The Easiest Way to Learn Japanese Hiragana
Japanese language is an East Asian language primarily spoken in Japan as their National language. There are three main scripts or alphabets that the Japanese language uses i.e. hiragana, katakana, and kanji. There almost fifty characters each that makeup hiragana and katakana. The number makes it sound a bit difficult yet it has fewer characters to be memorized as compared to the English language, which has fifty-two characters if only capital and lowercase characters are taken into account.
The Japanese language uses Kanji which are characters imported from the Chinese language used in modern Japanese writing. Our focus in this article will be on exploring an easy way to learn Japanese hiragana characters only as it is one of the best ways to learn Japanese alphabet fast.
The best way to learn Japanese hiragana is to compare it with English language characters which make phonetic sounds, same as the hiragana characters do. Hiragana characters are mainly used for grammatical purposes to represent participles, expressions, and words that have difficult corresponding kanji characters.
It is easier to identify hiragana characters as they are curvy and simpler than the kanji characters. Although katakana characters represent the same sounds as hiragana yet words from foreign languages are mostly represented in katakana which generally are squarer than hiragana characters. Every katakana character has a hiragana counterpart that makes the same sound.
Hiragana is the name of the phonetic script for the Japanese language
With this script, every sound used in the language can be represented. You could, technically, write everything in this script, however, it has no spaces. So, once you were done it would be essentially impossible to read. Hiragana is read up to down and right to left, as is most things written in Japanese. In addition to this, the order in which you draw the strokes matters. It is important to note that typed Hiragana letters will look slightly different from the handwritten variety – but you should still be able to read them. Learning how to properly pronounce these letters is critical as well, because this is the basis of learning how to read and write Japanese. Tae Kim’s website has visual resources for learning and recommends additional ones as well. When initially learning Hiragana, take care to form good habits from the start, to develop good handwriting and avoid having to fix issues later. It is recommended to practice the old fashioned way, with a pen and pencil and a piece of paper.
The next topic covered in Tae Kim’s guide is the ‘muddied sounds.’ After memorising all of the main Hiragana characters, there is still more to be learned. Muddied sounds refers to five additional consonant sounds that are created by affixing either a two line symbol or a tiny circle symbol to an already existing symbol. This makes the sounds less clipped and therefore muddied – also know as a voiced consonant. All of these characters and letters are shown on Tae Kim’s website. They even have audio files attached so you can hear exactly how they are pronounced. It also runs down the order in which you must draw each letter or character so you can work to develop good habits.
Next is the small や , ゆ , and よ
You can combine consonants with these sounds by adding these characters. These are vowels and are pronounced a/ya/yu/yo. A small character that looks like a backwards C can also be inserted between two different characters to denote that the vowel sounds is carried between the two sounds on adjacent to it. This creates a characteristically Japanese sounding clipping noise, make sure that you are clipping the right letter. Usually, this is the last letter or sound – but not always.
There is also a long vowel sound
There are three more characters that you can use to create a long vowel sounds. Using these characters, you can extend a vowel sound among two words. Doing these creates a longer sound, but in actuality, it is really two sounds merged together. This is helpful to remember especially when trying to read Hiragana. Pronunciation of long vowels takes some practice and stretching the vowel incorrectly can make it sound like you are saying something different from what you actually intend to be saying. Be careful! Also remember that, like all languages, there are exceptions to be learned when it comes to Hiragana and its usage of vowels within the script.
Hiragana is one of two scripts (or kana) in the Japanese language
Hiragana is a grammatical language and is used mostly for instructional purposes, teaching children, or expressing complex or colloquial Japanese expressions. Hiragana also works to represent onomatopoeia, words imported from Western expressions, and words with otherwise rare characters. Kanji is the other script in Japanese writing – although its characters are largely adopted from traditional Japanese script. There are over 45,000 Kanji character, but 95% of written material uses only the same 2000 characters. Kanji is also far more common for written Japanese media.
Hiragana is one of three character sets, or one of two sets, used in Japanese
Each character in Hiragana is a sound or a syllable, but has no meaning on its own. You can use Hiragana to form full sentences, but they are lengthy and not all that commonly used widely throughout Japan – rather, other scripts are preferred. Hiragana was developed somewhere between the 8th century and the 10th century by simplifying already existing Kanji symbols. For the most part, Hiragana has more curved lines that other related scripts in either Japanese writing systems or Chinese writing systems. There are 46 basic letters, as well as modified letters to create different overall sounds. All of these can be accessed from a multitude of online sources, as well as the other scripts and other tenants of learning Japanese. Anyone can figure out how to learn Japanese Hiragana with a bit of time, patience, and effort. The resources to learn Japanese are free for the most part, so learning a new language is accessible to nearly anyone with a computer.
Following is an example of a foreign name written in katakana:
ジョン・スミス represents “John Smith” which is a foreign name.
First and last name is separated by the dot to make it easier for Japanese readers to identify the first and last name of a person.
If you are looking for answers to how to learn Japanese hiragana and katakana, one of the easiest way to learn Japanese hiragana is keeping a hiragana and katakana chart as a reference. The internet has a number of helpful charts that you can choose from, these charts help you while reading and writing in Japanese.
How to Learn Japanese Hiragana Fast
1) Use Mnemonics:
Most of the people who want to learn the Japanese language lack the technique on how to learn Japanese hiragana and katakana. As hiragana characters are relatively simpler than kanji, the best way to learn Japanese hiragana is through image-based mnemonics which prove to be the perfect method for memorization. A memorable illustration is what represents each of the hiragana characters making it easy to memorize the characters through the use of mnemonics. It’s amazing what you are able to memorize when using the mnemonic method.
2) Type Japanese:
Another easy way to learn Japanese hiragana is by typing in Japanese on a regular and frequent basis. It is recommended to use the Japanese language while taking notes, writing to a friend/colleague, or updating a status on Facebook/Twitter.
Select Japanese as your keyboard language on your computer to type in Japanese. It is easier to type in Japanese because any character you tap on your English keyboard will give you a character in hiragana which makes the same phonetic sound i.e. typing “ko” will give you “こ” which represent the same phonetic sound as “ko”.
Pressing the space-bar on your keyboard will give you a drop-down menu that lets you select possible katakana or kanji characters if you not satisfied with the hiragana characters you have already typed. It helps you recognize the hiragana characters as well as their corresponding katakana and kanji characters.
3) Write Japanese
If you want to learn Japanese alphabet fast, writing with a pen on paper is the next recommended step for you. After memorizing the characters through mnemonics and typing, practicing writing these characters with your hand will help in engraving each character in your memory. One of the recommended ways to write is by keeping a journal, a notebook, or flashcards; these help in memorizing the use of characters while you are writing in the Japanese language.
Furthermore, another easy way to learn Japanese hiragana is by keeping a calendar capturing your daily activities, tasks, meetings, and events, written in Japanese. It seems a difficult task to take on initially but it surely is the easiest way to learn Japanese hiragana, as it will become a daily routine for you to follow and practice making it easier to learn because practice makes anything perfect.
4) Read Japanese
Reading a foreign language is the most difficult part, people often recommend reading to be the first step in learning a language yet it is better if you memorize the characters first, practice a bit of typing, and add some daily use of language to your routine before taking on the reading challenge.
Keeping a chart of the hiragana and katakana characters can prove to be a great help in reading apart from using Google to pronounce any word that you are facing difficulty to pronounce. Using technology as a source and guide to learning can fast-track your progress in learning the Japanese hiragana.
Practicing the available exercises over the internet is the answer to how to learn Japanese hiragana fast. Testing your memory on what you have learned in an honest way to be able to track your progress will really help you improve your Japanese language skills. There are well thought out exercises for beginners available all over the internet which can help you learn hiragana.
These exercises are planned in a way to force you to recall your memory as it is proved through research that the more effort and strain you put into recalling something, your brain builds up a stronger memory of it and it becomes easier to recall over time.
The next step after attaining a moderate level in hiragana is to move on to learn the other components of the Japanese language i.e. katakana and kanji characters. Having the memory of hiragana to support your learning, it will become easier for you to take on the next challenge in the Japanese language. Hiragana will always remain a part of the process in learning the Japanese language, so moving to other components after acquiring moderate skill in hiragana will actually help in advancing the hiragana skill as well as supporting you in learning the other two components of the language.
With hiragana you have the tools to learn the Japanese language, I hope this article was an answer to your fears in starting the learning process; keep working hard and you’ll get there!