What is the fastest way to learn hiragana and katakana?
The fastest way to learn it well is to write it everyday, that way you can recognize the characters from memory as opposed to just using the flashcards. Just using flashcards for a week enables you to read it but recalling from memory is hard.
After a while of reading and writing it you'll understand it perfectly though.
Apologies if you have already been answered about this ;]
But yes, I think the flashcard program was the best thing (and it's free). After that, I think it's a matter of real reading and usage. Now I guess I'm starting on Kanji...
Reading those status updates make a big difference. I follow a fun guy named Danny Choo, a blogger who got popular through, well blogging. He blogs about Japan, anime, Tokyo, many many things that one would like.
I enjoy reading his facebook updates because they give me training in reading on a computer screen and even though they are short, it's more than enough to get me going with it. And it's fun too.
Danny Choo speaks british english and japanese fluently, which means he also (often at least) posts his updates in both japanese and english, I'd guess it's because so many of his fanbase are not japanese.
Buy some manga in japanese too, really helps. After that you can perhaps get a haiku book at you library and start reading those and then you can buy a novel.
Lot's of things you can do to get your reading on.
Try this one: http://www.japanese-language.aiyori.org/hiragana-1.html and http://www.japanese-language.aiyori.org/katakana-1.html
Disclaimer: It is my web site. There are hours of audio materials in the site. I've spent months doing the editing. Please go there and take a look.
As for learning the hiragana and katakana, I started off by looking at a few Japanese lessons and looking at the furigana notes. That way, it helps when you see something like "です" or "スミス" repeatedly and solidify what it sounds like and what it means. To test katakana and hiragana knowledge, I used http://www.gyford.com/japanese/ .
Then one of my students invited me to her church and that was the end of it. All the hymns were in Hiragana. I would say even if you're not a Christian, just go to a Japanese church for 3 weeks. You will be forced to follow along in the hymnbook. This fixed my foooling around with Hiragana issue super fast.
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