Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Learning kana, post 1 (hiragana a-zo)

I'm not a professionally trained teacher, but I base this blog on my own learning experiences.

You can not learn a language without proper practice and time, don't expect to be able to master Japanese at the same rate as I'm explaining in this blog with only 2 hours a week of practice. I do between 1 to 2 hours of practice a day. I would advice to do at least 6 to 10 hours of practice a week. 

As I said before, the first few weeks will be about learning Hiragana and Katakana, they each have 71 kana to cover. The hiragana will be covered in 3 sets and the katakana in 2 sets.

Some quick terminology:
Deck = full set of cards that belong together (hiragana, katakana, kanji, vocab, etc.)
Set = a part of a deck so that studying and repeating is manageble, each deck is build up from multiple sets.
H->R = Hiragana to Romaji translations, you only need the cards for this.
R->H = Romaji to Hiragana translations, you need to write out the hiragana before you check if you got it right.

 The first set of cards to practice is 25 cards, they are hiragana A to Zo, it sounds like quite a few but don't worry, they are actually only 15 different kana.

If you want to see the whole list of hiragana kana check the hiragana and katakana cheat sheet in the glossary page: Hiragana and katakana cheat table

I know I should go into pronunciation of some of these kana but I'm going to leave that for now since my own pronunciation isn't perfect and people read the same letters in different ways depending on their accent. So I'm leaving you with this video that has all the sounds:

Onto the real stuff of this post.

Here is a picture of all my cards of this set:

All these cards have the hiragana on one side and the romaji and the set number on the other side:

This way it is easy to keep track of all your cards and having the set number on the side means you can split them up if you would need to.


The first row of the set is the set without consonant, these kana are the most like simple vowels in most other languages.
The order of these are A, I, U, E, O


This one took me a lot of tries to get right and I think it's still not pretty on this card though I can do it easier these days. It probably took me over an hour to get the curl on this kana right. Remember that the loop crosses itself once and also the stick twice.
The curl you use on this kana is used in a form very close to this in a few more kana, so being able to do it will will pay off later.


Not that hard, but don't forget the little tail on the first stroke.


Remember that the little thing a the top slopes and isn't flat.
The gif makes it slightly too round, usually the U is more of a half heart type of shape.


This shouldn't be too hard as it's a 2 or a Z but with a flat top and an obvious twirl as the tail. Don't forget the line on top though.


If you get the A correct this shouldn't be too hard. remember to make the circle on the bottom to be round enough.

That is the first row of hiragana. You can practice these on your own though remember to write them enough as writing makes you remember more easily.

Second row K/G
This the first row you'll get that has both a regular version and a dakuten version. The little " on it are sometimes called ten-ten and are what makes a dakuten sound. This makes the regular sound softer, so a K becomes a G. Do make cards for both of these as not all rows have them and also because it fills out your deck better. They are not the same letters, both of these are pronounced differently and should be seen that way.


Don't forget the little tail on the big first part of this kana.



This one is different between the handwritten version and the digital version. On the digital version (き) the bottom of this kana is filled, here it is open. There are a few more kana where this is the case. It is what we see as the difference between a digital a and one we handwrite.



Don't think I need much time on this one. This one isn't too hard.



Tail on the first stroke.



My way to remember this one is that it looks like an anime eye. Don't forget the tail on the first stroke (which the gif doesn't show).


Second row done. Not too complicated, right? Important part is practice practice practice and to keep writing the hiragana so that you can do them without thinking about stroke order too much (do you still have to consciously remember how to write letters in the script you write in? no? well, that is the level where you'd preferably be at soon for hiragana and katakana too). Practice, practice, practice.

Third row S/Z
This one has a few pronunciation kinks in it.


As KI but with only one line on the top.



This is one of those with a slightly different pronunciation. Even though the sound is SI it is often pronounced as SHI and that is as it is romanized. The dakuten of it is pronounced JI (dji).
Don't make too much of a hook, the end should put outward not upward.



Don't make the loop too small.




Tail on the second stroke and the third stroke goes all across and under the second stroke.



This kana is a bit annoying as not everyone writes it the same. Some connect the first and second stroke and some make it into one continuous stroke. I don't exactly know what else to say about it. I like the version I was taught better. Maybe someone with more knowledge can tell me why they are so different.


And that is the third row.

So, how would I advise to study this?
First, take a paper on which you can practice and write the A kana until you get it right, and then a few more for good practice.
Second, take a card, write the A kana on one side and the letter A on the other side.
Third, repeat for all the kana in the first row.
Fourth, repeat step 1-3 for the second row.
Fifth, practice with the first 2 rows (vowels, K row and G row).
Sixth, repeat step 1-3 for the third row.
Seventh, add the third row to the other two rows.

Yep, lots of repeating and more repeating.

The best way to learn kana is to keep writing them. So as soon as you've got enough cards to practice you start practising, both ways.
First do a few tries kana-romaji so that you have a good idea about all the kana, don't worry if it isn't perfect yet. Then you do the other way around, only this time is slightly different. You look at the romaji, write the kana and then check if that is the right kana. This is an important step as it's important to know how to write kana.
Switch between kana-romaji and romaji-kana after every few rounds.
The best way to make sure you know them all is to keep shuffling between tries, so that all the cards get mixed up. Also, if you get a card wrong, add them to the end of the deck (or somewhere in the middle) so that you will see them again. Don't do another round unless you've got all the cards right or only 1 wrong. Kana you have problems with will stick better if you see them more often, this way you see them often enough.

You can find more posts on learning with flashcards on the Learning a Language page

And that was the first kana learning post. Remember to write them often and have fun practising!

Study on!


Here is the same picture as at the start but with all the romaji written next to the card.