HIRAGANA AND KATAKANA:
TIPS FOR AVOIDING CONFUSION
This document is intended for those who have learnt the two phonetic syllabaries of Japanese but who occasionally confuse similar characters:
and so on.
1. Certain characters are almost identical in both hiragana and katakana:
€ E u
© J ka
« L ki
Ή Z se
± R ko
Ι j ni
Φ w he
θ ri (the similarity is more marked in written hiragana)
* Thinking of the hiragana € (u)Afor example, will help you distinguish between the katakana t (fu), (wa), and E (u), because of the small stroke at the top.
* Thinking of the hiragana θ (ri) will help you distinguish between the katakana (ri) and (ru).
2. <*>Similar Katakana:
The more often you see a word, the more likely you are to remember it. Association will help you call to mind an elusive character:
* tC furai (deep-fried food)
C wain (wine)
ECXL| uisukii (whisky)
* N(ku) and P (ke):
ANZT akusesari (accessories)
P|L kēki (cake)
- Remember the difference between N (ku) and P (ke) by sound and letter association: Ku has two strokes, Ke has thrEE.
* (me) and i(na):
J kamera (camera)
- Note that (me) is leaning backwards, like a Japanese tourist attempting to photograph a tall building in a narrow street.
- i (na) is more upright, almost as straight as the eonefs in 11, the atomic number of sodium.
* (mu) and }(ma):
Ao arubamu (album)
- (mu) is a character that you may not encounter very often. It may be confused with } (ma). Remember:
- You start to write } (ma) by moving your pen to the right; MAssachussetts is on the right of America.
- (mu) is also similar to the Greek letter Κ (mū).
* \(so) and (n); c(tsu) and V(shi):
Katakana is sometimes confusing because of:
a) The difference between Japanese pronunciation and the pronounciation of the word in the language from which it was
b) The Japanese habit of abbreviation.
point (a), the sounds that cause most confusion are l/r, f/h, and b/v. For those of us from
An example of point (b) can be found in:
p\R pasokon (personal computer)
- \(so) and (n) are very similar, as are c(tsu) and V(shi), and it may help to learn them as two groups:
- V(shi) and (n) form SHIN. The long stroke starts at the bottom, and works its way up; the short strokes are more horizontal than in c(tsu) and \(so) – almost at a right angle, like the foot to the shin
In c(tsu) and \(so), all strokes form a
steeper angle, and the long stroke starts at the top. Think of SOaring up a blind
* (yu) and (yo):
Visual and sound association: (yo) looks like a cOmb.
For (yo), think of a YOrker being bowled at three stumps.
3. Similar hiragana:
* «(ki) and ³(sa):
«(ki) has 2 horizontal lines, ³(sa) has one. Think of 2 KIdneys.
* ³(sa) and Ώ(chi):
You can trust the Japanese to complicate things! ³ seems to contain a ecf, short for echif – but it must be viewed in a mirror!
* ί(me) and Κ(nu):
Think of MENU. Associate by sound: Κ(nu) has a kNot, or a lOOp, at the end.
* ν(wa), κ(re) and Λ(ne):
κ(re) ends to the Right; Λ(ne) has a kNot at the end.
* ι(ru) and λ(ro):
Sound association: ι(ru) has a lOOp.
* Δ(te) and Ζ(to):
Visual association: think of Ζ(to) as a sandal with a strap that separates the big TOE.
4. Similar hiragana and katakana representing different sounds:
* T(katakana: sa) and Ή(hiragana: se):
- In T(sa), the long, final stroke ends to the left; in Ή(se), the long stroke ends to the right. SA is the onyomi (Chinese reading) for the kanji Ά, meaning eleftf (kunyomi, or Japanese reading: hidari). SE stands for Southeast, which is on the right of the country.
- So: SA left, SE right.
- Associate katakana with left, and hiragana with right:
HR, Human Rights, Human Resources, Home Run, House Refurbishmentc Form your own associations!
You may also remember the similarity of SE in hiragana Ή and katakana Z.