In your journey to learn Japanese, you shall encounter 3 type of writings which you need to master to smoothly read your ways through Japanese text.
Note that this guide purpose is more toward people who want to read things and not just talk/hear things. If you’re not interested in reading stuff and you’re sure that you don’t need to be able to read Japanese, you can safely skip it~
This is the Japanese version of ABC and the first one you need to master before you move on to the next step. It might look hard at a first glance, but it really isn’t hard to swallow once you know the trick. You can master it as fast as one day or a couple of days especially when you use CrunchyNihongo’s Easy Hiragana guide!
Japanese 2nd version of ABC which is used for specific purpose, especially used for imported words. For example, トマト which reads as Tomato and means Tomato (duh!) or ブラック which reads as Burakku and means Black.
Name of plants & animals also written using Katakana, and it also used for other purpose such as animal sound/cry, sound effect, foreign names or made up words.
You will see katakana a lot if you’re playing games/strolling around the internet.
A quick tip to instantly differentiate katakana & hiragana
HIRAGANA IS CURVY while KATAKANA IS BLOCKY!
Can you guess which is which ? あいうえお vs アイウエオ
We recommend beginners to learn Hiragana first. Note that you will rarely encounter katakana in the beginning so it’s recommended to learn Hiragana, skip Katakana, moving on to basic grammar, and back to Katakana when you encounter much of them and they starts bugging you. Anyway, if you think you’re ready for Katakana, you can directly go to our mastery guide here.
Chinese character. The one which is used the most and the type that people fear the most… There are around 2000 Kanji you need to memorize. The amount & the shape might look overwhelming, but note that you will only need to tackle them one by one. Slowly but sure, with proper practice of reading, you will be able to master them.
Why are there 3 type of writing?
You will understand this reason better after you learn to read hiragana or starting to read Japanese material. Actually, Japanese alphabet is not an effective writing.
You cannot easily distinguish words & spacing. Here’s an example in English.
> This is hard to read! You need to spell each alphabet from start to end to know what is written. And this is exactly the same feeling you get when you read a Japanese with only hiragana. Japanese usually don’t use spacing for each word.
This cake is 145$
> With spacing, and also a replacement for the numbers & dollars, it makes the sentence easier to read & recognize. This is what exactly katakana & kanji does to a Japanese sentence. It helps differentiate the word in japanese text and make it faster & more effective to read.
Know your purpose~
So if your focus on learning Japanese is more toward hearing/conversing part, speaking to a Japanese or enjoying native drama, you can reduce the kanji study a bit.
But if you want to enjoy reading stuff, kanji is the skill you want to hone to the max!! The newspaper/books/games etc for native people are all written mostly in Kanji.
The best way to increase your kanji is to read as many as you can. Simply by seeing it more often, you will acquired the kanji to your brain with little pain! Don’t try to hard cramming the kanji. Cramming is only good for short-term memory and doing too much will block your mind.
Writing Kanji character is a skill that is very hard to master and unless you want to write a love letter manually to your prospect lover in Japan, it seems that it has very little benefit to your experience since you can type any kanji easily using pc/phones in this modern era.
Although if you have a high interest in writing kanji and have a lot of time, of course it doesn’t hurt at all to maximize this skill path. But… some people write Kanji not to learn to write it. Instead, they write kanji since it makes them remember the shape better, and if you’re one of those types… well, then write as much kanji as you can!!
The fourth ?
There’s actually a 4th type of writing which is romaji. Romaji is Japanese word, written using English ABC alphabet, invented for foreigner. So it will be A I U E O KA KI KU KE KO and so on…
I know that you might say “Oh! This is the alphabet i know & love!” and stuff like “Why do I need to learn those 3 crazy alphabet if there’s romaji!!”
You see… you will find romaji in text-book teaching Japanese for foreigner, but after you start to master hiragana, you will want to avoid it as much as you can. The first reason is because you will almost never encounter it in any Japanese native material.
The other & the main reason is that the Japanese alphabet is composed of a different structure than English. In English we have single alphabet (A B C,etc), while in Japanese the alphabet is set of sound (KA, SA, TO, HO, etc). And if you learn Japanese while still maintaining the English single alphabet in your mind, you will be confused when trying to pronounce the word and also when learning the conjugation formula which is the main part of Japanese grammar.
The best way to use this romaji is when you want to invent an English mnemonic to help you memorize the new vocabulary much easier. For example, to remember HIRU (means noon), you think of English word HILL . The best time to climb the hill is at noon!
So… a quick summary !!
1. Start from learning hiragana, master it as short as one day using our guide here!
2. If you’re okay with not being able to read, you can skip the alphabet & kanji to focus more toward audio/speaking method of learning. But even if you just want to hear/converse, it’s still best to master at least hiragana… since the grammar formula is based on it.
3. You don’t have to learn to write Kanji since we can just type it using phone/PC in this modern era (except if it’s the best method to help you memorize it,then write it up!) *this also applied to hiragana & katakana
4. Avoid romaji as soon as you learn hiragana, use it only for making mnemonics to help you memorize word.
5. Less time, more fun! Don’t cram the kanji/vocabulary. Your brain will get too stressed and will not able to retain the word for long term. Expose yourself to the kanji you haven’t memorized yet as many as possible, but don’t do it for too long. Take a short/long break (a few hours/a day) per 30 / 60 minutes.It doesn’t matter if you cannot remember it the first few times, just open a dictionary to know the meaning. Keep exposing yourself and you will soon realize that suddenly the word has been successfully acquired.
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