Originally Reviewed back in 2009
Hiragana. Japanese syllabary and part of the kana system (along with “katakana” for foreign words) and utilizes no kanji.
If you are a new to learning Japanese, you will need to know how to read and write hiragana and katakana and then as you progress, you will need to learn kanji (Chinese characters utilized in Japanese words and sentences). The good news is that by learning hiragana, it will allow you to read Japanese manga (some manga have little tiny hiragana (known as furigana) right on top of the kanji), read various words on Japanese publications, commercials or signs and more.
When I first started out learning Japanese and before I went to college to minor in Japanese, it was important for me to learn hiragana. The first thing you will learn is that in Japanese, you will need to learn the a,i,u,e,o but then you move on to the ka, ki, ku ke, ko and then sa, shi, su, se, so and then eventually using the “t’s”, “n’s”, “h’s”, “m’s”, “y’s”, “r’s”, “w’s” and others such as “n”, “g’s”, “z’s”, “j’s”, “d’s”, “b’s” and “p’s”. This goes for both hiragana and katakana and as difficult as it may seem, the truth is that hiragana is quite easy to learn and possibly after a week of studying, you will be learning how to read and write words in no time.
I have had the opportunity to test a few hiragana workbooks over the years and primarily the workbooks focus on two principles:
Learning the stroke order of how a hiragana is written
Writing the hiragana, for example, “ka” several dozen times.
“KODANSHA’S HIRAGANA WORKBOOK: A Step-by-Step Approach to Basic Japanese Writing” by Anne Matsumoto Stewart was actually a bit of a surprise because you write the hiragana symbols about 16 times but then after each lesson, you start learning and writing words.
So, for example, you learn “a, i, u, e, o” or あ、い、う、え、お.
After learning how to write and read these words, then you start learning words that utilize these five. Such as love (ai) or あい.
Rarely do workbooks have you start writing the words down. Also, as you practice writing vertically, the book has you learning how to write vertically. (Note: In many Japanese publications, reading is done vertically from right to left. Also, if you take an advance Japanese course in college, you will be writing vertically).
So, writing and repetition is a quick way to learn how to write hiragana but the book also includes flash cards. So, you can practice with a partner who can quiz you on your hiragana skills which is wonderful.
Some people find it easier to have a teacher than learning from a book because it helps with pronunciation. For example:
a (is pronounced as “ah”), i (is pronounced like the letter “e”), u (is pronounced like “ew”), e (is pronounced as “eh”) and o (is pronounced as “oh”). See a word like “kao” (face), some may say “cow” but you want to pronounce it like “ka-oh”. So, Kodansha International allows the user of this book to go online to their site and learn how to pronounce the symbols and words correctly. Here is an example.
This is important because for those who don’t go through a class on pronunciation, these MP3’s are wonderful in learning how to pronounce the words. And most hiragana workbooks do not offer audio files to learn from.
“KODANSHA’S HIRAGANA WORKBOOK: A Step-by-Step Approach to Basic Japanese Writing” is probably the best workbook that I have seen on learning how to write and read hiragana. It goes beyond the learning of the strokes and writing the symbol dozens of times but offers you the chance to learn words, write words, use of flash cards and also download audio files through the Kodansha International website for this book.
If you are wanting to learn hiragana, I highly recommend this workbook!