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Learn Hiragana: A Simple Guide

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

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こんにちは again, my friends


Today we are going to learn about one of the Japanese syllabaries(alphabets), Hiragana.

Hiragana is a syllabary that can be used on it's own, or with kanji, to write in Japanese. It is also necessary in order to learn Kanji itself.


So without further ado, let's get into it!


 

TODAYS VOCABULARY


平仮名(hiragana) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hiragana

仮名(kana) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Japanese syllabary

てん(ten) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- comma

まる(maru) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- period


 

BASIC HIRAGANA



Writing the basic hiragana characters is pretty simple if you follow these charts we've made. Unfortunately just copying the characters wont work, there is a stroke order. We have included the stroke order for all characters in these charts.


There are 46 kana in the Hiragana syllabary. The good news is that they follow a fairly consistent pattern of vowel sounds. (ie. a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko)

It gets a little more complicated with the vowels. Instead of "ta, ti, tu, te, to" like one might expect, it's "ta, chi, tsu, te, to)


I recommend breaking up the hiragana by consonant groups and practicing writing them and memorizing them a little bit at a time. Here is my method, which helped me to memorize writing and reading all 46 within a day:


1) as I mentioned before, I broke them up into little groups. So, I started with "あ、い、う、え、お", and when I had memorized them I moved on to "か、き、く、け、こ", and so on.


2) start out by writing, according to the stroke order. While writing, think about the sound of the character. Or if it helps you, write the sound next to it. (ie. さ sa) Do this many times. It is important to associate the sound with the character, rather than just simply writing it down.


3) when you've written all kana in the group you've been working on a couple of times, test yourself. Without looking, try to write all of the kana, in order. If you forget one, move on to the next one. Recall is extremely important for memorization, and it also accelerates it. If you can't remember one or two out of the group when you test yourself, go through the kana again, writing them all out. Once you've done it a few more times, test yourself again. Rinse and repeat.


You can also do this method with katakana, which we will be talking about next time!




Here's a list of example vocabulary using the basic hiragana for you to practice:


とり(tori) ---------------------------- bird

ねこ(neko) ---------------------------- cat

いぬ(inu) ---------------------------- dog

きいろい(kiiroi) ------------------ yellow

あおい(aoi) ----------------------- blue

いち(ichi) ---------------------------- one

せんせい(sensei) ------------------ teacher

はいる(hairu) ----------------------- to enter

ねる(neru) ---------------------------- to sleep

いく(iku) ---------------------------- to go

ええ(ee) ---------------------------- yes

さとう(satou) ----------------------- sugar


When い comes after a consonant such as き or せ, or a vowel, it is considered as an elongation of that vowel. for example せんせい sounds like sensee and きいろい sounds like kiiroi. in these cases there is no separation of sound, such as sense-i. Vowel elongation can also be seen in words such as ええ, ああ, and さとう. In the cases of さとう and せんせい, even though the vowel doesn't match the sound behind it, it is still an elongation of the previous vowel sound. This pattern is seen often in other words as well, so keep that in mind. Also, in words such as せんせい, the use of ん is much like the English use of the consonant. Therefore there is no separation (such as se-n-sei), it is simply "sensei".


Next we have what is called "rendaku". the best explanation I can think of for it is a sort of "hardening" of the consonant sound.

Rendaku are written after writitng the kana.


The first looks just like a japanese period (。), or まる(maru), that you write in the upper right corner of the character. This particular alteration only works with ha, hi, hu, he, ho, and turns the sound into pa, pi, pu, pe, po


The next is what looks like two japanese commas (、), or てん(ten), stacked on top of each other. this alteration only affects the k, s, t, and h groups. The stroke order is also provided, and is written from left to right.


ず and づ sound pretty similar, but づ is a bit of a stronger, more rough sound.


Since you've already learned how to write these characters, all you need to memorize here is the new sounds!


Here are some example vocabulary using rendaku-ed hiragana:

たべる(taberu) ------------------------ to eat

いちご(ichigo) ------------------------ strawberry

ばら(bara) ----------------------------- rose

でんぱ(denpa) ------------------------ reception(ie. phone)



To complete our hiragana studies we are going to be discussing combination hiragana. It sounds scary, but all it really is is just some more new sounds to memorize!


This alteration only affects the i-ending sounds with consonants. they are pronounced quite quickly (ie. gyo not giyo) They also can work along with the rendaku-ed characters.

じゃ, じゅ, じょ, and ぢゃ, ぢゅ, ぢょ sound very similar, but the ぢ series is a slightly harder, more rough, sound.


Here is some example vocabulary using combination hiragana:

でんしゃ(densha) ---------------------- train

じしょ(jisho) --------------------------- dictionary

きんぎょ(kingyo) ---------------------- goldfish


The last point that we need to touch on here is the small つ, or っ.

When you see a small つ in a word, it means that there is a double consonant following it. A double consonant in Japanese is kind of like an English one, but is usually pronounced differently.

For example, we have the word ちょっと(chotto). In order to pronounce this word and words like it, you need to understand 1 thing. After the sound, in this case "cho" and before the small つ, there is somewhat of a very brief pause. It's almost like we are cutting "cho" short and leaving the space open before finishing the word.

If you don't understand from this explanation, you can try looking up a pronunciation video on youtube to get a clearer understanding ( :


Here are some more example vocabulary using the small つ:

もっと(motto) ------------------------ more

きって(kitte) ------------------------ stamp

ざっし(zasshi) ------------------------ magazine

あさって(asatte) ------------------- the day after tomorrow


That's all for today! If you want to learn more about hiragana and katakana, we recommend this book!


Come back next time, where we will be talking about katakana.


As always, がんばってね!



Lauren


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