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Japanese Symbols

Japanese symbols fall into 3 groups ( well, 4 if you count the normal English alphabet as well). The good news is that the first two sets of symbols are really easy. By using the games on this site you can learn them in about 3 or 4 hours each. It'll be a really boring 3 or 4 hours, but you'll be able to read two whole new alphabets, so that's pretty cool.

Have a look at the Katakana symbols song
And the Hiragana symbols song

The other set of Japanese symbols is called "kanji". They're the really cool looking Chinese characters. The first three are really easy. Have a look at these symbols for the first three numbers:

japanese symbol 1

japanese symbol 2

japanese symbol 3

But things start to go a bit downhill from there as the number "Four" is:

Japanese symbol 4

And it pretty much continues on like that for the next 2 to 3 thousand symbols! This is where Japanese gets its reputation for being "hard". Speaking is dead easy, it's just the writing that takes a fair bit of time to learn.

It isn't brain surgery though, it's just a case of memorising. Thanks to computers, Wordtanks and the internet it's a lot easier than it used to be. Do a quick search for things like "writing kanji" and you'll find lots of good info.

White Rabbit Press do a great series of Kanji Flashcards. I did an info fair in Tokyo with the designer Max Hodges a few weeks ago and the cards were really popular with ALTs ( assistant language teachers). I haven't actually used them myself, but the key seems to be that they follow not the standard Japanese order of learning kanji, but are in the order you'll find them on the Japanese proficiency test, which makes them a lot more useful. Anyway, have a look at the White Rabbit Press website and see what you think.

UPDATE: I just got an email to say the new Volume 2 set of Flashcards are out.

Or if you're really serious about learning Japanese symbols, get yourself a Canon Wordtank!

The King of the bunch is the new Canon G55 (pictured left) which is very impressive and well worth its price tag.

But my advice is to leave the symbols for now, and learn to speak first. This is what you'll be using the most often. Then when you can get by with the basics, try learning the symbols. For the kanji, one per day is a nice easy pace and if you stick with it you'll not only learn quite a few new words, you'll be able to write some amazing calligraphy!

Also be sure to check out the talking "Japanese Words" page and my Hints & Tips page.

Recommended Courses

There are loads of great resources out there, and one of the good ones is the "Pimsleur" series. They have a "Quick & Simple" starter pack and also a full on "Gold Course". They are well recommended if you want to learn Japanese, in January I used it to learn everyday Spanish in a month!

Click here for more:

Or for slightly cheaper, but one that requires a bit more work, you can have a look at the Living Language series. Although now I would prefer the Pimsleur course above, I actually used the Living Language series myself when I first learnt Japanese. It's good, but you have to keep repeating and repeating the same CDs, whereas the Pimsleur makes you think more, and reviews the language as you go along.

Click for more.

If you teach English in Japan you might be interested in my new Classroom English / Classroom Japanese CD.

All the Japanese on this page is suitable for either guys or girls, and is pretty normal, everyday Japanese. This means it's not too formal, but you'll be fine as long as you don't say it to anyone too posh!

Also have a look at hints and tips for becoming fluent in Japanese page!

Email me if you have any questions or comments,

Mata ne!
Be genki,


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