How well do you know your Kana?
I’d like to take this opportunity to attempt a “kick in the pants motivational post.” I don’t do these often, but reading some Japanese-learning related forums recommending a textbook that spent most of the time using romaji just got me worked up. Plus, I wanted to try out this neato “auto thumbnail” image thing. Yes, seems to be working nicely.
If you’re studying Japanese and still rely on romaji instead of reading and writing straight kana (hiragana and katakana), then you need to stop whatever it is you’re studying, and go learn your hiragana and katakana again.
Seriously, your hiragana and katakana writing and recognition skills should be second nature by now. I say by now without knowing how long you have studied Japanese, but seriously, in most cases “by now” will apply. It only really takes about one month, two tops, to get hiragana and katakana drilled into your mind and body. Sure the characters look funny to a mind used to the roman alphabet, but if you’re slacking on the kana and want to learn Japanese, what are you going to do about kanji??
I’m sure many JapanNewbie readers will agree that I’m not being unrealistic here.
When drilling the kana I recommend using a variety of approaches to really absorb the essence of the characters into your being.
You should practice:
- Seeing the romaji, and writing the kana.
- Hearing the Japanese, and identifying the kana.
- Hearing the Japanese, and writing the kana.
- Seeing the kana, and pronouncing it out loud.
- Hearing some random Japanese word (even words you don’t know), and writing it down in kana (use a dictionary to input the Japanese you wrote to verify that you heard correctly).
- See the English for a word you know in Japanese, and write it down in kana.
- Read a ton of katakana words and translate them into English.
- Try to write English words in katakana. Check a dictionary from time to time to see if you’re getting the idea. You’ll probably find most of them in the Japanese dictionary. Table, computer, truck, rocket, all of these are written in katakana. Remember, the goal is to practice using the kana.
If you mix all of these activities into your study routine, eventually you’ll be able to read and write kana like you ride a bicycle (no offense to those who can’t ride a bicycle).
Back in high school in the mid-90’s our teacher would use a variety of games. In one game two teams of four students would go up to the blackboard with a piece of chalk. Only one student from each team could write at a time and the other team members couldn’t help out. The teacher would say a kana, and the first team to write it correctly would win the point. Then the next person on the team would step up to the plate and see how they could do. This game was great! You hear it, you write it. The pressure of letting your team down was enough to motivate even the most slacking slackers. Good times.
We also played a game where the hiragana flash cards would be all over the floor. The teacher would call one out, and we would break our fingers trying to be the first to grab the card. At the end of the game whoever had the most cards won. Great speed recognition skill building there.
Finally, we played a game where the class would be sitting in their seats, but one student would stand up behind another student. The teacher would hold up the Japanese side of a kana flash card. The seated student and the person behind them would try to be the first to shout out the character. The winner would move on to the next seat in the row, and the loser would sit down, or stay seated, whatever the case may be. The first student to rotate all the way around the class and get back to their own seat would win. I think this was called “Around the World.” Anyway, “see it, say it” was the name of the game here. Good times.
If anyone has experience any other cool kana learning games let us know in the comments!
Once you have your hiragana and katakana mastered Japanese becomes much more clear. Once you have your kana you’ll know how to pronounce every single sound there is in the Japanese language.
This is because of the morae concept that was recently mentioned on caught red handed.
“Why is this important? It might just be that the key to unlocking Japanese pronunciation is a very clear understanding of how these morae fit together as the fundamental building block of the spoken language”
Not only that, but you’ll instinctively understand how things are supposed to sound. You’ll be able to hear and see the difference in こんにちは (konnichiwa) and こにちは (konichiwa = nonsense). It’s great. Knowing the kana is power!
Oh, and lastly, do your self a favor and learn the proper stroke order for your hiragana and katakana, and use the proper stroke order when you practice them. Trust me. When I was in high school I didn’t, and now my handwriting in Japanese looks about as bad as my English handwriting. Sloppy!
Go forth and Drill your Kana
I asked some tweeps for recommendations on websites to study hiragana and katakana. Most of the suggestions I received were from @c_rh who has a serious problem with Katakana… So is looking for all the help he can get.
StudyJapanese.org has a “see the romaji, pick the kana” (and vice-versa) speed game on their site. It tracks user’s high scores so the competitiveness makes it fun.
NihongoUp is a downloadable Japanese educational game and reviewing tool that will drill your kana as well as other things.
ReadTheKanji.com is a popular online quiz that will test your kana and kanji skills.
Japanesepod101 has some good stuff, but I have never seen or tried them.
Ganbare with the Kana out there!
For help getting the Kana into your head, check out our iPhone Japanese 101: Hiragana application. When you finish with that, the Katakana app will get the Katakana stuck in your head as well. You don’t need an internet connection to use either app, so they’re ideal for drilling while on the go! Enjoy!
Note, there is also a free version of the Hiragana app if you want to try before you buy.
Screen Shot from the Hiragana Application: