Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Best Way to Learn Hiragana and Katakana

If you've been put off learning Japanese by the complexity of the script, then here's some good news: it's not actually that hard! Well, the two basic alphabets aren't. Kanji will always be daunting due to the amount, but kana will get you most of the way through the language.

If you have the time and patience, both hiragana and katakana can be done in a day or two.

I don't believe in the slow and painful methods some people recommend for learning these Japanese characters. They aren't complicated enough to require pictorial stories to memorise.

My solution is simple: (just to clarify: we get no money for you clicking this link)

It's an unbeatable flashcard-style site covering both alphabets. It requires the user to type a response to a kana syllable on screen. Very simple, but completely effective. You don't need to buy any books or other resources.

Here's how I learned hiragana and katakana in six and four hours respectively:
  1. Select five characters to study.
  2. Study them until you make no mistakes at all.
  3. Deselect those five and select the next five.
  4. Learn them.
  5. Study the second set of five together with the first.
  6. Deselect those ten and select the next five.
  7. Study those three sets together.
  8. Repeat until you're studying all the characters at once and not making any mistakes.

It sounds simple enough, and if you can concentrate for a long period of time it will work beautifully. Of course, you don't have to learn them all in a day, or a week. Even five minutes a day will get you there eventually, and the rewarding feeling of being able to read something so alien to your first language will keep you going.

And that's that. No need for geeky posters or flashcard sets. After you've memorised them it's just a matter of practising. Read things in kana (even if you don't understand the meaning) whenever you can, and always write in kana when you study. 

You'll find katakana more difficult to remember in the real world because it's used so much less, so put extra time into that.

The same people made a site called, but I can't recommend that as highly as the realkana. Kanji requires a whole game plan to study and memorise. Stay tuned for that guide soon.


  1. I have a tool to help with kana for webpages...
    It`s called "furigana injector" it`s pretty helpful

    good for Google Chrome, Firefox and before install

  2. Is there anything like this for Hangul (Korean)?
    I'm trying to learn Korean also.

  3. Benjamin: Thanks. We actually covered Furigana Injector in our Browsing the Web in Japanese entry last year:

  4. ah...crap...Maybe that`s where I got it..Sorry about that!

  5. Great idea about learning like 1 colum at a time and then mix them!
    Some typefaces are quite irritating for beginners, though, thus I prefer to choose just one not too fancy one.

    Something similar I found under

    I also like Katakana and Hiragana puzzles as a variation of above

    Have fun

  6. why make learning boring and laborious... I learned them by getting a comic book, putting a kana chart beside it and just reading. after a while try reading without the chart and only looking at it if you're stuck. you don't understand all of what's written, but it sure beats flashcards.

  7. Anon: thanks for the links!

    emma: Sounds fun, but if you don't know any (or very little Japanese) isn't it a bit frustrating? I liked blasting through the characters and then approaching Japanese learning with that obstacle already overcome.

  8. any program/site that shows romaji and requires you to answer in kana?

  9. Anon: Anki can be set up to do this

  10. I've heard of Real Kana and I think it's a pretty good resource, although I personally prefer to review the kana using Anki. I know, it is flashcard software, but the scheduling algorithm of it is very, very effective! I would recommend you check it out.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing! :D

  11. The best way is to use mnemonics