Sunday, July 29, 2012

Combinations in Hiragana

So we've learned the Hiragana characters and all the extra characters... but there's just a little more. Don't worry, it's not as bad as you think it is.

The main combinations that we'll use over and over again (and you'll see a lot of it in words) consist of a character (usually from the -i sound) combined with a small Y character. As you may remember, there are only 3 Y characters: ya, yu, and yo. What this combination does is that it just combines the sound into one. I know this may sound confusing, but let's take it step by step.

Compare these two:

きよ (kiyo) and きょ (kyo)

Do you notice that the regular-sized yo is its own sound, whereas the small yo paired with ki makes it into one sound altogether? The same is true for other combinations of -i and the Y characters:

きゃ (kya), きゅ (kyu), しゃ (sha or shya), しゅ (shu or shyu), しょ (sho or shyo), びゃ (bya), びゅ (byu), びょ (byo), just to name a few.

Pretty easy, right? Now, you can take a look at the last box below the main Hiragana chart (given two posts ago) and understand what those characters are. Remember, a regular-sized Y character and a small Y character are not the same! Using them incorrectly or writing them ambiguously may confuse readers and even spell different words! Take a look at this example, it's two words that tripped me up quite a few times:

びょういん (byouin) = hospital
びよういん (biyouin) = beauty salon

Yeah, you want to avoid these mistakes. If you ever get confused or can't tell if it's a small character, make sure that you ask someone!

Now go and study your Hiragana! If there are any questions or comments, please post them below!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dakuten and Handakuten (Tenten and Maru)

We're back with where we left off on our Hiragana lesson! This time we're covering dakuten and handakuten. Dakuten () is also called ten ten (which means dot dot) and handakuten () is called maru (circle). This is colloquial, meaning that dakuten and handakuten are really only called tenten and maru in speech. If you've ever been taught Japanese from a professor, most likely you'll have heard it as tenten and maru. For this lesson, we'll use tenten and maru.

So what the heck does tenten and maru do? Well, recall that Japanese characters usually consist of a consonant and a vowel. If you look at the Hiragana chart from the last lesson, you might notice that those aren't all the consonants. Yes, that's right, there are more: G, Z, D, B, and P. These characters though use the same characters as the K, S, T, and H column, except they include a tenten or maru. It's a little hard to explain, but seeing it this way might make it easier to understand:

K  + (tenten) =  G
か (ka) + (tenten) = が (ga)

S  +  (tenten) = Z
さ (sa) + (tenten) = ざ (za)

 And the pattern repeats itself, with: T + tenten = D, and H + tenten = B.

It's different with P though, and this is where maru comes in:

H + (maru) = P
は(ha) + (maru) = (pa)
I enlarged the text to make the maru more visible. On normal sized font, it's so small it may be mistaken for a tenten (ぱ). See what I mean?

Anyways, P is the only consonant that uses maru, so whenever you see a character with a maru, you should know right away that it is a P sound. To recap, H can split into B or P depending on if it uses a tenten (it becomes B) or if it uses a maru (it becomes P).

Now that you know this, you can take a look at the Hiragana chart posted on our last lesson and look at the smaller chart to the left of it. It makes sense now, doesn't it?

Lastly, something to note about these additional characters.

You remember that ち is pronounced chi and not ti, right? And し is pronounced shi, not see? With tenten, these two characters become ぢ and じ, respectively, but they are both pronounced the same: ji. Also similar to this is づ (dzu) and ず (zu), as they are both pronounced zu. It's strange, I know (za, ji, zu, ze, zo for the Z column and da, ji, zu, de, do for the D column). You'll probably see one more common than the other, but that does not mean that they are the same character! For example, you'll rarely see the character ぢ (dji) and づ (dzu) compared to じ (ji) and ず (zu), but they'll appear in some words: つづく (tsuzuku = to continue). つずく (pronounced the same way) is a misspelling for this verb.

And this is the end of our lesson for today! If there are any questions or comments (I know this stuff can be pretty confusing), please post them below!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Photo source: TextFugu, with editing for formatting

Hey everyone, I'm finally back with a new lesson after a long period of inactivity, and this time it's all about Hiragana! I'm sure you have an idea of what Hiragana is by now, but if you've forgotten, it's mainly the alphabet for Japanese words.

First, I want you to take a look at the chart posted above. Focusing on just the bigger chart on the top-left, notice that there are a total of 46 characters. These are the characters that make up Hiragana. This chart is read from right to left (I know, I know... but trust me, it's not that bad looking at it this way). Look at the column on the right side, and notice that it's just the vowels: A I U E O. If you've forgotten how to pronounce them, there are little bubbles on the right that will give you an example of what it sounds like. Now, keeping in mind that reading the column goes like "ah, ee, oo, eh, oh," move over to the next column to the left.

Notice that the next characters all start with the consonant K? So read down that column: "kah, key, koo, keh, koh." Easy, right? With the alphabet in this format, all of a sudden Japanese doesn't seem so difficult anymore yeah?

Go to the next column, and this time the consonant is S: "sah, shee, soo, seh, soh." Whoa, wait- what? "Shee?" That's right, the character し (shi) is pronounced "shee" instead of "see." Why is that? Well, simply put, the Japanese language doesn't have a sound for "see," and usually, Japanese people can't pronounce these characters that are either modified in sound or taken out (more on that in a bit). Just keep in mind that it's pronounced "shee."

As you can see, the next columns just replace the consonants with other ones: T, N, H, M, R, Y, and W. If you look in the T column, "tee" is pronounced "chi" and "too" is pronounced "tsu." Again, this is how they are pronounced, and it's usually difficult for Japanese people to pronounce "tee" and "too." Also, you might have noticed that there are some blank spots in the Y column, and most of the W column. Yes, that's right. The Japanese language doesn't have characters and sounds for "yee, yeh, wee, woo, and weh." Now, you'll probably understanding why learning Japanese is a lot easier for English speakers and not for the other way around. We can pronounce all of their characters, even the missing ones that we think should be there.

Lastly, some notes about these characters: を (wo) is generally pronounced the same as お (o), although some dialects retain it as "wo." Whenever you see it though (trust me, you will), just pronounce it the same as お (o), or "oh."

And as stated earlier in one of my posts, is just "nn." Clench your teeth together when you say it, it should sound like "mm" (you know, when you eat something good), except with an N instead of M. This will probably seem like a strange character, but it isn't and is pretty common in a lot of words. For example: きん "kin," = gold.

If there are any questions or comments, please post them below! I was going to include dakuten in this lesson but I think this post is long enough. Until then, print out the chart and start memorizing your Hiragana!