One of the most popular posts on Japanese words has been the common Japanese Words list containing over 1000 Japanese words and kanji. That page has received quite a few comments asking for pronunciations in romaji (English Alphabet). While having romaji may seem to make studying easier when you first start out, learning using the English alphabet will actually hold you back. This article will cover the main reasons why you should start studying and master the Japanese Kana (hiragana and katakana) as soon as possible. As well as listing a few tools to help you learn more quickly.
Thinking in Japanese
If you want to learn Japanese as quickly as possible, then you need to immerse yourself in it. The more you are seeing and thinking in Japanese the faster you will be able to learn. If you are trying to learn using the English alphabet, then your mind is only half thinking in Japanese. You are seeing Japanese words, but your mind is trying to translate them into English. If you read using the kana (and eventually kanji) it is easier for your brain to make the change.
Once you learn to read the kana, you will realize how difficult reading Japanese in romaji really was!
More Japanese Materials
The more Japanese materials you have available to you the better. It doesn’t mean that you will use them all, but you will have a larger selection from which to choose the best ones. Once you learn the kana, you aren’t limited to only Japanese language study materials (textbooks, Japanese language books, etc). You can start trying to read Japanese magazines, mangas, websites, and subtitles on movies. This will also help you start learning the kanji, which are essential for anyone serious about Japanese.
Japanese has far fewer sounds than the English language. Furthermore, each kana can only be read a single way. Not like English where vowels can have different sounds depending on the letters next to them. Once you learn the correct sound for each kana, you will be better at pronouncing Japanese words. Of course you will still need a lot of practice to learn the correct pronunciation, but getting away from romaji (which can have several) is a good move in the right direction.
Travelling/Living in Japan
It’s true that you can find a lot of English signs in the main cities in Japan now days. However, there are many places that have no English signs at all. Having the ability to read at least hiragana and kana will really help you get around. Learning the first 100 or so Kanji will be an even bigger help.
Tools for Learning the Japanese Characters
Remembering the Kana- James Heisig, Author of Remembering the Kanji has created a unique and effective method for remembering Japanese characters. Using creative stories to remember each kana and it’s reading, the book teaches you the hiragana and katakana in about 3 hours each. You can read a full review on the book here: Remembering the Kana.
Read The Kanji- Now that you have finished Remembering the Kana, it’s time to get some practice. Read the Kanji is a great site that allows you to practice using Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji in sentences. It highlights the word and you type the reading. Not only is it great reading practice, it’s also great typing practice. The website keeps track of your progress and makes you review characters and words you know less, more often. I highly recommend this site.
Learn the Kana- This site has all the kana, but more importantly they also have the sounds. Very helpful if you are just getting started.
Rikaichan- Rikaichan is an amazing addon for Firefox that will give you the reading, definition, and a ton of other information of any Japanese word or character you mouse over. You can find a more detailed review on Rikaichan here: Reading Japanese Words Like A Pro With Rikaichan.
Anki- Anki is a spaced program that helps you learn quicker by showing you the right items when you need to see them. A great tool for learning Japanese and completely free.
Smart.FM- A website that uses spaced repitition to help you learn faster. There is a downloadable list for hiragana and katakana with sound.