Start simple by learning the 5 Japanese vowels: “a” (あ), “i” (い), “u”(う), “e” (え), and “o” (お).
This topic sets the pronunciation of all of the upcoming rows in the chart. After this step, every syllable will be a simple combination of one of the vowels and a consonant.
Pronunciation Tip: Are you an English speaker? Here are some helpful words to practice the sounds:
Practice vowels in hiragana and katakana with Zita, our Learning Content Coordinator and resident Japanese teacher.
By combining the K, S, T and N-rows with the already mastered vowels, you will be able to write and spell the following syllables:
By the end of this topic, you’ll already be able to read and write Japanese words like:
Watch out! “Shi” (し) is an exceptional kana that doesn't follow the patterns that show up everywhere else. Instead of being “si,” it's “shi” (し). You might have heard it before in the word sushi (すし).
There are two other exceptions in the T-column—“chi” (ち) and “tsu” (つ). Be careful with the pronunciation!
We’re almost there! Let’s master the last sounds with consonants H, M, Y, R, W, and the single N.
Practice your "r" sound! If you're a native English speaker, the Japanese "r" is likely to sound a bit different for you. You can find it somewhere between an English "r" and "l" sound. Try saying “risu” (りす) (squirrel) a few times. Practice makes perfect!
Dakuten and handakuten are diacritics that indicate consonants that should be pronounced differently.
Dakuten is a symbol that looks like a double quotation mark added to the top right corner of the character. This mark changes the consonant from its unvoiced form to the voiced one. However, this change affects only a few of the columns.Basically, when you add the dakuten “k” becomes “g,” “s” becomes “z,” “t” becomes “d,” and “h” becomes “b.”
You might be still wondering how to write “kanpai” (Cheers!) in hiragana. Well, handakuten got you covered. The little circle in the upper right corner of the character makes voiceless sounds, but that applies only to h sounds. Add handakuten to the h-column and you will get the p-column. かんぱい！
Try this tongue twister to master your pronunciation!
We have 12 pronunciation topics in Japanese, try them out in the Pronunciation Practice category!Practice with Drops
Now that you know the 46 characters, let us introduce you to the concept of a sokuon.
In phonetics, it’s called a gemination... which basically means the sokuon adds a quick little pause when pronouncing a word. In hiragana, the sokuon is represented by a small “tsu” (っ) character.
The concept of the sokuon might be challenging for some, but here are some examples for you to practice:
きって kitte (stamp)
いってきます itte kimasu (I’ll be back later)
There are also words that have long sounds, resulting in a lengthened pronunciation. You have to follow a few rules when writing these:
For vowels ending in “a” (あ), add on an extra あ.
おばさん (aunt) → おばあさん (grandmother)
Vowels ending in “i” (い), add an extra い.
おき (open sea) → おおきい (big)
Vowels ending in an “u” (う) sound, add an う.
くこ (Chinese wolfberry) → くうこう (airport)
For vowels ending in “e” (え) sounds are followed by an extra い or え. This can be confusing at first, but try to memorize them as you learn vocabulary.
おねえさん (older sister)
おじさん (uncle) → おじいさん (grandfather)
For vowels ending in “o” (お) add an extra お or an う. Same as the “e” (え) sound, you simply have to practice these words, but most of them use う.
おき (open sea) → おおきい (big)
ここ (here) → こうこう (school)
Last but not least! We have one final element of hiragana that you should know before we let you go wild with it.
This topic has examples of how to combine different types of kana together to make new sounds. These so-called combinations, or yōon, are described by I-column syllables associated with a small “ya” (ゃ), “yu” (ゅ), or “yo” (ょ) character.
“ki” (き) + “ya” (ゃ) = “kya” (きゃ)
“chi” (ち) + “yo” (ょ) = “cho” (ちょ)
Make sure you don’t pronounce that extra “i” sound in the middle! For more practice, try out the “ryōri - ɾʲ” and “kyōkai - kʲ” topics in the Pronunciation Practice category!
Fun fact! Most of the Japanese words which now use yōon were originally derived from Chinese.
In historical kana orthography, yōon were not distinguished with the smaller kana, and had to be determined by context.
And just like that, you have all the tools you need to learn hiragana! By learning hiragana with Drops in our Japanese course, you will not only learn the 46 sounds, but practice writing them with correct stroke order using our scripts gameplay. What are you waiting for?