If you want to learn the Japanese language (or "Nihongo" as it's called in Japanese) online, you've come to the right place! Our lessons can get you well on your way to learning how to speak, read, and write Nihongo. On this site you will find such things as the Japanese alphabet (including Hiragana and Katakana) as well as Kanji (Chinese characters), vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and common words and phrases. What sets us apart from other Japanese language courses or tutorials is that we actually teach you how to conjugate verbs and how to build your own sentences - things critical to learning how to speak fluently!
The Japanese language is actually very simple but so unlike English that many English speakers find it difficult to learn. The goal of this 10 free lesson course is to help you study the basics of the language and to teach you how to learn Japanese in a way that is, hopefully, fast and easy to understand.
These public lessons start with basic Japanese and additional beginner lessons as well as intermediate and advanced lessons can be found in our Members Area. Our Members Area contains new lessons (on Japanese grammar, kanji, the most useful Japanese phrases, writing hiragana, etc.), audio files, and more! Access is FREE so register now!
IMPORTANT: While learning how to speak Japanese, do not rely too heavily on Romanized Japanese or romaji (Japanese written in English letters). It is not used in Japan nor is it widely known in Japan. It is very important to learn Kana (the Japanese alphabets - Hiragana and Katakana) to avoid many issues that can come from using romaji as a crutch.
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Hiragana - ひらがな
The first step to learning the Japanese language is to learn the alphabet. Or, at least, to learn the sounds that exist in the language. There are absolutely no "tones" in Japanese like in many other asian languages and there are only 2 exceptions within the alphabet which will be explained later. The Japanese alphabet does not contain letters but, instead, contains characters and, technically, they are not alphabets but character sets. The characters in the chart below are called Hiragana. Hiragana is the main alphabet or character set for Japanese. Japanese also consists of two other character sets - Kanji (Chinese characters), which we will get into later, and another alphabet/character set, Katakana, which is mainly used for foreign words. Katakana will be covered in Lesson 2. Don't wait to move on until you have all Hiragana characters memorized - learn them as you continue to go through the other lessons.
There are 5 vowels in Japanese. (a), pronounced "ahh", (i), pronounced like "e" in "eat", (u), pronounced like "oo" in "soon", (e), pronounced like "e" in "elk", and (o), pronounced "oh". All Hiragana characters end with one of these vowels, with the exception of (n). The only "consonant" that does not resemble that of English is the Japanese "r". It is slightly "rolled" as if it were a combination of a "d", "r", and "l".
Here is a Printable Hiragana Chart (PDF - get Adobe Acrobat Reader).
1. The Hiragana は (ha) is pronounced "wa" when it immediately follows the topic of the sentence. This character is usually only pronounced "ha" when it is part of a word.
2. The Hiragana へ (he) is pronounced "e" when it immediately follows a place or direction. Both of these are very simple to detect.
Click here if you'd like to know why these two exceptions exist.
Note: You probably noticed in the chart above that there are 2 characters pronounced "zu" and 2 characters pronounced "ji". The characters づ (zu) and ぢ (ji) are very rarely used. づ (zu) only occurs when there is a つ (tsu) in front of it like in つづく (tsuzuku - to continue) or when a Kanji (Chinese character) that has a reading which starts with つ (tsu) is paired at the end with another character changing the つ (tsu) to a づ (zu). The same applies for the Hiragana ぢ (ji). Since they are used so rarely I wouldn't worry about them too much. I will let you know whenever we come upon a word in which they are used.
Some people wonder why "yi", "ye", "wi", "wu", and "we" are missing. There aren't characters for "yi", "ye", or "wu". There is a ゐ (wi) and a ゑ (we) but these were deemed obsolete in 1946 and were replaced by い (i) and え (e) respectively. Want audio on this lesson? Register for our Members Area and get audio for Katakana - The Other Japanese Alphabet. It's FREE!
Katakana - カタカナ
As mentioned in Lesson 1, Katakana (as seen in the chart below) is mainly used for foreign words such as foreign names and words that have been borrowed from other languages such as コンピューター (kompyu-ta- = computer). Katakana is the least frequently used of the three character sets in Japanese. The Japanese language does not have as many sounds as the English language so, when creating a name in Katakana, for instance, the name must be sound out to the closest Japanese equivalent. Katakana, Hiragana, and Furigana (when Hiragana is written small next to a Kanji character to show how that character is read) are collectively known as Kana. Don't worry too much about Katakana (beyond maybe learning your name) for now.
There are some special Katakana characters that exist only for foreign names (such as シェ (she) or ティ (ti)). These special characters are not in the chart below (which contains only the standard set of Katakana characters) but can be seen in our Names in Japanese lesson. There are also the characters ヰ (wi) and ヱ (we) which were deemed obsolete in 1946.
Here is a Printable Katakana Chart (PDF - get Adobe Acrobat Reader).
For more help on the subject of Kana (Hiragana and Katakana)...