Learn Hiragana For Beginners (Part 2)

Welcome back! Let’s learn a few more hiragana this time. Do you remember the tenten which modify the sound of consonants from the previous lesson? We saw them applied to the hiragana for “k” sounds like this:

 ka, which with tenten becomes ga、
 ki, which with tenten becomes gi、
ku, which with tenten becomes  gu,
 ke, which with tenten becomes ge

If you would like to read a bit more about all this, you can look at the first lesson in hiragana here. The example vocab I’ll be showing you draw on both the new hiragana and the ones from the previous lesson, so please do check it out if you haven’t!

Let’s move on to the new material!

The “S” Sounds: さしせそす
sa (as in “sayonara”)
shi (as in “sushi“)
su (as in “sushi”)
(as in “say“)
so (as in “sew“)

One may wonder why there is no hiragana for “si” and instead there is one for “shi”. This is not considered unusual by Japanese speakers. Pronouncing the sound s+i as し is just as natural for them as pronouncing k+u as く. It’s just the way the language has evolved. You will notice a similar phenomenon for the sound t+i when we move on to our next hiragana.

Here are some examples of native speakers using these sounds within words. Kill two birds with one stone and make flashcards of the new vocab along with the hiragana!:

かさ kasa, umbrella

くせ kuse, a (bad) habit

うそ uso, a lie (You can also yell it as an exclamation, like: “No way!”)

すし sushi, sushi

すいか suika, watermelon

すごい sugoi, awesome, amazing (people often pick this word up from anime)

Now Let’s Add The Tenten:

When we add tenten to the “S” Hiragana, they take on a “Z” sound.
さ sa becomes ざ za
し shi becomes じ ji
す su becomes ず zu
せ se becomes ぜ ze
そ so becomes ぞ zo

かざん kazan, volcano

かぜ kaze, wind

じかん jikan, time

くず kuzu scum, waste

ぞう zou, elephant

Once you’ve finished making cards and getting a handle on these sounds, I would take a long break before moving onto the next sent of hiragana. You can even come back to them the next day. Learning and reviewing in small doses everyday is the best way to keep these memorized forever. Overloading your brain may have the negative effect of stressing it out, or making it think that the information is disposable.

Have you gotten some rest? Okay, let’s move on to the next set!

The “T” Sounds: たちつてと

ta (as in “ta-ta for now”

chi (as in “tai-chi“)

tsu (as in “boots“)

te (as in “tail”)

to (as in “toe“)

つち tsuchi, earth (as in soil)

さとう satou, table sugar

とおい tooi, far

たいこ taiko, a taiko drum

て te, hand

ちかい chikai, close

A Very Important Footnote: Little っ
Have you ever seen a word written in hiragana that included the little っ? This letter doesn’t actually indicate a sound, but that the next consonant will be stressed. How does this sounds in practice? Let me show you two examples of words that would otherwise be phonetically identical, if not for the little っ.

かこ kako, the past

かっこ kakko, parenthesis

そと soto, outside

そっと sotto softly, gently

Notice how the word for “parenthesis” has a harder second g sound than “the past”. You may even get a sense that there is a small pause before the second g. Likewise for the second consonant of “outside” versus “gently”. This is the nuance of the little っ.

Many foreigners form a bad habit of forgetting to enunciate this difference, or put a stressed sound in a word isn’t supposed to have one. To a native speaker, the above two words sound completely different, so please practice both listening for and pronouncing this difference as often as you can to get a sense for how important it is.

That’s all for today! Do you feel like the sounds of Japanese are starting to come together for you? If you happen to watch any shows and listen to any music in Japanese, try to tune in to the rhythm in which words are strung together. One of the characteristics of Japanese that first attracted me to the language was how melodic words sound when they are spoken.

Good luck everybody! またね!

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