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Nov 27, 2010

Learning the Kana

It's time to begin talking about the first step of learning Japanese. The most important thing for learning Japanese is accessing and using Japanese products – books, music, games, TV, whatever. Many of these things require the ability to read Japanese to enjoy them, so that is where we shall begin.

The first step for learning Japanese is to get a grasp on the way it is written. There are three symbol types: Hiragana (ひらがな), Katakana (カタカナ), and Kanji (漢字). The first set that you should learn is hiragana, as these appear in anything and everything. Hiragana is a syllabary, which means that each symbol is associated with a specific sound - much like the English alphabet. Learning this component of the Japanese writing system will be a great aid in using the language. But I'm sure you already know all about what the components of the writing system are, so I'll get on with how to learn them.

One way to learn the hiragana, and katakana as well, is to use the book Remembering the Kana: A Guide to Reading and Writing the Japanese Syllabaries in 3 Hours Each written by James W. Heisig. In the book he breaks each symbol down into basic parts and uses the power of mnemonic devices to tie them together into a sensible order. I highly recommend this book, as it really cements the way to write each character and what each character stands for. The book also does this in a very short period of time, which is always a bonus.

Unfortunately, the free online program that I had recommended for learning the kana has now become a subscription service. Instead of this program, I am now recommending the use of Anki or another SRS to aid in learning the kana. See my post on downloading Anki and the kana deck (for free) to learn how to get started!

After learning the hiragana, move on to the katakana. This syllabary is essentially the same as hiragana, but it uses a different set of symbols (and is used for foreign words). After having learned the hiragana the katakana should be a breeze – you've already done it once, and now you know you can do it again. 

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  1. I'm working through the kana slowly with and Tae Kim's guide, but I think I'll purchase this book. I've heard nothing but good things about Heisig's works, and it'll be great to learn some mnemonics to use.

  2. Remembering Kana was really helpful indeed. Thank you for advice!