What Is Hiragana? The Answer You Need To Know

Although this free Japanese course is primarily focused on teaching you the sounds of the language, you will also need to learn hiragana. But what is Hiragana?

A simple way to think about it is as the “Japanese alphabet” but there are a couple of reasons why this explanation is incomplete.

Let me go into greater detail on it now, and then once we are done you will be ready to start learning the sounds of Japanese (starting with the vowels).

What Is Hiragana?

The Japanese language has multiple writing systems that work together with one another.

The first of these writing systems is called “hiragana” which literally translates as “common; ordinary syllabary.”

What exactly is a syllabary?

A syllabary is a group of symbols that represent the syllables of a language.

This is different from an alphabet because one symbol (or character) in a syllabary can contain multiple sounds.

When we get to the next lesson in this course, we will go over the five vowels of Japanese. This should be easy because each hiragana will only represent one sound.

For example, the character あ represents the [a] sound.

After that however, we will move into the consonant + vowel combinations which comprise the majority of the sounds in Japanese.

For example, the character か represents the [ka] sound.

Why Should You Learn Hiragana?

Hiragana is great tool to learn and use since each character in the syllabary (called a “mora”) represents a sound, but no meaning.

Again, this is kind of like how our alphabet works.

During the introduction of each new sound and its accompanying mora, I will show you the English transcription in order to jump start your progress of recognizing and understanding it.

However, this initial use of English to represent Japanese sounds will be the only time you see it.

For the example words and phrases in this course, only hiragana will be used, along with the audio files of the native Japanese speaker.

I designed it this way because the Japanese language doesn’t use the exact same sounds that English does.

It can therefore be misleading to use the Latin alphabet when learning Japanese since there will be an unconscious tendency to use English sounds that don’t really belong.

How To Use Hiragana In This Course

This brings us to the motto for this course: Always follow your ears.

I want you to primarily use your ears to learn the correct sounds of Japanese. The hiragana will serve as a helpful assistant, but it shouldn’t be the star of the show.

The process for learning a new sound will be:

  1. I give you an audio clip to listen to
  2. with the corresponding hiragana
  3. and a onetime transcription in English

I want you to listen to the native, and then try repeating the sound yourself.

This practice is absolutely crucial, so I will repeat it once more for emphasis:

Listen to the Japanese speaker, and then repeat the sound you hear!

This process of listening and repeating will train both your ears and your mouth in the comprehension and utilization of the correct Japanese sounds.

One of the secrets to learning anything new is to use it, become active with it, and an easy way to do that with language is to practice speaking it.

Don’t worry about being perfect at first. That will come with time, exposure, and more practice.

Another reason why it’s important to practice speaking these sounds is to attain the right muscle memory in your mouth, lips, and tongue that’s used when speaking Japanese.

The sounds aren’t necessarily hard for a native English speaker to learn and mimic, they’re just different.

They will probably feel a little weird to you at first, but like most things in life, you get used to them eventually.

How To Learn New Hiragana

Since this course will utilize a large amount of hiragana, it’s important that you approach each section that teaches these new characters (sometimes simply called “kana”) so that by the end of Section 1, you will have the entire syllabary memorized!

You may already know all the hiragana if you’ve studied Japanese previously.

If that’s the case, then you can skip the parts where I instruct you to practice them, but if you don’t already know them, then these sections are designed specifically for you.

I will include some writing practice for each kana so that you can memorize the hiragana script at the same time that you learn how each one sounds in Japanese.

The Overall Layout of the Course

This course is laid out into three primary sections:

  1. The sounds of Japanese for each piece, or “mora.”
  2. The sounds of Japanese in complete words.
  3. The sounds of Japanese within complete sentences.

The thing that’s important to be aware of is that the way Japanese is spoken will change slightly at each level.

In Section 1, you have to start with the individual sounds since they are the building blocks for everything else.

But just because a mora sounds a particular way in isolation, doesn’t mean that it will always sound that way when it’s combined with other mora as part of a complete word.

In fact, there are some sounds that only appear in words!

That’s what we will explore in depth in Section 2.

Taking it another level higher, in Section 3 you will find out that not all words play nicely with each other, lol.

Sometimes the sounds that a word makes can change depending on which word appears right before it, or right after it.

As for what the format of each individual lesson will be like, I figure that the best way to tell you is simply to get started with the first one and let you see it for yourself!

I’m sorry that I talk so much, but let’s get started and learn the five Japanese vowels next!

Got any questions about the course? Let me know down below!

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