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Learning Japanese – Katakana Lesson 1

February 27, 2016

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Learning Japanese is a pretty daunting task. I’m really terrible at learning languages. I have to work really hard at it while other people seem to just get it. I find that the best way for me to learn something is to teach it. So in this small Learning Japanese video series I’d like to share how it is that I am learning. I tend to use visual cues when learning, so this video features my terrible doodles. I’d love for us to share methods, tips, and tricks with each other so we can all help each other learn. Today’s video is Part 1/5 for Learning Katakana.

Katakana vs Hirigana

Okay, I know some of you might be wondering why I’m starting with Katakana instead of Hiragana. First let me explain the difference between the two so everyone is on the same page.

When you’re learning Korean or English you memorize one alphabet and you’re done. Japanese, however, has two different alphabets: Hiragana for native Japanese words and Katakana for foreign words. Now throw in Kanji, a system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters, and you got a whole lot of work to do to really understand Japanese. The good news is both Hiragana and Katakana sound exactly the same, they are the same alphabet BUT they use different looking letters so that you can differentiate them.

Why Learn Katakana First?

I initially started my Japanese learning by memorizing Hiragana because I figured that would be the most common alphabet being used in Japan…but I was totally wrong. Turns out Katakana is everywhere and it doesn’t just describe foreign words anymore. I see Katakana being used to describe things that have Japanese words, for example 鮭 is the Kanji for salmon which is pronounced as “sa-ke” but I always see Katakana being used for salmon which looks like サーモン and is pronounced as “sa-mon”. Even at a sushi restaurant I see a combination of Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana being used. It seems like when it comes to menus, Katakana is the major go to alphabet.

Now, POP QUIZ HOT SHOT!!! Can you guess what these fruits are? They are written in Katakana but I’ve written the English pronunciation beside them so you can get an idea of how English words sound in Japanese.

オレンジ o-ren-ji

マンゴー      man-gō     

パイナップル    pa-in-a-pu-ru  

メロン       meh-ron  

キウイ       ki-ui       
 
Pretty similar to their English pronunciation. But here lies the problem: if you order a glass of orange juice using straight up English the server may not understand you. Many Japanese people have learned these words only in their Katakana form, so your English pronunciation may not make sense. They know that “o-ren-ji” = orange, but they don’t know the English pronunciation for it. So that means you really have to learn the correct Japanese pronunciation (of English words) if you want to be clearly understood…but that also means struggling with forgetting your native understanding what these words are supposed to sound like.

That was a huge problem I had in Korea specifically with the word Canada. In Korean, it is pronounced “KAY-NA-DA” but I would always say “CAN-NA-DA” since that’s how you actually say it, but people would not understand what country I was from. Though barely different in sound, many people could not connect that KAYNADA was also CANADA. This struggle of English words being turned into Korean or Japanese words is huge problem for those of us that have ever taught English as a foreign language, since students will fall back on their Native understanding of the word as the correct way to say it but in reality many Korean/Japanese English words are not understandable by actual English speakers. If you haven’t seen it already, I’m linking to the part where we struggle to understand what English words are being used in the Katakana Challenge for our EYS Episode 3.

So that’s it for now! What did you think about my crazy doodles? That Sailor Moon…so bad…Did you have any other pictures that helped you to learn these letters? Please share your tips with me below! FIGHT….OH!

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Learning Japanese – Katakana Lesson 1

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  1. Hi, I’m learning Japanese from books and the books I am using contain a lot of complex kanji, in japan are they used a lot, and do regular people know how to write them or just what they look like and therefore there meanings?

    2 years ago