Ganbatte! Let’s learn Japanese!

This blog post is brought to you by Paige C., Flowing Wells Library.

Ganbatte! Let’s learn Japanese!

頑張って! 日本語を勉強しましょう!

Japanese is a fun language to learn with lots of resources to help. We even have the Nihongo Café here in Tucson—a group that meets online every second and fourth Wednesday of the month to practice speaking Japanese. If you’ve wanted to learn Japanese, here’s a little primer to get you started!

Japanese has three writing systems

  • hiragana
  • katakana
  • kanji

Hiragana is the first. Each symbol is a syllable that helps make up the rest of the words in the language. For example, in hiragana, arigatou (which means “thank you”) looks like this: ありがとう, separated into syllables: a (あ) – ri (り) – ga (が) – to (と) – u (う). The best way to nail hiragana is to simply memorize the symbols and their sounds, just like one would for the English alphabet. Bonus! Here’s a chart to help!

Katakana is for words borrowed from other languages. These are words that have no native word in Japanese. Even though the symbols differ, the sounds are exactly the same as they are in hiragana. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, this is the writing system I think is most helpful! Why? Well, look at these words—and this handy chart

  • チーズ
  • トマト
  • パン

This may look intimidating. But the first one: チーズ is really quite simple! Chi-zu, try saying it out loud. Sound familiar? It’s cheese! The second one, トマト is to-ma-to. Yep, you guessed it! Tomato! Last one isパン, pa-n. The Spanish word for bread is also the Japanese word for bread!

Kanji is the third writing system and consists of characters that are borrowed from the Chinese language. This is why many kanji have two readings: kunyomi (くんよみ), the Japanese reading, and onyomi (おんよみ), the reading borrowed from Chinese. Kanji can be difficult to memorize, but can also be really fun! It works similar to many languages where breaking apart a word can help figure out its meaning. Let’s look at this word: 本棚 (ほんだな), hondana. 本, ほん, ho-n, means “book.” 棚, だな, da-na, means “shelf.” Literally translated, bookshelf.

There are many great resources for studying Japanese. Duolingo’s Japanese course is a great way to grasp the basics. Renshuu is an app with flashcards that can help you with your Japanese even at higher levels and targets topics from vocabulary to kanji to grammar. Pima County Public Library also has some great options!

Start your Japanese journey

Japanese From Zero!

I'm Learning Japanese!

Learn hiragana and katakana

Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners

Learn some kanji

My First Japanese Kanji Book

Essential Japanese Kanji Volume 1

Practice reading

If you’re just starting out in Japanese, then look for books with very little kanji to get comfortable with just hiragana (and the occasional katakana!). 

あんなに あんなに


Challenge your understanding

Reading classic folktales in Japanese and English is a great way to do so.

Japanese Stories for Language Learners

うさぎとかめ 【日本語/英語版】

はだかの王様 【日本語/英語版】

Try cookbooks

If the recipe works, you read it correctly!