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Japanese Lessons: Basics

By @cocophony

Japanese Alphabets, PT 1

No, that was not a typo. Alphabets. Or more accurately, scripts. Plural. As in multiple. Multiple scripts.

“But WHY???” you shout at the screen, grasping your monitor and shaking it back and forth.

Take a chill pill; it is much more simple than it seems. With VERY few exceptions, when you see a character there is only ONE way to pronounce it. Let me write a word in Japanese for you, and show you what I mean.


Now before you lash out in frustration, this is a easy to read. It only uses one of the three (yes THREE) alphabets, and for the record, it is one of the many ways to say “thank you”, and is pronounced “arigatou”. It is always spelled in the alphabet known as ひらがな (Hiragana), which is usually the first one you will ever learn, mainly because ひらがな is used to spell non-loan words (words that are not from other languages, namely English).

One character, one syllable. Always. When saying it out loud, try to make each syllable last the same amount of time. Trust me, it is much more simple than it seems! When I say “this word is pronounced “_____”, I mean that is how it is said in Romanji, a script that is used to show you how Japanese words are pronounced, which makes it easier on us to learn! Now, let’s start with the first syllable: あ

あ is pronounced like the ‘ah’ sound the ‘a’ makes in “father”. In Romanji, it is shown as ‘a’. Super simple, right? Only one Romanji letter for this symbol.

り is a little trickier. In Romanji, it is spelt ‘ri’, and would be pronounced like the ‘ree’ sound in ‘read’, but kind of roll the ‘r’. It is harder to explain, but look up how to say ‘arigatou’ on Youtube, or any Japanese word with ‘r’ in it, and you will see what I mean.

が is pronounced “ga”, kind of like Lady Gaga.

と is pronounced “to”, like the word “toe”.

う is put after a Japanese character with an ‘o’ sound, (と (to), ご (go) そ (so), etc) to elongate the ‘o’ sound. It is usually pronounced ‘u’, like the ‘oo’ in “boot”.

… and that is it! ありがとう = arigatou (romanji). You now can read your first word in Japanese! WOW.

Now that I broke it down, it seems SUPER easy to pronounce, right? That word doesn’t look scary at all anymore! It simply says “thank you”. You can officially read some Japanese.

Now I suggest that you look up a “hiragana chart” online, which can be easily found on Google images, and memorize those characters! You will probably have to keep looking up the characters at first, but it should take anywhere between a few days to a month to remember them. And don’t worry; the second alphabet is even easier!.

The second alphabet is called カタカナ (Katakana). It is used to spell out loan words, or words (and names) from other languages. It is also used for names and places (even Japanese ones). And all of the Katakana characters have a Hiragana character to match, making them easy to remember! There is just a few small differences.

The symbol “ー” is used to elongate vowels. For example, チーズ is pronounced “chizu”, with the dash symbol elongating the ‘i’ (which makes an “ee” sound, like in “cheese”). By the way, チーズ actually means “cheese”. All loan words are INCREDIBLY similar to their English counterparts!

That is it for today! If you want to learn more, be sure to follow me (is that working now? haha) or comment below so I can contact you (perhaps by commenting on a book you have set aside for conversation, since there are no more profile comments), and I will let you know when the next chapter comes out, which is about the third and final alphabet!



-All Japanese letters, regardless of what alphabet they are from, take one syllable to pronounce

-There are three alphabets, Hiragana, Katakana, and the one we will attempt to tackle in the next lesson

-You learned how to say “thank you” in Japanese! (ありがとう).

-You learned how to say “cheese” in Japanese (チーズ).


VOCAB (try to read them on your own!):






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