Today we'll be learning all about Katakana - of the two Japanese phonetic character sets. The other set is Hiragana which you can learn about here. Both Hiragana and Katakana were invented to better fit the Japanese language, instead of depending on the Chinese characters (Kanji) alone.
Each of the 46 Katakana characters represents a syllable or "sound cluster": A I U E O
Resources for further reading:
The 46 Katakana characters are shown in the table above in 'alphabetical' or 'dictionary order'. In this table, the characters are read from left to right, beginning from the top row. So, ア-イ-ウ-エ-オ (a-i-u-e-o) then カ-キ-ク-ケ-オ (ka-ki-ku-ke-ko) and so on.
You can easily read the table above by learning the vowel order, ア イ ウ エ オ (a i u e o), shown on the top row, and the order of the syllables in the first column on the left: カ サ タ ナ ハ マ ヤ ラ ワ (ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa n). Now, you simply combine the consonants of the first column, with each of the vowels (except the special 'n') - and you can read out the Katakana table whenever you need:
Rocket Record lets you perfect your Japanese pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
Perhaps the best way to describe how Katakana came about is think of it as an abbreviation of a much complex Kanji (Chinese) character. Early writers "abbreviated" Kanji by reducing the stroke counts - what they did was take PART of the Kanji character, which was often further abbreviated and simplified. These "abbreviations" became the Katakana syllables which are used for foreign words and for sound effects. So, when you spell your name in Japanese, you need to use Katakana. Give it a try!
Let's start learning how to write the first row, which are all vowels: ア イ ウ エ オ (a i u e o). One of the best ways to learn and to read Katakana is to practice writing them, and learning the proper order of the strokes helps! The five vowels sound like this:
That's it for today! If you want more lessons on Katakana, check out our full Rocket Japanese course here.
To get started on the other set of Japanese phonetic characters, Hiragana, check out this free lesson.
Here are a few recommended Japanese lessons to try next!
Sayaka Matsuura: Rocket Japanese