The hiragana posts were quite easy to write (I don’t know about reading them, you’ll have to give me feedback) but an important precedent has been set – I have got into a regular release schedule for Japanese lessons. I’m finally taking this blogging thing seriously and using it to teach.
Yay positivity, eh? I feel like that guy off Half Nelson but without the drugs. Or the pressure of regular students. Or the good-looks. Sigh.
Down to business – Katakana
Once people master hiragana, katakana is next. This is a list of katakana you will have to learn.
You will notice that where hiragana was curved katakana is angular. However it has the same collection of sounds as hiragana so no need to cry. Katakana is used primarily for loan words from foreign languages and to highlight text in adverts and sound-effects in manga.
Foreign names: Smith – スミス
Brown － ブラウン
Foreign words: Racket – ラケット
Sports Club – スポーツ クラブ
Tennis – テニス
The bit in the box is the name of a characters summon from a recent RPG. I’ll let you guess the title.
Let’s see some examples!
The katakana characters are in red.
Kana: スミス さん は いま しんぶん を よんでいます。
Romaji: Sumisu san wa ima shimbun o yonde imasu.
English: Mr. Smith is reading a newspaper now.
Kana: スミス さん は テニス を します。
Romaji: Sumisu san wa tenisu o shimasu.
English: Mr. Smith is playing tennis.
Kana: ブラウン さん は チョコレート を たべます。
Romaji: Buraun san wa chokore-to o tabemasu.
English: Ms. Brown is eating chocolate.
With the above you’ll notice gender stereotyping. Ignore that and try sounding out the katakana with the chart. You should notice that the katakana words sound similar to their English equivalents. Sumisu is like Smith, tenisu sounds similar to tennis and chokore-to isn’t a million miles away from chocolate.
If you look at the romaji you might also be able to see the resemblance much more closely.
Try and figure out what these words are with this little test:
Answers are at the bottom of the page.
So there are rules, right?
You will be relieved to hear that as well as having the same sounds as hiragana, katakana also has the same rules… only with a slight twist.
- Elongated vowels are indicated with a long dash (– )
- A small Katakana tsu denotes the doubling of a consonant so it’s a different character. ツ instead of つ.
- Watch out for pronunciation. The words resemble each other but you still have to say them with English or Japanese pronunciation.
- Some of the characters look vaguely similar. Practice will differentiate them.
How to Practice
I started by practicing writing a selection of five characters a day then adding another five the next day until I managed to learn the entire alphabet. A relatively easy process. Not that it was quick. I found that katakana was a little bit trickier to learn than hiragana. Again, it is drilling yourself until you can do it by memory but accompany it with a site like Real Kana (look at the links on the right) reading anything including manga and watching anything from Naruto to Ninja Warrior where there is a lot of katakana in the background and it is a lot more fun.
Pretty much. Just practice and read, read and practice. Once you’ve mastered both hiragana and katakana, watching and reading Japanese films and books becomes a much more immersive experience. When I recently re-played Shenmue with my sister we found our way about town and the different houses by reading the Kanji name plates outside. With enough practice, you can to. If you own a copy of Shenmue that is.
Oh and here are the answers for the test:
Kanada – Canada
Terebi – Television
Rajio – Radio
Furansu – France
Next Lesson: More Katakana