The Katakana (カタカナ)

To learn written Japanese, there are three sets of symbols to learn: all of the hiragana, all of the katakana, and then as many kanji as you like.

This arrangement for the katakana matches the prior page's hiragana. These symbols also represent phonetic sounds, like syllables. The katakana are used to sound out names and foreign words, whereas the hiragana are kept for native Japanese words. For example, the symbol for WA is ワ, and the symbol for O is オ.

N WA RA YA MA HA NA TA SA KA A
  (WI) RI   MI HI NI CHI SHI KI I
    RU YU MU FU NU TSU SU KU U
  (WE) RE   ME HE NE TE SE KE E
  WO RO YO MO HO NO TO SO KO O
          B"   D" Z" G"  
              J"    
   
   
   
 

Below the main arrangement, I've listed the diacritical marks which can be combined with the symbols in that column to fill out a few "missing" sounds. For example, adding two small marks (") to the TO (ト) symbol makes it a DO (ド). These follow the same convention as the hiragana.

Katakana versus Hiragana

If you compare the table above with the previous one for hiragana, you might notice that these symbols are more angular and have straighter lines with less brushy flourishes. (This may depend on your web browser's chosen fonts.) Even in very modern advertising typestyles, this difference is usually maintained to some degree, though it can get a bit subtle. This helps to differentiate some similar characters. Here are a few examples.

hiragana katakana
KA
KI
RI
YA

However, this character seems to appear the same in most typefaces. Does it look the same on your web browser?

hiragana katakana
HE

Learning the Katakana in Five Minutes a Day

As with the hiragana, you should be able to learn the katakana in two easy weeks, spending no more than a few minutes a day. This includes reading by sight, and if you're inclined, also writing the symbols. If you put in a little effort, you can reduce it to one week.

I recommend learning just a few symbols per day. It is important to focus on only a few symbols at a time, so that you can retain them all in your short-term memory and absorb the new symbols quickly. Too many new symbols will confuse your short-term memory, making the process more frustrating and break the rhythm of fun learning. Run through a few drills to transfer the symbols progressively into your long-term memory. After each set of symbols, do not push to learn more until the next day.

Buying flashcards is useful, but they're pretty easy to make.

kana.pdf roma.pdf


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