When I learned hiragana, I was in Japan taking an accelerated course in Japanese. That was a bit like trial by fire. I didn’t use a lot of gimmicks, but I did use flashcards that I made by myself. As a teaching associate at UCLA, our students learned first to read hiragana the first quarter. By the second quarter, they were supposed to be able to write.
At the back of the book, “Japanese for Busy People,” there should be a chart. I would enlarge and photocopy to make simple flashcards.
Online you can visit Quizlet to quiz yourself. You can also use RealKana.com. I suggest learning one row at a time and maybe two or three the first week. The next week, try three rows. By week three, try to learn rows up to ma through mo. Then in the fourth week, finish off your list.
Once you’ve done that pay attention to what happens when you put two dots in the upper right side of the kana. In the case of ka through ko, the kana becomes ga through go. Similar things happen when you use ten-ten (dot-dot) for sa through za, ta through do and ha through ho. For the ha through ho row, notice you can also add a small circle to the upper right part and you get a “p” sound.
To practice, try using a puzzle like the one below. When I was teaching class, I would divide the students into two groups and one by one, students would be matched against each other to find the words I said on the board. Remember that traditionally, Japanese is read up to down from right to left. A macron represents a long vowel.
Find the following words: aoi, akai, aki, ika, eki, ue, kaki, kao, Keiko, kiku, koe, kūki, ōkī
Now try this one: Akasaka, aoi, asa, ashi, eki, kagi, kaku, kaze, Keiko, kiku, koe, koshi, kūki, ōkī, sake, shio, shiso, sushi, zō
Now take the two lists of words and try to put them in the order that they would come in Japanese.
Before we go on to the first chapter of “Japanese for Busy People,” lets look at the page of useful daily expressions. There are a few things that you should note. Watch to see when some of the letters are either 1/2 or a third smaller than the other letters. This means the two kana are combined and only given one beat such as じゃ(ja) or ちょ(cho). In the case of a small “tsu” this means there’s a double consonant as in いってらっしゃい(itterasshai) or ちょっと(chotto). Listen carefully to your CD and you’ll hear a glottal stop.
- Notice that in this case there is a long o sound and it is expressed with an ou. おはようございます。You will see this happen again in number 14, 16, 19 and 20.
- こんにちは In this case, leave a beat for the “n” sound. In Japanese, it is it’s own syllable. Also while in most cases は is pronounced “ha,” in this case it is pronounced “wa.” You’ll see this happen again in number 3.