Katakana Lessons

Katakana Lessons

Katakana is very similar to Hiragana; you should be able to pick it up without too much trouble. Actually [begin: Clay's confession] I have never studied Katakana. But I can read it just fine. What do I mean - you ask? Well, in real written Japanese, Katakana is used very sparcely unless the subject has a lot of foreign words or names. So I picked up Katakana when I needed it. That is, when I came across katakana I would look it up. Because I read a lot, I was able to learn Katakana without specifically studying it! Sounds like I am trying to discourage you from studying, huh? Ok I will stop. Gambatte!

There are tons of FREE resources on the web. I encourage you to use them. Or if you really want to spend money, please take a look at the Kana section of our online shop.


SUGGESTIONS: Tackle 2 or 3 katakana a day (or as many as you feel comfortable with); Be sure to write each one down many times; Look for katakana you have studied elsewhere while you study and try to recognize the ones you've already learned. This helps build your memory.

You may want to hear all hiragana pronounced before beginning. However, if you've already learned the sounds for the hiragana, the sounds for katakana are exactly the same!

Click on the chapter title or green button in any box below to jump directly to that chapter.

And to finish up, a few closing pointers to cover the loose ends and bring it all together.

Download our FREE Katakana Flashcards and Practice Writing Pad

An Introduction:

Katakana is known as the more 'masculine' of the Japanese writing systems. This is because it is rigid with sharp turns. Katakana is mainly used for foreign loan-words and onomatopoeia (sound effects). For example: Cola is コーラ ko-ra. You will notice the dash in the middle of コ ko and ラ ra. This makes the コ ko longer in sound. If this is written in Hiragana, it would look as such: こうら koura. (In Hiragana the う u lengthens the previous character) Other than that, Hiragana and Katakana work and sound in the same way.

NOTE: You will need to be able to view Japanese Characters - Click here to find out how

Most sounds in Japanese are found also in English. Unlike English, the 'letters' in Japanese only have one sound, with a few exceptions that will be mentioned later on. Please click on the sound files to get a feel for the sounds. The most important to master are the vowels (the first row). The sounds are all found in English. Please repeat the sounds many times. If you spend a few moments looking at the chart, you should be able to see a clear pattern (each column has the same vowel sound and each row has the same consonant sound). チ (chi), ツ (tsu), ヲ (wo), and ン (n) are the only ones that deviate from the pattern.

These are all the basic katakana letters. The rest are simply combinations of two katakana. (For Example: to make the 'sha' sound - add (shi) + ヤ(ya) = シャ(sha) - Notice how the second letter is smaller; but we will look at this later.)



hey mr. clay.. i have noticed when a sentence is already constructed.. both katakana and hiragana are used aside from kanji.. why is that so?.. which is much more preferred to use?.. can you tell me when is katakana used?..

arigatou gozaimasu..

phreadom's picture

The quick answer is that katakana is generally used for things like foreign "borrowed" words, sound effects (onomatopoeia), emphasis (like italic or bold text might be used in English), etc.

Hiragana is generally used for showing which for a verb is in... like past, present, etc... and for words that don't have a kanji version... or when you're writing for beginners who haven't really learned kanji yet.

For writing general Japanese you should stick to using hiragana (and kanji) unless the word is a "borrowed" word that is usually written in katakana. For instance in the sentence "コーヒーを飲みたいと思います。" ("I want to drink some coffee."), you'll see that コーヒー, which is borrowed from 'coffee', is written in katakana.

(In Jim Breen's WWWJDIC and other dictionaries derived from it (like the Firefox plugin Rikaichan) you'll see a little "uk" next to the word which means "usually written in kana", but I'm not sure of a list that shows which words are usually written in katakana instead of hiragana.)

Hopefully this helps and maybe someone else can offer some better information about which words should be written in katakana. :)

Luv Scarlet's picture

ありがとう ございます !
It was really usefull, now I can start learning Kanji as I expected so. I had so much apprehension toward Kanji, now it's time to really go ahead !

Thank you Clay :)

clay's picture

You are very welcome!

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