Japanese is made up of three different character sets. The meat of the language uses roughly 2,000 Kanji characters modified by Hiragana characters with foreign words and emphasis provided by a matching but different set of Katakana characters (much like our italics).
If you're serious about learning Japanese, you should be able to associate the 108 sounds that make up all of Japanese with both Hiragana and Katakana.
Each Hiragana character represents a single syllable of sound. One or more Hiragana characters represent each Kanji character.
When Japanese children first learn to read, the words are represented using only Hiragana. Once they have a working vocabulary and are used to reading sentences in Hiragana, then and only then are they introduced to Kanji.
One-to-three letters accurately portray the sounds represented by Hiragana. It helps to understand that the Romaji sound “i” is pronounced like our long “E” (or “ee”) and each syllable is pronounced in a clipped or short burst of sound.
Most Japanese sounds consist of a consonant and a vowel. In Romaji these are represented with two letters like k-a or t-u (pronounced "kah" and "two").
Here’s the Drill
The HIRAGANA Picker uses an iPhone or iTouch to:
Display each Hiragana character at the top of the screen (originally in the order you're most like to encounter them).
Display three wheels in the middle of the screen, with the English letters that are needed to make the 108 sounds.
The first wheel has all the consonants.
The second wheel has the modifiers.
The third wheel has the five vowels.
A big button at the bottom of the screen says, simply: "Check Answer".
Just dial in what you think the Romaji should be for the Hiragana character displayed at the top of the screen, then touch the “Check Answer” button.
If you’re right, the Picker moves on to the next Hiragana character.
If you’re not, a pop-up window gives you a hint.
Change the wheel that's wrong to the letter that's right, then touch the "Check Answer" button again.
The Picker is prepared to give you enough hints to pick the right sound combination (which usually is only two or three at most).
In this way you:
Can use what you know, without being prompted.
Are not forever frustrated because you don’t want to guess until you get it right.
Behind the scenes the Picker is keeping track of whether a you got it right the first time (or didn’t). Each time you get a particular character right on the first try, that character is moved further back in the “deck”.
If you didn't happen to get it right on the first try, you'll see it again, real soon.
This insures that you're not wasting your time on characters you already know
It also insures that you're not overwhelmed with too many new characters coming at you too fast.
Characters are presented in the order you're most likely to encounter them in real life.
The best memorization takes place in the smallest amount of time. Since the iPhone and iTouch fit conveniently in your pocket or purse, it’s easy to take advantage of very small pieces of time you encounter throughout the day simply waiting for someone or something to happen.
This means you can learn while being on hold or waiting for someone to call back, even waiting for the light to turn green at an intersection.
It also lets you spend as much time as you have most efficiently.
Good luck! Faster than you think you'll be fluent in Hiragana. We'll have Katakana waiting for you before you take the plunge into Kanji. You can do it! Come on in, the water's fine!