When you first start learning Japanese, don’t avoid learning hiragana (the basic Japanese phonetic alphabet, representing every sound in the Japanese language). When you find out that we have three writing systems--hiragana, katakana and kanji, you might want to pick a different language to learn instead of Japanese. But, learning hiragana and katakana are easier than you think, and fortunately, pronunciation is pretty simple. Let’s talk about hiragana at this time.

These days we have great free online tools for learning the Japanese hiragana system. YouTube and this italki article are examples. So, in no way does anyone actually need to spend money on learning this system. Of course, everyone has his or her own learning style, which are all a little different. The key is to find the one that fits you. If you don’t know, then just try one and see how you succeed. Now, here’s my way:

Japanese sounds consist of 5 vowels, which are あ, い, う, え, お, 95 consonant-vowel combinations and the sound ん.


The 46-basic hiragana table is below: 


Look at the 5 vowels on the right side of the hiragana table. They are written in romaji (Roman letters), as well. Just remember these 5. Next, look at consonant-vowels か, き, く, け and こ. They start with the “k” sound. Now put the five vowels a, i, u, e, o next to “k,” and then it makes the consonant-vowel sounds ka, ki, ku, ke, ko.” That’s it. So you don’t have to remember 46 sounds but only the 5 vowels and the 9 consonant sounds, k-, s-, t-, n-, h-, m-, y-, r-, w and ん at the end.


The other 55 hiragana

All hiragana have a vowel sound with the exception of ん. The rest of the combinations are the same. Now, it shouldn’t be very difficult for you to pronounce these, especially after you study the 46 basic hiragana. When you finish learning all the vowel sounds and consonant combinations, you’ll able to pronounce all Japanese sounds!


Practice handwriting

After practicing the pronunciation, let’s try to do some handwriting. Many people say that they can type Japanese, but can’t write it. There is a common belief among psychologists regarding the human brain that says in order to gain new vocabulary you must write it down and pronounce it at the same time. It’s a faster way because we remember something easier when using all the five senses. So, using your hand along with your voice is using your brain more efficiently.


Use flash cards

Image by Ikou (CC by 1.0)

Flash cards can also help you, especially when you’re on the bus, train or during your break. What -- you don’t have time to study? Yes, you do. Even if you’re not able to write or speak at the time, you should have a few minutes to look at real flashcards or even virtual flashcards on your smartphone. This means using your visual system. While you’re using flash cards, you’re pronouncing the words in your mind automatically. This means you are using your auditory system, too. This is a very good exercise.


Ask your teacher or friend to make a script for you

Write a small passage in English and then ask your teacher or language partner to translate it into Japanese, written in hiragana. Start reading the translation aloud and ask him or her to check your pronunciation. Sure, you can read a Japanese book, but more than likely you won’t know the meaning of what you’re reading. But, even if the book provides the translation, there’s just something about reading the translation of what you have written that inspires

Everyone takes time at first to read all of it, so please don’t be disappointed in yourself. Take only about two days to do this because if you study hiragana too long, you might just give up. So take just the time you need and go on the next step. The purpose of this process is to get used to Japanese sounds. So, achieving your first goal is just around the corner!



Article edited by italki Teacher Ilene Springer

Hero image by Serg!o [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons