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Navigating the Japanese Scripts: Which Japanese Alphabet Should I Learn First?

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Which Japanese alphabet should I learn first?

Getting started with the Japanese language can be both exciting and a little daunting due to its unique script and sounds. One of the challenges for learners is deciding where to begin among the three alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, or Kanji. Let's dive into this topic and determine the starting point for your journey to learn Japanese.

1. A Brief Introduction to the Three Alphabets

Hiragana: This phonetic script comprises 46 characters representing all language sounds. It plays a role in pronunciation and grammar being used for word particles without Kanji representations and grammatical functions.

Katakana: Similar to Hiragana, Katakana is also phonetic. Consists of 46 characters. However, its main purpose is for foreign words, technical or scientific terms, and onomatopoeia. For instance, "coffee" is written as "コーヒー" (Kōhī) in Katakana instead of "こーひー" in Hiragana.

Kanji: Derived from Chinese characters, Kanji is a script where each symbol represents a word or concept. There are thousands of Kanji characters. Having a grasp of around 2,000 basic ones should allow you to read most everyday materials.

2. Starting with Hiragana: Why It's a Good Idea

For beginners, Hiragana is the place to start. Here's why;

Foundation: Before delving into the complexities of Kanji or the specifics of Katakana, having a foundation in Hiragana is crucial. Once you have mastered its 46 characters, you will have a grasp of sounds.

Simplicity: Among the three scripts, Hiragana has the simplest characters, making it easier and quicker to learn. This provides a boost in morale and propels you towards advanced studies.

Usage: Hiragana is everywhere! Whether it's in children's books, daily conversations, or grammar structures, it is omnipresent. By learning it, you will quickly gain confidence in reading and writing Japanese.

3. Katakana: The Next Logical Step

After becoming proficient in Hiragana, your next goal should be mastering Katakana. Here's why;

Familiarity: Since Katakana is used for foreign words, it will help you recognize terms from your language and give you a sense of familiarity.

Modern Context: With the influence of culture and technology on Japan, Katakana is more frequently being used in Japanese. You can find it prominently featured in advertising campaigns, brand names, games, and popular culture references.

4. Kanji: A Challenge Awaits You

After mastering Hiragana and Katakana, it's time to take on the challenge of Kanji.

Language Depth: Kanji introduces you to the captivating aspects of the language. Each character holds a history and story, adding layers of meaning and context to words.

Practicality: If your goal is to read newspapers, official documents, or literature, having an understanding of Kanji is essential.

However, it's important to remember that while Kanji is intriguing, it can be complex. It's advisable to proceed by learning the most commonly used characters.

5. An Integrated Approach

While the recommended sequence is usually Hiragana Katakana Kanji, there are no rules. Depending on your learning objectives, you may choose an integrated approach. For example, if you're traveling to Japan for business purposes, acquiring essential Kanji signs could be helpful. If you're interested in pop culture, mastering Katakana early on might prove beneficial.

In Summary

To navigate the world of the language effectively, starting with Hiragana provides a smoother path. It establishes a foundation from which you can then delve into Katakana scripts and explore the intricate realm of Kanji. Yet the true allure of acquiring a language lies within its adaptability. The crucial factor is to establish objectives, maintain unwavering dedication, and, above all else, take pleasure in the expedition!

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