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Hiragana and Katagana Are Easy With Kana Can Be Easy

I am an expat living in Japan. Every day is an adventure and a blessing. Here are some of my most memorable experiences.

Hiragana and katagana

Not long ago, I learned to read Japanese! Well, sort of. See, Japanese is written three different ways: hiragana, katagana and kanji. Thanks to "Kana Can Be Easy" by Kunihiko Ogawa, hiragana and katagana are under control.

I started with flashcards but the repetition became boring. Also--here in Japan--many things written in Japanese also include English translations so there was never a need to get serious. Then I found "Kana Can Be Easy." It is a fun, easy way to learn hiragana and katagana.

What does it all mean? Hiragana is a collection of forty-six characters; each one represents a different syllable. It is used in many native Japanese words. Katagana is also a collection of forty-six characters and each one represents a different syllable.

However, unlike hiragana, katagana is used for foreign words, foreign names or onomatopoeia. Both are essential for reading Japanese.

Now much of Japanese is also written in kanji--thousands of characters, each one representing a different meaning or sound. This is very similar to Chinese. The only way to master this is the way the natives do it: roll up your sleeves and memorize each one. It takes years and I'm still working on it.

Hiragana and Katagana are... easy

On the upper left part of each page, there is a large picture of the kana. To the right of that is a picture that sneaks in the kana.

Then there is a short English sentence that combines the sound of the kana with the picture. The idea is that whenever you see the kana you will associate it with the picture and then the sound. Then you're reading!

But it doesn't stop there. Below all this, there are six ways the kana might be written so you can recognize it in the real world. After all, not everyone's handwriting is the same. But don't worry, they all look very similar.

That is followed by several other kana that might be mistaken for one you're learning. Look at each one and comparing it reinforces what it looks like and prevents you from mixing them up. Finally, at the bottom of the page, it shows how the kana is written with boxes for you to practice.

In about a week, I was reading Japanese. I was amazed at how much I learned and how quickly I was reading. It was exciting and my friends were impressed. There is still much to learn in Japanese but hiragana and katagana are easy.

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Let's give it a shot!

Cup of pudding

Cup of pudding

Above is a picture of pudding. On it, we have hiragana and katagana but no kanji. Let's give it a shot.

The first line is in hiragana. There are three syllables. It says: To-Ro-Rin. The next line is in katagana. Although there are three characters, we have only two syllables. The last syllable is the "n" sound so it automatically becomes part of the second syllable. So it says: Pu-lin.

All together, this is "Toro-rin Pulin." In English, it means Toro-rin Pudding. And what do you know? That's exactly what it says in English below!

Oh, in the middle of these blue words you probably noticed something else written, smaller and less visible. That's four syllables of katagana. It says: Ka-Su-Ta-Do. "Kasutado" is how the locals pronounce the English word custard. Custard is the flavor of the pudding.

So why is "custard" less visible? Not sure but my guess is that the company doesn't have to make it big. After all, custard is the flavor this brand is most famous for. Custard is what everyone wants. Still, the company included it just in case a customer might not be sure.

Oishii! (That's Japanese for delicious)

Even Sonic the Hedgehog is Bilingual!

Even with "Kana Can Be Easy," getting a good handle on Japanese isn't easy. But whenever I feel discouaged, I think of Sonic the Hedgehog. He speaks Japanese and his English is pretty good too!

Are you learning another language?

Would you like to speak another language? What is it?

Spirality on April 24, 2014:

This book looks great and very helpful

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