Hiragana’s Magical “Pattern”
“I have no idea what I’m singing, they give me the pronunciation” – Melissa Rich
There are a lot of hiragana to learn. Certainly more than the 26 letters of the alphabet in the English language. That being said, there’s a magical “pattern” that you can take advantage of, though. Basically, if you learn five kana really well (in terms of pronunciation), you’ll be able to pronounce almost everything else pretty well too. We’re going to focus on that pattern first so that everything else is a lot easier later on.
The first thing we’re going to do is take a look at the pronunciation of each “kana.” A “kana” is basically one of the “letters” (if you want to be technical they’re not actually letters, but that doesn’t matter at all and it’s so much easier to understand them in this way) of the Japanese “alphabet” (it’s technically not an “alphabet” either, but like I said, so much easier to associate abstract things with things you already know). There are a ton of hiragana charts out there already, all with similar layouts, but none of them do a great job when it comes to pronunciation. I’ve made my own hiragana chart which I think will do pretty well for our intents and purposes.
Open the hiragana chart (and print it out, if you can) then look at the first column, starting in the top right. In written Japanese, when you write vertically, you read from top to bottom, right to left. When written horizontally, it’s read like English, left-to-right, starting at the top. I don’t want you to worry too much about this right now, though. Most likely, 99% of the time, you’ll see Japanese written left-to-right, just like in English. This hiragana chart is more of an exception than anything else, and it’s written top to bottom because it’s easier to organize that way.
Anyways, take a look at the top right column. You should see the following kana, listed top to bottom.
あ → a
い → i
う → u
え → e
お → o
This is the “magical pattern” I was talking about, and I hope you spend some extra time learning it. Once you learn these five kana, everything else gets to be ten times easier.
Now, when you pronounce these five kana, you don’t want to pronounce them like you would in English. This is key if you want good Japanese pronunciation, and another reason why romaji will throw you off (and why we need to get you knowing hiragana as soon as possible).
Let’s take a look at the first five, first.