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I think the first obstacle in learning Japanese is to remember all the kana. Do you guys have any effective way?

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    By the way, if you call this an "obstacle," I'm afraid you're doomed. This is the easiest thing in the language, and maybe the only one that doesn't require any thinking… – Axioplase Sep 6 '11 at 3:09
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    Is this... really a Meta question? I know you originally asked this on the main, so I'm more thinking at those who redirected it - is this really a Meta topic here? – Grace Note Sep 6 '11 at 19:55
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    Agreed with @Grace. This is definitely on-topic question on JLU (albeit a bit subjective but remember that there are bad and good subjective questions). – Lukman Sep 7 '11 at 9:33
  • The reason this is not on topic for the main site is just that it is so wide open and subjective whenever someone is talking about the "best" way to do something. Everyone probably has a different method, and the person asking the question might give a green check to any one particular answer, but that doesn't mean it's the best answer for everyone. Answers on SE sites are, as much as possible, supposed to be more concrete and objective. – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:46
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Using my method, I took 3 days to memorise the kana. It doesn't matter if you do hiragana or katakana first, since eventually you want to be able to read and write them both.

Write them out 3 times per character in sets of five, (or sets of three for the や ゆ よ row and the わ を ん row) As you write them, sound out the pronunciation in your head or actually voice them out.

I also used this site for learning.

Disclaimer: What's effective for one person may not be as effective for another.

Vowels: あ い う え お

K: か き く け こ

S: さ し す せ そ

T: た ち つ て と

N: な に ぬ ね の

H: は ひ ふ へ ほ

M: ま み む め も

Y: や - ゆ - よ

R: ら り る れ ろ

W: わ - - - を 

NN: ん

The K, S, T, H groups can have dakuten, and are voiced to G, Z, D, B sounds respectively:

ga gi gu ge go: が ぎ ぐ げ ご

za ji zu ze zo: ざ じ ず ぜ ぞ

da dji dzu de do: だ ぢ づ で ど

ba bi bu be bo: ば び ぶ べ ぼ

The H group can have the maru, and is voiced to a P sound.

pa pi pu pe po: ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ

Now realise that glides are a combination of the い column with the Y-Row.

 きゃ きゅ きょ、 しゃ しゅ しょ、 ちゃ ちゅ ちょ etc.

Essentially you only need to remember 46 characters in each kana. Remembering patterns lets you have less things to memorise.

After writing them out a couple of times, take a break. After a certain threshold it becomes useless to write it out since you start to rely on short-term memory and muscle memory.

Repeat writing out the entire set every 2 hours or so. (You want your brain to actively try to recall how the characters look and sound like, instead of just following through a motion pattern with your hand)

Then once you think you have it memorised, use a flashcard program to improve your recognition speed.


Lookalikes to be wary of:

わ れ ね: wa curls left, re curls right, ne has a loopy.

あ め ぬ: a has a line on top, nu has a loopy

さ ち: sa and chi look like mirror images

る ろ: ru has a loopy

ソ ン(Katakana): ソ(so) starts with the a small stroke down, then a stroke from top-right to bottom-left (The right side of the character is almost vertical). ン(nn) starts with a small stroke down, then a stroke from bottom-left to top-right (The bottom of the character is almost horizontal)

シ ツ(Katakana): Look at your Numpad, I'll use the 1-9 to represent a grid. The approximate direction of how シ(shi) is written: 7, 4, 1>2>9. Contrast this to ツ(tsu): 7, 8, 9>6>1.

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    Other look-a-likes: {い、こ} if you write either too slanted (I knew someone that did this); {て、こ} if you write in one stroke; {さ、き} one crossing line vs. two; {う、ら} obvious; {に、し+こ} if you write the parts of the too big; {ア、マ} the direction of the last stroke; {ユ、コ} be careful of where the bottom line finishes; {ウ、ワ} top stroke; {ク、ケ} 2 strokes vs. 3 and the length of the horizontal part; {ヌ、ス} second stroke crossing first vs. not; {ヤ、セ} straight stroke vs. curved. – istrasci Sep 5 '11 at 5:03
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    B is not the voiced sound of H. Nor is P is the voiced sound of H. B is the voiced sound of P. The historical sound change from P to H messed up the transcription system. – user458 Sep 5 '11 at 13:35
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There are basically less than 100 of them to remember, and they are simple characters to write (as simple as the alphabet). This does not require a specific method, just practice. It's as easy as remembering the titles of 100 songs, 100 movies, 100 friends or whatever.

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If you search for "hiragana drill" and "katakana drill", you'll turn up a whole mess of different web apps you can choose among. The important thing is to find a method that you will stick with and use. When I learned myself, I just wrote them over and over, pronouncing the sound aloud as I wrote each one. Take care to learn the correct stroke order, though, however you do it. It's important. Once you've learned them, you can find children's stories written all in hiragana to read for practice.

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  • Is this for "remembering" or for "memorizing"? – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Sep 5 '11 at 2:09
  • Whichever you like. It's really a distinction without a difference, isn't it? – rdb Sep 5 '11 at 2:31
  • Not necessarily; it's not clear to me whether the OP is asking how to memorize the kana (so that they will be instantly accessible to them in the future) or tips for remembering which kana is which, one by one (mnemonics, etc.). Your advice is great for getting to the former stage, which is the only stage that is of any use in the real world, but I know people who were quite insistent that they wanted to start with the latter stage (consciously distinguishing between ぬ and め etc.) and only then move on to "memorizing" (instantaneous, automatic recall). – Matt Sep 5 '11 at 4:23
  • I suppose it depends on how you define the terms: whether one is "remembering" the symbol in and of itself, or "remembering" that one may distinguish this symbol from that by some artifice. I just assumed that the OP's "remember" meant "learn", in the sense of acquiring practical fluency. Maybe the OP will clarify for us. – rdb Sep 5 '11 at 5:02
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When there are lookalikes or particular ones you find don't stick, it's worth learning some words.

e.g. I remember finding ユ and ヨ (katakana "yu" and "yo") difficult to distinguish for a time, solved by learning the word ヨーガ (yoga)

Even with only a few hiragana, you can start putting together simple words like あおい。 You may find this helps you remember more easily than working on single kana alone.

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There's a book called "Remembering the Kana" written by "James W Heisig". The method utilizes "imaginative memory". I.e. for every symbol you invent a detailed "story" or picture that ties symbol's meaning to the way it looks. The idea is that brain remembers fantastic stories immediately and doesn't forget them any time soon. This way you can learn character in one attempt. As far as I know, it is a well known memorization technique.

However, you'll still need to read through a book written in hiragana/katakana, because although you'll learn which symbol is which very quickly (and probably in one attempt), recalling anything learned by this method is not very fast, and you need to read through some text until your brain "Caches" meanings of new symbols.

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