Lesson One: The Four ‘Alphabets’

Japanese is a bit different from other languages. Namely in its writing systems.

First up we have Romaji, or the alphabet you’re using to read this right now. Romanji isn’t used often and there are several different methods of writing it. Not to mention that it can hurt pronunciation¬†of actual Japanese by using the English letter pronunciations.For those reasons, we aren’t going to learn a whole lot about it.

Romanji looks like the following words: Karate, Sake, Tokyo. It’s essentially Roman letters used to write Japanese words.

Next we have Hiragana. Hiragana is really curvy, lots of round lines in it. This alphabet is the main phonetic alphabet in Japanese that we will be learning.

Hiragana is used for:

  • Difficult Kanji (another writing style)
  • Words that don’t have a Kanji character
  • For particles like ‘and’, ‘or’, etc.
  • Suffixes like ‘-san’, ‘-chan’, etc.
  • Apparently also used for Verbs and Adjectives.

Katakana is the next alphabet we will be learning. It looks angular and has lots of corners in it.

Katakana is used for:

  • Foreign Words, these are words that have been borrowed from other languages but have been converted to a Japanese pronunciation.
  • Scientific words
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Emphasis, like with italics, but a different alphabet.
  • Food on menus and stuff.

Finally, we arrive at Kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters, they have many different pronunciations meaning the same symbol can mean more than one thing. They have all these pronunciations because they would change with each Chinese Dynasty, also Japan added their own pronunciations to them. Kanji are used for everything essentially.

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