A Beginner's Guide to Japanese writing and pronunciation

Writing, recognizing characters, and pronunciation.


Japanese is tough. I never thought I would learn to speak it, alone alone read and write it, but here I am today, able to read Katakana and Hiragana; the basic "alphabets."


In this post, I will explain the three types of writing in Japanese, how those characters look, and a few basic phrases you should learn if you want to travel to Japan. While it is not necessary to learn a language in today's age of technology (thanks Google Translate), I still think it is so important to embrace the culture as much as possible when traveling. It opens your eyes to the culture and gives you new opportunities. Plus, the natives really appreciate you trying.


So, let's dive right in.


Kana or Writing:


The three types of writing are: Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji.


Katakana is one of two basic alphabets. This version is more linear and is used for formal writing or for writing foreign words like beer, basketball, and Starbucks for example.


Courtesy of Google, this image shows basic Katakana and even displays the proper stroke

Hiragana is the other basic alphabet. Both alphabets have the same sounds, they are just written differently. Hiragana is more curved writing and is used in daily writing.


Courtesy of Google, this image shows basic Hiragana and even displays the proper stroke

Kanji is where it gets complicated. These are the symbols you probably think about when you think of Chinese or Japanese. They are much more complicated and each symbol has at least one meaning or sound. I am not going to touch on this since I do not quite understand it myself.


Courtesy of Google, this is just a quick example of what some Kanji's look like so you get the idea

For Katakana and Hiragana, there are 46 basic characters, but some have variations. For example, "ka" can be turned into "ga" when an extra line is drawn:



Courtesy of Google, this is an example of the Hiragana variants. There are variants in Katakana as well.

Pronunciation:


Japanese is one of the simplest languages to pronounce, even when romanized (they call it "romaji"). The language is very phonetic. Other than a few exceptions that you might get confused with English sounding sounds or words, the pronunciation is very easy to pick up and follow.


Vowel sounds: (hiragana followed by katakana)


あ or ア = A: ah

い or イ = I: ee

う or ウ = U: ooh

え or エ = E: ehh

お or オ = O: oh


Once you have those sounds down, the rest are a breeze, just add the appropriate consonant sound(s) to the beginning and you should be golden! But, I will still go through each set:


K Family:

か or カ = ka: kah (CAr)

き or キ = ki: kee (key)

く or ク = ku: koo (coo-coo bird)

け or ケ = ke: keh (CArrot)

こ or コ = ko: koh (cocoa)


By adding the two little lines (chon-chon) to each character, you get the "g" sounds. They make the same sounds as "k" just with a "g" and are also written the same.


S Family:

さ or サ = sa: sah (SAuce)

し or シ = shi: she

す or ス = su: sue

せ or セ = se: seh (SAId)

そ or ソ = so: soh (sew or quite literally, so)


By adding the chon-chon to each character, you get the "z" sounds. They make the same sounds as "s" just with a "z" and are also written the same. The exception in this family is that "shi" will become "ji" as in "jeans."


T Family:

た or タ = ta: tah (TAll)

ち or チ = chi: chee (CHEEtah)

つ or ツ = tsu: tsue (like sue with a slight "t" sound on the front)

て or テ = te: teh (TEn)

と or ト = to: toh (toe; this one is probably tricky for English learners so remember this one!)


By adding the chon-chon to each character, you get the "d" sounds. They make the same sounds as "t" just with a "d" and are also written the same. "Tsu" can sometimes be changed into "du" or "dzu" depending on the word.


N Family:

な or ナ = na: nah (NOt)

に or ニ = ni: nee (knee)

ぬ or ヌ = nu: noo (new)

ね or ネ = ne: neh (NEver)

の or ノ = no: noh (quite literally like the English "no")


The N Family does not have any variations.


H Family:

は or ハ = ha: hah (hahaha)

ひ or ヒ = hi: hee (he)

ふ or フ = fu: foo (kung-FU)

へ or へ = he: heh (HExagon)

ほ or ホ = ho: hoh (HOtel)


By adding the chon-chon to each character, you get the "b" sounds. They make the same sounds as "h" just with a "b" and are also written the same.


By adding the little circle to each character, you get the "p" sounds. They make the same sounds as "h" just with a "p" and are also written the same.


M Family:

ま or マ = ma: mah (mama)

み or ミ = mi: mee (me)

む or ム = mu: moo (like a cow)

め or メ = me: meh (MExico)

も or モ = mo: moh (lawn MOWer)


The M Family does not have any variations.


R Family:

ら or ラ = ra: rah

り or リ = ri: ree (RIng)

る or ル = ru: roo (RUdolph)

れ or レ = re: reh (REntal)

ろ or ロ = ro: roh (RObot)


The R Family does not have any variations. The "r" sound in Japanese is probably the trickiest one. In English, we use a soft "r" sound, but in Japanese, it is a harder "r" sound. To me, it sounds like a mix of the English "r," "l," and "d" sounds. Click here to listen to an example if you're still unsure.


Y Family:

や or ヤ = ya: yah (YAHtzee)

(No ee sound)

ゆ or ユ = yu: yoo (you)

(No ehh sound)

よ or ヨ = yo: yoh (yo-yo)


The Y Family does not have any variations.


W Family:

わ or ワ = wa: wah (WAter)

(No wee, woo, or weh sounds)

を or ヲ = woh or oh: (WOn't)


The W Family does not have any variations.


And of course, don't forget character 46: ん or ン = n: just like the English "n" sound in "inn."


Variants:


There are combinations of characters you can use to make more sounds.


Courtesy of Google, these "Yoon" are more sounds you can make with Japanese characters

You just make a combination of the consonant from the syllables and adding ya, yu, or yo on the end as seen above.


For example, きゃ, ki+ya becomes kya. They all follow this same rule.


That's it for this lesson of basic reading, writing, and pronunciation of Japanese!


For more on how to say some basic words and phrases, click here!


Thanks for reading,


-Emma

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Emma

Dendler

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! 

My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...

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