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How to Quickly and Effectively Learn Hiragana


If you’re interested in learning to read and write—not just speak—in Japanese, make mastering hiragana your top priority. Hiragana is a syllabary, which means that each character represents the sound made by a vowel, or by a consonant in combination with a vowel. There are 46 hiragana, one for every sound in the Japanese language. This might sound like a lot, but if you’re ready to focus, you can learn them in about a week or two. Read on to find out all the best ways to learn hiragana and how to put your knowledge into practice by reading and writing Japanese. がんばって!(Good luck!)


Pronouncing Hiragana

  1. Download a hiragana chart to organize your study. There are many hiragana charts online that you can download for free. While the design details are different, all charts follow the same basic format, because everybody learns hiragana basically the same way.[1]
    • There’s a hiragana character for every sound made in Japanese, which means anything you can say in Japanese, you can write in hiragana!
    • Some charts also include the stroke order to use when writing hiragana. If handwriting hiragana is something you want to learn, you might find one of these charts more beneficial.
  2. Pronounce the 5 hiragana vowels. The 5 characters that represent the hiragana vowels are either the top row or the first column of your hiragana chart, depending on how it’s oriented. All the other blocks are characters that represent a consonant combined with each of those vowels, which makes the vowels a great place to start. Here are the sounds these hiragana represent:[2]
    Learn Hiragana Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • あ (a) is an “ah” sound, like the o in the English word “olive.”
    • い (i) is pronounced like the ee in the English word “eel.”
    • う (u) is an “oo” sound, somewhat like the ou in the English word “you.”
    • え (e) is pronounced like the e in the English words “exotic” or “egg.”
    • お (o) is an “oh” sound, somewhat like the o in the English word “original.”
  3. Build on the vowels with consonant sounds. The other rows (or columns, depending on your chart’s orientation) of the hiragana chart add a consonant sound to the vowel sounds you just learned, although there are a few exceptions to this basic pattern, as you’ll see. You can do this however you want—some people prefer to learn all the hiragana for one vowel sound first, then move on to the next, while others go consonant-by-consonant. Here’s a rough breakdown of the rest of the chart and the sounds represented:[3]
    Learn Hiragana Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • か (kah), き (kee), く (koo), け (keh), こ (koh)
    • さ (sah), し (shi), す (soo), せ (seh), そ (soh)
    • た (tah), ち (chi), つ (tsoo), て (teh), と (toh)
    • な (nah), に (nee), ぬ (noo), ね (neh), の (noh)
    • は (hah), ひ (hee), ふ (foo), へ (heh), ほ (hoh)
    • ま (mah), み (mee), む (moo), め (meh), も (moh)
    • や (yah), ゆ (yoo), よ (yoh)
    • ら (rah), り (ree), る (roo), れ (reh), ろ (roh)
    • わ (wah), を (woh), ん (simply the “n” consonant sound without a vowel)
  4. Practice your Japanese “R” sound. If you’re a native English speaker, the Japanese “R” is likely to give you the most difficulty. It’s basically a combination of the English “R,” “L,” and “D” sounds all said at the same time. To get it right, try this exercise:[4]
    Learn Hiragana Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Say “lah” about a dozen times and pay attention to the position of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
    • Say “dah” about a dozen times, again paying attention to the position of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
    • Alternate between “lah” and “dah” and notice how the tip of your tongue moves back and forth between the same two positions.
    • To pronounce the Japanese “R,” have the tip of your tongue hit the roof of your mouth directly in between the “lah” position and the “dah” position. Now all you have to do is practice until you’ve acquired the muscle memory of it.
  5. Add dakuten or handakuten to change the sound of a hiragana character. You’re probably thinking that surely the hiragana you’ve learned don’t actually cover all the sounds in Japanese. What about the “P” in “Pokemon” (or in “Japan”)? That’s where dakuten (゛) and handakuten (゜ ) come in to fill in all the blanks. Here’s how they work:[5]
    Learn Hiragana Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • “H” becomes “B”: ば (bah), び (bee), ぶ (boo), べ (beh), ぼ (boh)
    • “K” becomes “G” (hard “G” as in the English word “goat”): が (gah), ぎ (gee), ぐ (goo), げ (geh), ご (goh)
    • “S” becomes “Z” (with 1 exception): ざ (zah), じ (jee), ず (zoo), ぜ (zeh), ぞ (zoh)
    • “T” becomes “D” (with 2 exceptions): だ (dah), ぢ (jee), づ (zoo), で (deh), ど (doh)
    • “H” becomes “P”: ぱ (pah), ぴ (pee), ぷ (poo), ぺ (peh), ぽ (poh)

Committing Hiragana to Memory

  1. Come up with mnemonics that resonate with you. There are many websites that claim they’ll teach you hiragana quickly using mnemonics—and they absolutely will, as long as the mnemonics they use make sense to you. But it’s better to come up with your own mnemonics. Since that’s what your brain sees in the character automatically, they’ll be easier to remember than someone else’s.[6]
    Learn Hiragana Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • Here’s an easy example: の looks like a “No” sign ( 🚫 ) to many people. Conveniently enough, it also represents the sound “noh.” But what if that’s not what you see? To you, it might look like a fortune cookie—and if you don’t like fortune cookies, you can just think “no fortune cookies” and you’ve got it!
    • Here’s another example: You might decide that く looks like a mouth to you. Since く represents the “koo” sound, your mnemonic could be a dove’s beak saying “coo, coo.”
  2. Drill yourself with flash cards and spaced repetition. Standard hiragana flash cards have the character on one side and the sound it represents on the other. To use flash cards effectively, put the ones you’re good at in a separate stack and review them less often than the ones you have trouble with. There are also some apps for your Android or iOS device that have the spaced repetition programmed in so all you have to worry about is learning. Here are a couple of popular options:[7]
    Learn Hiragana Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Anki has customizable flash cards available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. Install the Japanese Support add-on to make sure it works for you to learn hiragana.
    • Memrise has apps for iOS and Android. Disable “tap” questions so you have to type in your answer rather than using multiple choice.
  3. Practice with a free language app. There are tons of different language apps out there that claim they’ll teach you a language quickly and easily—and most of them require you to pay a subscription that could be hundreds of dollars a year. But there are also some great free apps that can help you with your hiragana and Japanese language study:
    Learn Hiragana Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Duolingo has a free Japanese course that includes exercises that will teach you hiragana. In addition to the desktop version, the app is also available for Android and iOS devices.
    • Dr. Moku offers a free app for Android and iOS devices (with a paid option). The company also makes physical flash cards if that’s more your thing.
    • Hiragana Quest is a game created in partnership with Japanese language school Go! Go! Nihon that will teach you all 46 characters of hiragana and all 46 characters of katakana. It’s available for Android and iOS devices.

Reading and Writing Hiragana

  1. Trace hiragana on practice sheets to learn stroke order. If you want to be able to write hiragana, download and print practice sheets to help you. If you learned to write English with handwriting paper that had double lines, you’ll recognize the similarity.
    Learn Hiragana Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • Even though the stroke order isn’t emphasized as much as it used to be, it’s still an efficient way to learn how to create hiragana characters in your own hand.
  2. Combine hiragana to form Japanese words you already know. You likely already know a few Japanese words, such as konnichiwa (hello) and sayōnara (goodbye). Sound out the word into syllables, then find the hiragana that matches that syllable. You’re writing in Japanese! Here are some examples to get you started:[8]
    Learn Hiragana Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • すし is sushi. Don’t you think し looks like a fishhook?
    • かわいい is kawaii.
    • 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.
  3. Read picture books for Japanese children. Japanese kids are learning hiragana just like you are, so books designed for beginning readers are perfect to start learning how to read hiragana. Many of these stories are available online to download for free. Here are some great sources to get you started:[9]
    Learn Hiragana Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Fuku Musume has about 500 traditional Japanese fairy tales available. Since Japanese children are typically familiar with these stories, reading them also gives you insight into Japanese culture.
    • EhonNavi has hundreds of Japanese children’s picture books available to download for free (along with paid content).
    • Fanta Jikan has videos of Japanese stories and dialogue with Japanese subtitles so you can read along.
    • Manga for children
  4. Watch a Japanese show with Japanese subtitles. Streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, also have Japanese-language shows and movies (although your selection might be limited). Just choose Japanese under the language option, then turn on subtitles. You could also try Crunchyroll, which has an ad-supported free option with access to most of the shows you’d get on the paid tier.[10]
    Learn Hiragana Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • Start with shows for kids since they’re likely to use the simplest language.
    • A word of caution: depending on the speed of dialogue in the show, the subtitles sometimes move too fast for beginners to follow. They might also include quite a bit of kanji, which you don’t know yet.
  5. Change your computer’s keyboard language to Japanese. If you can understand simple Japanese written in hiragana, you might want to try typing it yourself. Place a hiragana keyboard skin over your keyboard at first, until you develop muscle memory for the locations of the characters.[11]
    Learn Hiragana Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • If you’re using a tablet or smartphone, the characters on the onscreen keyboard will automatically change when you change the keyboard’s language.
    • Search for forums and social media groups that use hiragana. The posts from others will help you practice reading, and you can check your understanding by typing replies in hiragana.
    • Typing hiragana on your computer or device is also a great way to familiarize yourself with how hiragana looks in different fonts.
  6. Use furigana to start learning kanji. Furigana includes kanji characters over kanji so that you can sound out the word they represent.[12] Try Nippon Talk, which has articles about everyday life in Japan. The articles are written in full Japanese with furigana that you can toggle on and off.
    Learn Hiragana Step 14 Version 2.jpg
    • If Japanese children’s books have any kanji, they typically also include furigana over the kanji characters.


Source: Wiki How