Japanese writing system uses Kana and Kanji for letters and Kana will be the first letters to learn. Kana has two types, Hiragana and Katakana. Each character in both of Kana represents a sound of Japanese but has no meaning by itself. In a sense, they are similar to the alphabet in English and Kana is aligned to the sounds more than the alphabet.

Mastering Kana is essential. The reason is that you may be able to survive in Japan with them even if you are not perfect in Kanji. In fact, small Hiragana or Katakana are usually shown along with Kanji for you to read, which is called Furigana. 

There is no shortcut but there are some tips to note when you learn Kana. First of all, being familiar with the sound table of Japanese is a big help, which is called ‘Gojuu-on hyoo’. There are 46 standard characters in each Kana and a character is called as it is pronounced, with a few exceptions. This is easier than English where an alphabet is usually pronounced differently from how it is called. For example, ‘h’ is not pronounced ‘eɪtʃ’ in a word.

The second point to know is that the shapes of the characters have no relationship between each other. Some of them accidentally look alike and cause confusion at first. However, the recommendation is to take the advantage of the similarities. In the course of learning characters, you may find it is easy to memorise a certain character by relating it to the one that has the similar shape. For example, ‘a’, ‘me’ and ‘nu’.

The other tip is about the variation of the shape. Not only Japanese but also English has a variety of ‘fonts’. Maintaining the fundamentals, the shapes vary depending on how they are written. Especially ‘sa’ and ‘ki’ in Hiragana has noticeable differences from the original shapes. If you want to avoid the confusions in your learning, your ideal learning materials should be written with ‘textbook font’ and learning the correct stroke order of each character does never harm.

Three tips are mentioned above for you to effectively learn Kana. You cannot get rid of the practice of Kana when you learn Japanese. I hope having these aspects helps your learning.

Although there are more characters than English, I met many students who already knew Hiragana at the first lesson. I believe this is the area that you are able to learn without teachers. Why don’t you start by getting a textbook?

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