The podcast about learning Japanese.

Episode 2 – Tackling the Kana

Posted August 22nd, 2008 by Enrico in Podcast Episodes

In this episode, we talk about how to start learning and mastering the two syllabic alphabets of Japanese, hiragana and katakana.

Cast: Enrico Bianco, Kimberly Fraser, Mary Kita, Mike Oetlinger

Related links: (online site for practicing kana) (many learning materials to download for beginners) (the Japanese-learning RPG I mention in the episode) (the practice paper maker I mention in the episode)

Related books:
Kanji & Kana, Hadamitzky and Spahn, Tuttle Language Library
Let’s Learn Hiragana, Yasuko Kosaka Mitamura, Kodansha
Let’s Learn Katakana, Yasuko Kosaka Mitamura, Kodansha

I actually had no clue what a Magna Doodle is.  Now I know.  Thanks, Mike.  =D

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  1. 5 Responses to “Episode 2 – Tackling the Kana”

  2. By Anand Mohan on Aug 23, 2008

    I actually think that learning katakana first is a lot easier and a little more useful than learning hiragana.

    For one, they are a little more simple in shape than hiragana, as Mike mentioned. Since it is an entirely new script, this makes it much easier to commit them to memory (I’m also a lefty, so I feel Mike’s pain there as well).

    Also, in the beginning, it is easier to study and read katakana since they (usually) correspond to English words. For an absolute beginner, this means you can concentrate on on just learning the script, instead of trying to learn to things at once. It is also fun to take the more obscure katakana words (エアコン)and try and figure out what they mean (air conditioning).

    I also think it is very useful to know katakana while in Japan, as it will direct you to most businesses, who usually have their names in either English or katakana. In addition, if you see random words in hiragana, they may very well be obscured by kanji you don’t know, whereas if you see words in katakana, there is at least a good chance you can figure out what is being written.

    I, of course, think that both are important, and that once you have gotten the hang of katakana, hiragana should not be far behind. However, I think katakana provides the best gateway for someone who is only starting out.

    As for kanji? Just try not to think of how many there are…

  3. By Anand Mohan on Aug 23, 2008

    I will also say that a notebook full of kanji does waste a lot of paper, but it’s a good icebreaker for conversation!

  4. By Enrico on Aug 23, 2008

    @Anand: I think you’re absolutely right; a notebook full of Japanese writing does make a great icebreaker.

    I was at a Japanese language/culture exchange group and a new Japanese word came up that I wanted to write down. So I brought out my notepad and started flipping through the pages trying to find an empty space to write the word in. One of the Japanese people there noticed the stuff I’d been writing in the notepad and she asked if I’d let her flip through it. That notepad got passed around for quite a while and I got more than a few compliments on my hand-writing.

    How many of those compliments were actually 本音, you ask? I couldn’t tell you. =)

    After that followed a fairly long conversation about how long I’d been studying Japanese and how I was continuing to study. A bit later it even went into attempts to render my first name in kanji.

    So yeah, I agree: a notebook full of written notes or even study notes and handouts from a classroom can make a great conversation starter!

  5. By duane on Mar 7, 2009

    hey guys!

    i picked up the podcast from The Anime Roundtable and have really enjoyed all the episodes so far. I’ve just started learning Japanese on my own after several abortive attempts, and your advice has been really helpful.

    I’ve been going through the hiragana the last week, and in looking for materials I came across this website ( that lets you make custom graph paper. If you scroll down a bit, there is a template for Japanese, with boxes running vertically. I had some problems with the paper maker discussed in this episode mainly because I don’t have any of the books listed, and this is just easier for now because I can write in whatever characters I want to practice.

    Thanks for the show! I look forward to more episodes.

  6. By Enrico on Mar 8, 2009

    @duane: The paper maker we mention can actually generate completely blank sheets as well but I’ll definitely check out the one that you’ve linked to.

    I’m glad that you find the advice helpful — that’s what this podcast is all about: learners giving other learners advice.

Post a Comment