basic

Easy Katakana Mastery Guide: Part 1

Katakana is the twin brother of Hiragana whom have the exact same pronounciation, but with a different shape and have a few special rules that are different than Hiragana. Make sure you have master Hiragana before learning Katakana. If you’re ready, then スタート!

As explained in our post about Japanese writing system, Katakana is mostly used for imported/foreign words directly used in Japanese. Other than that, Katakana is also used for Plants/Animals name, sound effect, animal sound/cry, foreign names, etc. Note that although a lot of Katakana words come from English, not all words is English words,you might even find some Japanese words that is being written in katakana to look more catchy/easy to distinguished.

Katakana is also a bit tougher than his brother Hiragana! Not because of the shape (using this guide here you will be able to master the shape in no time!). But because the way Japanese spelled the imported words is kinda unique. A simple word such tomato is still TO MA TO. Or words such as black become BU RA KKU is still understandable. But some other words such as buildings, get spelled as BI RU (somehow it get abbreviated in a way that foreign might not understand). So sometimes even though you can read the words and it's comes from English, you cannot simply guess what the meaning of the word is!!

katakana-tougher

Check out the sample words below

Can you guess what each word means?


1. BA NA NA

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2. WA I TO

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3. GUU DO

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4. KYA N SE RU

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5. PU RO JE KU TO

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6. NOO SU SA I DO

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So that is the hard part of Katakana. But personally, I don't want to say Katakana is hard... Katakana isn't hard, it's just MYSTERIOUS! It's like how you need to guess what your baby/pets want from you~ Or like how a man doesn't understand how women's mind works!

Yes, once again, KATAKANA is not hard, it's just MYSTERIOUS...and blocky

katakana-mysterious

So, what to do? Although you can try to guess how to spell the katakana version of some English words, it's best and easiest to just learn how Japanese spell them and memorize it. Since basically the way they spelled it is sometimes very unpredictable.

You can skip Katakana

If you're just starting to learn Japanese, you can skip Katakana if you'd like. Because it's more important to learn basic grammar first such as particle, sentence structure, memorize some basic Japanese vocab, etc. After you're comfortable with Japanese structure and words, then tackle the Katakana! Your brain will be able to receive the Katakana logic more easily.

And as with Hiragana and Kanji, it's super okay to not be able to write katakana unless if writing is the most effective method to memorize it for you.

katakana-chart

As you can see,this chart is almost identical to Hiragana Chart in terms of layout. So, what are you waiting for 😀 Let's start~


#1. Vowel: A I U E O

As with Hiragana, The first alphabet we will learn would be the vowels! A I U E O

HIRAGANA VOWEL: A
HIRAGANA VOWEL: I
HIRAGANA VOWEL: U
HIRAGANA VOWEL: E
HIRAGANA VOWEL: O

#2. KA KI KU KE KO

HIRAGANA K-ROW: KA
HIRAGANA K-ROW: KI
HIRAGANA K-ROW: KU
HIRAGANA K-ROW: KE
HIRAGANA K-ROW: KO

#3. SA SHI SU SE SO

Important There is no SI sound, it's SHI.

HIRAGANA S-ROW: SA
HIRAGANA S-ROW: SHI
HIRAGANA S-ROW: SU
HIRAGANA S-ROW: SE
HIRAGANA S-ROW: SO

#4. TA CHI TSU TE TO

Important There are no TI and TU sound, it's CHI and TSU.

HIRAGANA T-ROW: TA
HIRAGANA T-ROW: CHI
HIRAGANA T-ROW: TSU
HIRAGANA T-ROW: TE
HIRAGANA T-ROW: TO
About Little TSU [っ]

If you encounter a little つ like this > まて , it means that you double the consonant on the kana after it. So you don't read it as a MATSUTE but as MATTE (you double the T in TE). As for the sound, you make it longer, you hold the T so it sounds like TTE...


#5. NA NI NU NE NO

HIRAGANA N-ROW: NA
HIRAGANA N-ROW: NI
HIRAGANA N-ROW: NU
HIRAGANA N-ROW: NE
HIRAGANA N-ROW: NO

#6. HA HI FU HE HO

Important There is no HU sound, it's FU.

HIRAGANA H-ROW: HA
HIRAGANA H-ROW: HI
HIRAGANA H-ROW: FU
HIRAGANA H-ROW: HE
HIRAGANA H-ROW: HO
Special Rules for は

This alphabet is also a particle to mark the topic of sentence. And when it's acting as a particle, you don't read it as HA , instead you read it as WA!

But how do I know when to read it as HA or WA ?
No worries, for now, just remember about this little fact, and by the time you learn, distinguishing it will be as easy as distinguishing SUN and SON in English.

after you finished learning hiragana, check out this hiragana reading practice. Reading practice will help you to recognize the pattern for particle much better.


#7. MA MI MU ME MO

HIRAGANA M-ROW: MA
HIRAGANA M-ROW: MI
HIRAGANA M-ROW: MU
HIRAGANA M-ROW: ME
HIRAGANA M-ROW: MO

#8. RA RI RU RE RO

HIRAGANA R-ROW: RA
HIRAGANA R-ROW: RI
HIRAGANA R-ROW: RU
HIRAGANA R-ROW: RE
HIRAGANA R-ROW: RO

#9. YA YU YO WA WO N

HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: YA
HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: YU
HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: YO
HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: WA
HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: WO
HIRAGANA LAST-ROW: N
About を

This kana is unique, you will see it very often, but it will not act as a part of a word. And you read it as O not WO

Its main function in Japanese language is as a particle that is used with verbs, to mark something which is being affected by action/movement explained after it. You can ignore this for now, but if you're curious, you can learn about it using this article here: About Particle を


SUMMARY


#1. ア・イ・ウ・エ・オ

A – If you rotate it a bit, you can see A alphabet in it

I – Its somewhat like letter i , but with an oversize dot above

U – It is similar to letter U in Hiragana but in a more rigid form

E – The shape looks like a pedestal that holds a giant ancient Egg

O – It looks like a man who open his foot


#2. カ・キ・ク・ケ・コ

KA – It’s the same shape as KA in Hiragana, but without the dot/stripe above

KI – It’s the same shape as KI in Hiragana but without the curve below

KU – It’s similar to a cook’s hat shape!

KE – When you see it clearly, it’s the shape of K alphabet!

KO – The shape have 2 corner


#3. サ・シ・ス・セ・ソ

SA – It’s a shape of Japanese wooden sake barrel

SHI – She has one creepy smile

SU – A suit hanger

SE – It’s the same shape as SE in Hiragana. But you remove one of the seven, so it’s made only of two seven.

SO – I need one needle and a thread to repair my Sock


#4. タ・チ・ツ・テ・ト

TA – It’s similar to a cook’s hat (KU – ク), which being slashed in the middle. A cook’s with no talent will get his hat slashed into two!

CHI – There’s only a Cheap antenna sold on this City

TSU – Two needle and a thread are all of my sewing supply

TE – It’s a telephone pole

TO – Tick Tock *sound of a clock*. The shape is like the clock’s arrow

Note If you encounter a little ツ, like this >> カップ
It means that you double the consonant on the alphabet after it. So you don’t read it as a KATSUPU but KAPPU (you double the P in PE). As for the sound, you make it longer, you hold the P so it sounds like PPU…

#5. ナ・ニ・ヌ・ネ・ノ

NA – A notes sent by nailing a paper into the wall

NI – There are two line *the shape is the same with kanji 二 which read as NI and means two*

NU – It’s a head of Nuke rocket!

NE – The shape is so confusing and tangled, it looks like a fish net

NO – It’s a NO smoking sign!


#6. ハ・ヒ・フ・ヘ・ホ

HA – It look similar to an old man BIG NOSE *Hana means nose in Japanese*

HI – The sales graphic this month is very high

FU – It looks like a cliff, and jumping from a cliff to the sea looks very fun!

HE – It’s the same shape as HE in Hiragana

HO – It’s a sparkling Holy Cross!


#7. マ・ミ・ム・メ・モ

MA – The baby needs milk from the Mama’s breast

MI – Miauw !! The cat scratch me!

MU – It’s the shape of a mussels

ME – The scar is the same shape as Samurai X scar. It’s a famous japanese animu

MO – It’s the same shape as MO in Hiragana but with no horn and looks’ more rigid.


#8. ラ・リ・ル・レ・ロ

RA – A rat with a light above its head

RI – It’s the same shape as RI in Hiragana

RU – It looks like it’s belong to some kind of ancient Rune

RE – it’s the small arm of a T – REX

RO – A blue print of a room


#9 ヤ・ユ・ヨ・ワ・ヲ・ン

YA – It’s the same shape as YA in Hiragana, but remove one horn in the back

YO – It’s a person doing Yoga stretching

YU – Who’s number 1! You are!! *the shape is similar to 1

WA – What? *it looks like a ? shape

WO – Wooff!! Wooff! *it’s a mouth of a dog*
*The chance that you encounter ヲ is almost none, that it’s safe to ignore this alphabet.

YA – It’s the same shape as YA in Hiragana, but remove one horn in the back



Easily differentiate similar Katakana shape

ウ, ワ and フ

They look similar but this set is actually quite easy to be distinguished~
ウ (u) shape is similar to the hiragana version , but blockier. It’s made out of 3 stroke.
ワ (wa) is made out of 2 stroke (the short line on the right and the corner shape on the right).
While フ (fu)is only made of 1 stroke, just the corner 🙂

katakana-similar-shape-u-wa-fu

ク, タ and ヌ

This set is trickier but the mnemonics within this guide makes you able to distinguish them easier.
The ク(KU) and タ(TA) strokes are the same except for the slashed on the middle in タ(TA) and there is a relation in the mnemonics. The ク(KU) shape is a COOK’S HAT. And the タ(TA) shape is a COOK’S HAT being SLASHED INTO TWO because the cook has NO TALENT.

While the ヌ(NU) is a NUKE head. It has no relation to a cook, and it’s harder to imagine a nuke head with the クKU and タ TA

katakana-similar-shape-ku-ta-nu

シ, ツ, ソ and ン

SHI, TSU, SO and N are the nightmare of Katakana. They look very similar to each other and the difference is quite subtle. But using this little trick below you and some practice, should be able to master them easily~

MNEMONICS
Before we differentiate using the subtle details, you need to know that ツ (TSU) - ソ (SO) and シ (SHI) - ン (N) are a set! Written with the same type of stroke, the only difference is one of them only have 1 short stroke. Now to remember the set easily, the ツ (TSU) - ソ (SO) shape are both have a related mnemonics. The stripe are drawn as NEEDLES, needle is sitting on a needle pad so its vertically straight. ツ (TSU) has 2 stripes,there are two needles, its all of your sewing supply. ソ (SO) has only 1 stripe, after all to repair your sock you will only need one needle 🙂

シ (SHI) - ン (N) are drawn as eyes and as we know it, eye is horizontal. Therefore, the mnemonics are drawn as a smiling girl (have I mention that she is kinda creepy?) and a one eyed ghost (Nnnnooooo).

katakana-similar-shape-shi-tsu-so-n

THE LONG STROKES

Now onto the subtle details. First we would like to take a detailed look on the long strokes, because it’s the most noticable details you can review using this blog’s katakana font.

シ • ン

In シ (SHI) - ン (N) , It’s drawn from the top stripe, then move to the bottom long stroke. Starting from BOTTOM LEFT to the TOP RIGHT. The bigger part on the bottom left is the starting point of the stroke.

ツ • ソ

In ツ (TSU) - ソ (SO) , They’re first drawn by the left stripe, then move on to the long stroke on the right, starting from TOP TO BOTTOM. Can you see in the font above that the long stroke top part is a bit bigger ? It’s the starting point of the stroke.

THE SHORT TRIPES

It cannot be seen easily in this blog’s font, but シ (SHI) - ン (N) short stripes are more horizontal, while ツ (TSU) - ソ (SO) short stripes are more horizontal. It’s because the stripe in シ (SHI) - ン (N) is drawn from LEFT TO RIGHT, while the ツ (TSU) - ソ (SO) is drawn from TOP TO BOTTOM. The image below will help to clear up the above’s explanations.

katakana-similar-shape-shi-tsu-so-n

FUN FACT! When you connect the dots of the stroke order in シ (SHI) and ツ (TSU), they make a familiar shape!!

katakana-similar-shape-shi-tsu-so-n

katakana-similar-shape-shi-tsu-so-n

No more nightmare for ツ (TSU) , ソ (SO) , シ (SHI) and ン (N) !

What's next?

Make sure you have a good foundation on this first part before moving on to the next part 🙂 If you think you're ready, then lets go!

• Move on to 2nd part of Katakana • Try Katakana reading practice now

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