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🤐🤧😔 There are 3 parts to the Japanese writing system: kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Hiragana is a syllabary of characters, with each character containing the sound of a syllable. You put these syllables together to form words. To learn hiragana, you must first learn how to pronounce the syllables. After you understand the pronunciation, you can start reading and even writing in hiragana on your own. がんばって！(Good luck!)
Method 1Method 1 of 3:Pronouncing the Hiragana
- 1Download a hiragana chart. You'll need a chart to study hiragana and also understand how the hiragana characters are organized. There are many different charts available on the internet for free. If this is your first exposure to hiragana, start looking at 2 or 3 different ones until you find the one you like the best.XResearch source
- You can find links to a number of downloadable charts at https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/hiragana-chart/. Some of these are standard charts, while others have specific purposes, such as showing stroke direction (which you'll need when you start writing).
- While you're learning how to pronounce the hiragana, you're also learning to recognize what each character looks like. This will help you with reading, and later, with writing.
- Spend about a week on each of the columns of the hiragana chart. Every 2 or 3 weeks, go back and review what you've already learned so you don't forget characters as you continue your studies.
- 2Start with the 5 hiragana vowel sounds. The 5 characters that represent vowel sounds are the first column in any hiragana chart. All other columns on the hiragana chart are consonants combined with each of these vowel sounds.XResearch source
- あ is an "ah" sound, like the a in the English words "car" or "awful."
- い is pronounced like the ee in the English word "eel."
- う is an "oo" sound, somewhat like the ou in the English word "you."
- え is pronounced like the e in the English words "exotic" or "egg."
- お is an "oh" sound, somewhat like the o in the English word "original."
- 3Build on the vowels with the k-column. With the next set of hiragana, you combine the vowel sounds you just learned with the sound of the consonant k. Unlike some of the other columns, the k-column has no exceptions to the basic pattern.XResearch source
- か is a combination of the k and a, like the ca sound in "can-can." You can easily remember this because the character even looks a bit like a person doing the Can-Can dance.
- き is the k sound plus い. It sounds like the English word "key" (and also looks a bit like a key).
- く is a "koo" sound. Think of a cuckoo bird or a cuckoo clock.
- け is a ke sound, a bit like the letters ke in the English word "keg."
- こ makes a ko sound, like the letters co in the English word "code."
- 4Learn the sounds in the s-column. Once you've mastered the k-column, you can move on to the sounds in the s-column. They follow the same basic vowel pattern as the characters in the k-column did, with 1 exception. When you combine the s sound with the ee sound, the s sounds more like an sh.XResearch source
- さ makes a sah sound, similar to the sa in the English word "saga."
- し makes a shi sound, similar to the English word "she."
- す makes a soo sound, similar to the English word "sue."
- せ makes a seh sound, similar to the se in the English word "sexy."
- そ makes a soh sound, similar to the English word "so."
- 5Continue to the t-column. The t-column is the consonant t plus each of the 5 vowel sounds. However, this column has 2 exceptions to the general pattern. The basic pronunciations for this column are ta, chi, tsu, te and to.XResearch source
- た makes a tah sound. Simply think of someone saying "ta-ta for now!"
- ち makes a chi sound, similar to the chi in the English word "chin."
- つ is the tsu sound. This sound doesn't really exist in English. Start with a t sound, then close your lips into an s. To pronounce the full syllable, add a t to the English word "sue" and say "tsue."
- て makes a teh sound, similar to the te in the English word "ten."
- と makes a toh sound, similar to the English word "toe."
- 6Move to the n-column. With the n-column, you can take a break from the exceptions for now. The characters in the n-column all follow the same basic pattern of the consonant n combined with each of the 5 vowels you've already learned.XResearch source
- な makes a nah sound, similar to the nau in the English word "naughty."
- に makes a nee sound, similar to the nee in the English word "needle."
- ぬ makes a noo sound, similar to the noo in the English word "noodle."
- ね makes a neh sound, similar to the ne in the English word "negative."
- の makes a noh sound, similar to the English word "no."
- 7Pronounce the characters in the h-column. Like the characters in the n-column, the characters in the h-column follow the same basic pattern of a consonant combined with each of the 5 vowel sounds. There is 1 exception, in that the hu character is usually pronounced as fu.XResearch source
- は makes a hah sound, like the sound of someone laughing (hahaha).
- ひ makes a hee sound, similar to the English word "he."
- ふ makes a foo sound, similar to the foo in the English word "food."
- へ makes a heh sound, similar to the hea in the English word "head."
- ほ makes a hoh sound, similar to the ho in the English word "hope."
- 8Proceed to the m-column. Once you've made it this far, it's a good idea to go back and practice what you've learned before you move forward and learn the rest of the hiragana. The m-column doesn't have any exceptions from the basic pattern.XResearch source
- ま makes a mah sound, similar to the ma in the English word "mama."
- み makes a mee sound, similar to the English word "me."
- む makes a moo sound, similar to the way you'd say "a cow goes moo."
- め makes a meh sound, similar to the me in the English word "mech."
- も makes a moh sound, similar to the mo in the English word "mole."
- 9Pick up the 3 characters in the y-column. Unlike the other columns, the y-column only has 3 characters. It used to have 5, but the 2 "missing" characters have been replaced with other characters that sound alike, and are considered obsolete. Otherwise, this column follows the same pattern of the consonant sound combined with each of the vowel sounds.XResearch source
- や makes a yah sound, similar to the ya in the English word "yacht."
- ゆ makes a yoo sound, similar to the first u in the English word "unique."
- よ makes a yoh sound, similar to the English slang word "yo!"
- 10Practice pronunciation of the r-column. The r-column is typically the one that gives Western speakers more difficulty than the other sounds in Japanese. The Japanese r sound is a combination of the English r, l, and d sounds. You can go to https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/japanese-r-sound/ for tips and exercises on how to pronounce this consonant.XResearch source
- ら makes a rah sound, similar to the way someone would cheer "Rah!" for their favorite team. Remember that this is the Japanese r, however, not the English r, so these sounds will differ in that respect.
- り makes a ree sound, similar to the ree in the English word "reed."
- る makes a roo sound, similar to the ru in the English word "rude."
- れ makes a reh sound, similar to the re in the English word "red."
- ろ makes a roh sound, similar to the ro in the English word "road."
- 11Wrap up pronunciation with the w-column. Like the y-column, the w-column has only 3 characters. In addition to 2 w-syllables, you also have the only character that consists of a single consonant.XResearch source
- わ makes a wah sound, similar to the wa in the English word "wasp."
- を makes the woh sound, similar to the English word "whoa." However, the w sound is nearly silent in this syllable, which is typically pronounced similar to "oh."
- ん is simply the n consonant sound (despite being included in the w-column).
Method 2Method 2 of 3:Writing in Hiragana Script
- 1Try typing in Japanese to more quickly recognize hiragana characters. Go to your computer's keyboard settings and change the input to Japanese. Then you can start typing in hiragana characters. Simply type the same letters you would to form the syllable's sound in English, and the hiragana character will appear.XResearch source
- Look online for forums and social media groups that use hiragana. You can use the posts to practice reading, and check your understanding by typing replies using hiragana.
- 2Download hiragana charts and practice sheets. With hiragana, stroke direction and order is far more important than it is in English and other languages that use the Roman alphabet. Stroke charts can help you memorize the stroke order for each character.XResearch source
- There are practice sheets available online for free, such as the ones at http://japanese-lesson.com/characters/hiragana/hiragana_writing.html.
- The practice sheets will have rows of squares for practicing each character, with grid lines in each square to help you form the shape of the character correctly. If you learned to write English with handwriting paper that had double lines, you'll recognize the similarity.
- Print several dozen practice sheets at a time, so you'll always have them available when you want to practice.
- 3Practice each character until writing it becomes automatic. Start by writing slowly and carefully, trying to imitate the character exactly as it appears in the gridded lines of the square. Do at least one line this way on your practice sheet.XResearch source
- As you continue to the next lines, try looking at the sample less and less, until eventually you're writing the character without needing to look at the sample at all.
- A single practice likely will not be enough for you to be able to write hiragana correctly and automatically – particularly the more complex characters. Take your time, and set aside a little time each day to practice.
- 4Transition from practice sheets to blank paper. Once you feel as though you know the hiragana script, try writing words or sentences in hiragana on a blank sheet of paper. This will help you grow more accustomed to combining the characters together to form words.XResearch source
- Search online for sentences or paragraphs online that are written in hiragana. You can simply practice copying these to get used to writing in hiragana.
Method 3Method 3 of 3:Reading Japanese
- 1Combine hiragana to form Japanese words you know. You likely already know a few Japanese words, such as konnichiwa (hello) and sayōnara (goodbye). Now that you know the hiragana for each of the syllables of these words, you can identify these words written in hiragana.XResearch source
- こんにちは is ko + n + ni + chi + wa. Konnichiwa!
- さようなら is sayōnara. See if you can break this word down into its syllables, as represented by the hiragana characters.
- 2Start with simple stories written in hiragana. Hiragana and katakana are the simplest written forms of Japanese to read, and many children's stories are written in nothing but these forms. There are many Japanese children's stories available to download for free online. Since Japanese children are typically familiar with these stories, reading them also gives you insight into Japanese culture.
- Go to http://hukumusume.com/douwa/English/index.html to download traditional Japanese stories, as well as Japanese translations of Western fables and folk tales.
- You can also try https://www.ehonnavi.net/, which has hundreds of Japanese children's picture books available for download for free.
- For other links to websites that allow beginners to practice reading for free, check out https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/japanese-reading-practice-for-beginners/.
- 3Graduate to articles and short stories with furigana. Japanese has 3 systems of characters: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. You already know the last 2, but you don't know kanji. Kanji are characters borrowed from Chinese script. Furigana are beginning readers that have hiragana over unfamiliar kanji characters, so you can sound them out.XResearch source
- Nippon Talk (http://www.nippontalk.com/en) has articles about everyday life in Japan. It is written in full Japanese, with furigana that you can toggle on and off.
- You can also try Wasabi, which has a number of fairy tales and short stories available for Japanese language learners.
- You can download graded readers designed specifically for Japanese language learners at https://www.whiterabbitpress.com/japanesegradedreaders/. These graded readers aren't free, but will greatly improve your reading speed and proficiency.
- 4Watch Japanese shows with Japanese subtitles. Once you understand how to pronounce hiragana, you can increase your literacy by watching Japanese TV shows or cartoons with Japanese subtitles. As the subtitles appear on the screen, you'll hear people saying the words.XResearch source
- If you have cable television or subscribe to a movie streaming service (such as Netflix or Hulu), look for Japanese-language shows and movies in the foreign language section. You can change your subtitle preferences in your settings.
- Once you know hiragana, you can also read katakana. Katakana uses the same characters as hiragana, but is primarily used for foreign words, such as names and foods, that don't translate into Japanese. Animal noises and sound effects in manga are also written in katakana.XResearch source
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