Learn Hiragana For Beginners (Part 1)

Let’s learn how to read Japanese.

I’m making this series as a prequel of sorts to my introduction to learning kanji. While hiragana is not required for that lesson, already having a good foundation in the sounds and phonetic letters that make up Japanese is the ideal way to get into Kanji.

What’s the secret to learning 46 Hiragana in less than two weeks? Writing them down in a notebook, learning vocab alongside the characters, and practicing until you feel confident with the characters every day! (Don’t forget to review your past cards at the same time as the new ones!)

A lot of people turn on the fire hose when they decide to learn how to read Japanese. They drill and drill and drill and try to make it through all 46 Hiragana in one day. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to challenge yourself, I would recommend having your “core” set of new words and letters to study until you’ve got them down pat, and then from there you can spend the rest of your study time doing whatever you’d like.

Today I’m going to show you the first 10 hiragana, as well as an important modifier that can change the sound of 5 of these. So, in total we will learn 10 hiragana, but 15 new sounds. Let’s get right to it!

First Things First: The Vowels
あ、い、う、え、お

あ – “A” (as in ‘addition’)
い – “I” which sounds like a hard “E” sound,(similar to the “ea” in “eat”)
う – “U” that sounds a long “oo” (as in “hoot”)
え – “E” sound (like “eh”)
お – “O” (As in “Oreo”)

There’s a ton of vocabulary you will be able to read just by knowing how to read these vowels. I’ve included nine essential words for basic conversation below:

あおい aoi, blue (い adjective)

あう au, to meet (verb)

いう iu, to say (verb)

おおい ooi, many (い adjective)

いいえ iie, “No”

いえ ie, House (noun)

うえ ue, Above (noun)

いい ii, Good (い adjective)

あい ai, Love (noun)

Learning the hiragana through vocabulary will help you master them much faster than drilling the individual letters. Try making flashcards for these words at the same time you make cards for the individual hiragana. Now let’s move on to learning our first consonants.

Day 2: The K Sounds
か、き、く、け、こ

か Ka (as in “car”)
き Ki (as in “keys”)
く Ku (as in “raccoon”
け Ke (as in “Okay“)
こ Ko (as in “coat”

Here I would like to make an important distinction. All Hiragana (with the exception of ん, “n”) follow this same pattern of consonant+vowel. This means that the hiragana for the “K” sounds will be “ka, ko, ki, ke, ku”. Notice how the vowel sounds here are identical to the sounds we studied previously, just with a “K” in front of them! In this way Japanese sounds are extremely consistent and easy to learn.

The amount of vocab you can pick up will explode once you get these first consonants:

あかい akai, red

あき aki, autumn

いけ ike, pond

いく iku, to go

おおきい ookii, big

いか ika, squid

きく kiku, to hear/ask

えき eki, station

こい koi, one-sided love, a crush

Day 2: The Two Funky Dots
が、ぎ、ぐ、げ、ご

Sometimes you may be looking at some text in Japanese, and notice a hiragana you may recognize, but with two dots attached to the top-right most part of the hiragana. What does that mean?

Don’t worry, because it’s not a difficult concept at all. These two dots are called “tenten” (literally: dot-dot) and they slightly modify the sound of the hiragana they’re attached to. In the case of the “K” Hiragana, the pronunciation changes to “g”. So when you see が ぎ ぐ げ ご, think “ga gi gu ge go”. Simple, right? We’ll see the tenten attached to future hiragana as well, so it will help you to keep this concept in mind.

These vocab words aren’t as common as the previous ones, but I just want to show you the sounds change when we put the tenten on the “K” sounds using the limited sounds we’ve learned so far.:

ごい goi, vocabulary

ぐいぐい rapidly

がか gaka, artist (you may know the word mangaka, an artist who draws manga)

This should be plenty for your first day of learning Hiragana. In Future Lessons, I’ll cover the following. (These articles haven’t been written yet):

Click Here For Lesson 2!: S sounds さ し せ す そ
& T sounds た ち て つ と っ
Lesson 3: N sounds な に ね ぬ の ん
& H sounds は ひ へ ふ ほ
Lesson 4: M sounds ま み め む も
& Y sounds や ゆ よ
Lesson 5: R sounds ら り ろ れ る and W sounds わ を

Good luck with your studies! がんばって!

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