Today we're talking about Hiragana & Katakana.
Basically, they are phonetic alphabets for reading & pronouncing Japanese and are collectively called "The Kana". They look very foreign and squiggly and are easily distinguishable from Kanji (Chinese Characters) due to their appearance.
(I'm going to leave some links to resources for learning the Kana below, so keep your peepers peeled for that)
Abridged History Lesson:
Chinese characters came over to Japan and were adopted into the language as the writing system. The two languages are actually very different though, so the pronunciation markers and order of the characters were incompatible with Japanese spoken language. Because of this limitation, the Kana were adapted from some cursive Chinese characters for their sound instead of their meaning. They have since become much simpler and divergent from the characters that they were in the original system.
These are (more or less) the Hiragana and Katakana of today.
And here's why you need to learn them:
- They're an integral part of the language
- All of the good Japanese learning resources require knowledge of them
- You'll get a better (easier) understanding of the pronunciation of the language through them
Hiragana in the wild
There are 46 characters for each Hiragana and Katakana, but if you learn Hiragana you will be able to relate a lot of them to each other. They're pretty darn easy to learn and I don't really think that any sort of mnemonic devices are strictly necessary. That being said, the use of mnemonics can be helpful to learn them more quickly, so I don't see anything wrong with it.
I am of the mindset that you don't really need to know handwriting that much, so you can essentially skip that step in learning to have quicker more focused progress. It's not something which is that useful in modern day society and there's nothing stopping you from learning it once you're fluent if you do have a use for it. You can pretty easily learn the Kana as well as the ~2200 main Kanji in <3 months if you're not sitting there obsessing over stroke order and such for endless hours. I barely ever hand-write anything in English as it stands anyways.
As with anything you can use flashcards for, I would recommend using SRS to study and retain the Kana as you learn them and to maintain them in your brains. There are some apps specifically for Japanese that have SRS built in, but it seems simpler to me to just use Anki and download a prebuilt flashcard pack for whatever you need.
Below I have an Anki deck for Hiragana&Katakana in the resources section modified from one on Ankinet.
Lastly before I get into it, if you have any questions regarding the pronunciation of these characters compared to English, I will refer you to my post on the pronunciation: Click Me!!
So First up is Hiragana:
Note: these charts are read top to bottom starting at the top right corner
You'll notice that they're the more squiggly of the two. This is what NATIVE JAPANESE is written in when Kana is used and it is the FIRST thing that Japanese kids learn when learning to read. It is more common than Katakana and is used in pretty much every sentence in Japanese.
Hint: If you see something written with Chinese characters and you see some of these mixed in, you know you're looking at Japanese ;)
And then... Katakana:
Katakana in the wild
Mostly used for Foreign words... If you see Katakana, then it's quite possible that you're looking at a Japanese-ified English word. Ex. メール: Me(e)-ru; English word: Mail; meaning in Jp: Email.
This is a good example because occasionally they will have a different meaning/connotation in Jp than in En.
Katakana is also occasionally used instead of Hiragana to add emphasis (much like italics) and also to represent rigid or robot sounding speech.
That's the basics of Hiragana and Katakana.
There are a couple of pronunciations oddities to be aware of when reading actual text... The particles は (ha), を (wo), and へ(he) are pronounced as "wa", "o", and "e" when used as particles.
Ex. わたしは- Watashi(wa) which would be used if you were saying something about yourself.
The partical (wa) is written as (ha) in Hiragana, but it has the wa pronunciation. I used this example to point out the two different ways that wa is written when using Hiragana: わ and は depending on whether or not it is a particle or part of a word.
Other than that exception, the pronunciation is very consistent.
Also, the Kana can be put together rather creatively to produce all of the different pronunciation combinations in Japanese. But I'll be putting out a follow up to this post in the next day or two covering those situations.
It took me about 2-3 days to learn both Hiragana and Katakana and I pretty much do flashcards for maintenance once a week or so.
Here are the resources I promised for learning the Kana:
- This is where I got the charts... apparently they have an Ebook but their mnemonics might be behind a paywall because they are a membership site
- Mnemonics for all of the Hiragana/Katakana for free on creative commons ;)
- Anki Spaced Repetition Software // Flashcards app & program. If you use an apple phone or tablet the app costs way too much money... but it's free for any other device
- A link to my modified Anki deck in dropbox.
- I think it's pretty safe, but if you don't trust that, you can always go to https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/ to find any deck that you desire.
If you have any questions or troubles with this feel free to yell at me in the comments.
If you have any feedback in general feel free to let me know below.
PS. I'll personally give you a SBD if you tell me what the cover image says... Just for fun. Should be cake if you can read Hiragana ;)
The Background for the cover is from an unknown pinterest user... I would have liked to credit them, but it has been plagiarized so many times I could not find the original source.
Here's a source: Click Me!!
The charts are from Jpod101, they are linked above.