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  • Writer's pictureThomas Nelan

How Difficult is it to Learn Hiragana and Katakana?

Updated: Jan 30

First the bad news: Learning Japanese takes more effort than any other language. In fact, language experts at the Foreign Services Institute rank Japanese in their top-tier (level 5) in terms of language learning difficulty. Although it shares level 5 with just 3 other languages (Arabic, Chinese and Korean), the Institute has singled out Japanese as being the most difficult of the group to learn.

Where to Begin?

When beginning to learn Japanese as a second language, it is strongly recommended to begin by learning the two basic Japanese alphabets, namely the hiragana and katakana. Unlike our western alphabet, however, both the hiragana and katakana each contain 48 basic characters. Although learning these 96 characters might sound like a difficult beginning, help is at hand.

Language learning through books:

Throughout the past decades a multitude of books have been written to help Japanese language learners; stand out examples which have stood the test of time are the Genki series and the Pimsleur series. These tend to be used in formal college/ university courses, whereas the more practical Take Off in Japanese and Japanese From Zero! titles are aimed at those who are studying Japanese by themselves.

Language learning through apps:

Now that we are living in the smartphone era, Japanese language learning has also modernized. New apps to help with language learning appear on a weekly basis. Unlike their printed predecessors, these apps can be used on-the-go and allow for quick revision, even when the language learner has less than 10 minutes to spare.

Of the multitude of language learning apps that are on the market today, we have continually been impressed by both Dr. Moku’s Hiragana and Dr. Moku's Katakana Mnemonics apps. Both use clever memory tricks to make the characters you are learning memorable. To see just what we mean, check this one out when you are ready to learn hiragana. When you have mastered the hiragana, a separate but equally memorable Dr. Moku’s learn katakana mnemonics app is waiting for you. In both cases, you should have each alphabet memorized in about an hour.

Once you have learned the hiragana and katakana, you will be in an ideal position to begin reading the various learn Japanese books which are available.

"Here’s a top tip: avoid the books written in romaji (western) script".

Instead, opt for the more useful ones written in hiragana and katakana, as they allow the language learner learn Japanese grammar and sentence structure while keeping the mnemonics they’ve already learned fresh in their memories.

Happy Language Learning!

How to Learn Japanese hiragana and katakana

Tom Nelan- B.C.L., B.B.S. (M.K.T.), (New York Qualified Lawyer).

Mitsuko Miyake Nelan- B.A. Japanese Literature: Chofu University, Tokyo.


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