thus, you’ll get that familiar feeling when you start learning Katakana. By just learning it, you will be able to read or talk about foreign words in general.

To help yourself learn the Katakana characters, you can follow the same steps as for learning Hiragana. Additionally, you could get on the internet a PDF list with the most common Katakana words and practice reading those words.

In our experience, Katakana characters are harder to read compared with Hiragana, so make sure to put extra effort into it!

Finally, start learning Kanji

As was mentioned above, Kanji consists of 2,136 characters so it will take you more time and effort to learn it. Thus, we recommend learning Kanji only for people who have reached a pre-intermediate level of Japanese. To learn Kanji, you can also use the same techniques you have previously used in learning Hiragana and Katakana. Following these recommendations will surely help you to make your learning journey faster and easier.

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