If you haven’t seen the video associated with this post, head over to the video’s page and check it out, or just watch it below. The video is a little peek into the world of one of Japan’s writing systems, katakana. Katakana is used in Japanese much in the way that italics are used in English. Italics are used for writing loan words (words that come from other languages), and they may also be used to emphasize a word in a written document. Japanese uses katakana much in the same way. For example, an English word like “Banana” is written “バナナ” in Japanese (the vowel sounds are the only thing that change).
There are only 5 vowel sounds in the Japanese language: a (like the “a” in “father”), i (like the “ee” in “see”), u (like the “oo” in “moon”), e (like the “e” in “elephant”), and o (like the “o” in “post”). All Japanese syllables are just a combination of a vowel sound and a consonant sound. If you can get used to saying the five vowels this way, you’re set.
Katakana, unlike the infamously difficult kanji, has only 48 characters. This sounds like a lot, but it’s surprisingly easy to get them all down. If you’re very ambitious, you could learn them all on a flight to Japan from the United States. If you’re coming to Japan, though, I’d recommend studying them a little bit every day for a couple weeks and then giving yourself a little reading practice. It’s almost like playing a game. The pronunciation of the loan words is often a little goofy, and it’s like you’re trying to figure out a pronunciation puzzle.
In the video, I named six items from my refrigerator in katakana. To refresh your brains, they were:
Did you make your guesses? The answers are written below!
3. Ice Cream
4. Processed Cheese (cheese slices)
5. Parmesean (cheese)
How’d you do? I hope it wasn’t too difficult.
Let me know if you guys enjoyed this katakana challenge. It was easy and fun for me to make the video, and I think katakana is arguably the most useful thing a tourist in Japan could know. Leave your thoughts in comment or email or twitter form for me to see! Happy studying!
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