Learn Japanese Kana in just 3 hours

Learn Japanese Kana in just 3 hours

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In this post, I’m going to share with you how I learned and memorized Japanese Kana and how you can do the same in just 3 hours.

Hiragana and Katakana are probably the easiest bit when learning Japanese. With the right technique, you can absolutely learn and memorize them in just 3 hours — as long as you can remain focus. The key to replicate this success is by doing repetitive exercises.

For long-term memorization, you will need to be continually exposed to the Japanese characters. This can be done by reading web articles and singing to your favorite karaoke songs.

Hiragana

As a start, both Hiragana and Katakana have 4 forms; normal, diacritics, digraphs, and double consonants. We will cover all of them in this post. Trust me, these are easy to remember because not all characters have diacritics, digraphs, and double consonants forms.

Normal form

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Now, let us tackle hiragana together. Have a look at this figure.

Hiragana Chart (
Hiragana Chart ( image source)Notice the labelling on the right side and at the top? These are markers to aid you in your memorization.

Note that in the column w-, the characters WI and WE are not commonly used anymore. It's perfectly fine to ignore it. The first step to memorize Japanese Kana is to be familiar with the sound of each of the character. Now, watch this video and listen to how I pronounce them and follow along.

Pronouncing each character in the Hiragana chart.

Now that you know how to verbalize each character, it's time to start writing them. Although it's not a must, when you write Japanese characters, you should write them from left to right and from top to bottom like so...

Writing the character あ
Writing the character あ

To be honest, I don’t really care about the stroke order.

As a lefty, it is difficult for me to push or pull from left to right when I write. But hey, as long as the character is identifiable and readable, it should be fine. If you bought my Japanese self-study guide, you should know that I am more of a typing on a keyboard person rather than using pen and paper. This way, I'll never have to never care about stroke orders again.

In this post, we are only learning how to write Japanese Kana by hand because writing Kana characters is easy and writing helps us to memorize these essential characters faster. My approach to learning Kanji is completely different and there is no writing involved, at all.

Sorry, I went off a different tangent. Let's get back to writing.

For this writing exercise, I want you to write each character by hand while using the chart above as a reference. As you are still a beginner, I want you to follow the stroke orders as how the chart instructs you to do so. Once you have memorized the characters and are able to recognize them while reading sentences, stroke orders will no longer matter.

Here's how you should do the exercise:

  • Before you start writing anything, I want you to pronounce each of the column's first character out loud; あ (a)、か (ka)、さ (sa)、た (ta)、な (na)、は (ha)、ま (ma)、や (ya)、ら (ra)、わ (wa)、ん (ng). Memorizing the first character of each column will help you to visualize when you try to write each character from memory without relying on the reference chart later.

Watch this video:

  • Once you've finished, it's time to take out your stylus (or pen and paper) and start doing some writing exercise.
  • Start by writing the character あ.
  • As you write down あ while following the stroke order, pronounce the character out loud.
  • Repeat the previous step ten times.
  • Do the same practice with the rest of the characters in the same column, い、う、え、お .
  • Then do か、き、く、け、こ and so on with the rest of the characters.

Once you have finished writing down all of the characters, I want you to test yourself by writing each character again starting from the first column あ and ending at the last column ん without referring to the Hiragana chart. Remember to read each character aloud. You don't need to write each character for ten times like you did previously. One time should suffice.

How was it? I hope you found it easy. By this time, you should be able to register each character in your short-term memory box. Let's now introduce you to the diacritics.

Diacritics

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A diacritic is a glyph added to a letter or basic glyph, for example the letter “é” in the word “Café”. In Japanese, the diacritics are of two forms called Tenten and Maru.

Okay now, notice what's different here?

Note the different prefixes for the highlighted characters.
Note the different prefixes for the highlighted characters.

There's a double line at the top right of each of the character. This is what we call a tenten. As in the figure above, tenten is only used on characters in these four columns (k-, s-, t-, h-). Note that only the prefix of each of the character has changed. Here's a quick breakdown of the prefix changes:

k- becomes g-

s- becomes z- with the exception of し (shi) becomes ji.

t- becomes d- with the exception of ji and zu.

h- becomes b-

However, there's also a tenten for the character “う” to make a “V” sound in English. We'll talk about this in a bit. Here's how you would pronounce the characters with a tenten mark.

Diacritics Pronouncing Hiragana characters with tenten markers

The second diacritic in Japanese is called Maru, the circle object at the top right of a character.

Hiragana characters with maru markers
Hiragana characters with maru markers

Maru is only used on the は column. Just remember that the prefix letter of each character in this column are changed to “p”.

は = ha becomes ぱ = pa

ひ = hi becomes ぴ = pi

ふ = fu becomes ぷ = pu

へ = he becomes ぺ = pe

ほ = ho becomes ぽ = po

Are you doing okay? I’m happy that you managed to get this far. Keep it up!

Next, let's introduce you to digraphs, or in Japanese, yōon.

Digraphs (Yōon)

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A digraph is two letters that make one sound. Digraphs in Japanese are easy to remember. It is basically formed by combining 2 characters. For example, ぎゅ (Gi + yu = Gyu). Have a look at the charts below for the whole set.

image
Note the ゔ character that represents the letter "V" in English.
Note the ゔ character that represents the letter "V" in English.

If you have a look at the Other figure, the character う with a tenten, ゔ when combined with a smaller character of あ、い、え、お becomes a “V” sound. For example, エヴァン (Evan). Note that this word エヴァン (Evan) is in Katakana because most of the time, the letter “V” is used for foreign words. One of the primary usages of Katakana is to denote foreign words.

Here's how to pronounce each diagraph characters:

Hope the diagraphs were easy for you. Last but not least, we have the double consonant, the easiest of them all.

Double consonant

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The double consonant in Japanese Hiragana is represented by a small つ (tsu) e.g. もと (motto). Just think of it this way, anything that has a small つ smack dabbed in the middle between two characters, the character that comes after the small つ will have a double sound.

For example:

  • いって (itte)
  • こどもぽい (kodomoppoi)
  • わらて (waratte)
  • ぎゅと (gyutto)

Here's how to pronounce the examples above:

Well done! You have completed learning Hiragana. The next up is Katakana and this should be increasingly easier for you to learn.

Katakana

Everything about Katakana is the same with Hiragana.

  • They have the same sound as Hiragana.
  • They have the same normal, diacritics, digraphs, and double consonant forms.

The only difference between these two are how they are written, in other words, the shape of the characters. Hiragana characters tend to be curvier while Katakana characters tend to be straight lines.

Normal form

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Take a good look at the figure below and try reading each character out loud, starting from the character ア.

Katakana Chart
Katakana Chart Note that the characters WI and WE are not commonly used anymore. It's perfectly fine to ignore it — image source

As how you have learned Hiragana earlier, you will do same with Katakana. Get your stylus (or pen and paper) ready.

Here's how you should do the exercise:

  • Start by writing the character ア.
  • As you write down ア while following the stroke order as per the reference chart, pronounce the character out loud.
  • Repeat the previous step ten times.
  • Do the same practice with the rest of the characters in the same column, イ、ウ、エ、オ .
  • Then do カ、キ、ク、ケ、コ and so on with the rest of the characters.
  • Once you have finished writing down all of the characters, I want you to test yourself by writing each of the character again, starting from the first column ア and ending at the last column ン without referring to the Katakana chart. Remember to read each character aloud. You don't need to write each character for ten times like you did previously. One time should suffice.

How did it go? Personally for me, Katakana feels so much easier to write and remember since each character is mainly made of a couple of straight lines. I hope you felt the same way.

Next, let's have a look at the Tenten, Maru, and digraphs for Katakana.

Diacritics and Digraphs

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Tenten and Maru Diacritics
Tenten and Maru Diacritics
Katakana digraphs
Katakana digraphs
Katakana digraphs
Katakana digraphs

As you can see, the same rules applies to Katakana. Nothing special is going on here.

Finally, let’s have a look at the double consonant for Katakana.

Double Consonant

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The double consonant for Katakana is the smaller version of the character ツ (tsu). For example, ヴァイオレト (vaioretto - violet). Any word that has this small letter ツ included, the letter that comes after it will have a double sound.

Very simple, right?

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Congratulations. You have now completed the whole exercise.

If you are still having a hard time memorizing the characters, don’t give up. Repeat the practice that I've shown you earlier for another 5 times and I promise you for sure, you will at least be able to recognize the characters when you see them in the wild.

In the next post, I'll be sharing with you how I practice maintaining my Kana and improve my speed reading skills by introducing you to some very useful tools and techniques that you can apply to your learning repertoire.

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