Four Reasons To Learn Hiragana

Hiragana is one of the core fundamentals of learning how to read and write in Japanese.  Although the forty-six hiragana characters are Japanese at it’s most basic level, those studying the language for the very first time will find these symbols indispensable.  Knowing hiragana alone won’t instantly enable you to understand everything you read, write, see and hear in Japanese.  However, if you learn hiragana, you open a window to learning & understanding the more complex aspects of the Japanese language; hiragana empowers you with the knowledge to explore further.

Let’s examine four reasons why learning hiragana can be extremely useful to you: 1) Hiragana Helps Improve Pronunciation, 2) Hiragana Can Improve Your Listening, 3) Hiragana Helps to Improve Your Vocabulary, 4) Hiragana Helps You Learn Katakana.

1. Learn Hiragana To Improve Pronunciation
Hiragana and their corresponding sounds are to the Japanese language what the alphabet and phonetics are to the English language.  Well, it’s not exactly that simple with Japanese.  There are two other writing systems and all, but hiragana is a wonderful place to start.  Hiragana are the written representation of Japanese, phonetic sounds.  Knowing how to use these sounds properly can make a big difference in how your Japanese sounds to others.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you get into a random knife fight* (bear with me) and you get a bad cut on your shoulder.  You flee the scene and you’re frantically asking random people where the hospital is.  Pronunciation is crucial here:

A: “びょういんわどこですか?!” (“Byouin wa doko desu ka?”)
WHERE IS THE HOSPITAL?!

B: びよいんわどこですか?! (Biyouin wa doko desu ka?”)
WHERE IS THE BEAUTY PARLOR?!

Unless there’s an amazing salve and first aid kit at the beauty salon, you’d be better off making sure you pronounce the first one correctly.  There’s a fine line between a hospital and a beauty parlor.  See why knowing how to pronounce things can pay off?
*Knife fights are bad.

Okay, I’m sure most people would see from the bleeding that you need a doctor, but do you get my point.  Knowing how to pronounce phonetic sounds is crucial and knowing your hiragana well can help you get there.

ABSOLUTELY! I think it’s a good idea to practice speaking, even if you don’t know your hiragana fully.

2. Learn Hiragana To Improve Your Listening
On the flip side, knowing your phonetic basics can be incredibly important when trying to make sense of words spoken at a native cadence & speed.  Having a firm grasp on your phonetics WILL make listening easier.  Now, I won’t lie to you and say that hearing & recognizing Japanese words is always easy to do because it can be tricky sometimes.  Listening to natural Japanese is a skill by itself, it takes practice.

3. Learn Hiragana to Improve Your Vocabulary
This has probably been where I’ve gotten the most use from my hiragana.  Being here in Japan  and simply just sitting on the train means you’re going to hear native conversations.  Or in my little apartment, when I turn on the TV, I hear Japanese people speaking just as they normally would.  Using these chances to acquire new words can really build your vocabulary.  If you can quickly transcribe what you’re hearing into a smartphone dictionary or even write it down to look up later, you have new Japanese to put into your mental word bank!

4. Hiragana Helps Your Learn Katakana
This one may not be so obvious, but if you are familiar with the hiragana phonetic sounds and how the special symbols (like diacritical marks) can change the sound of these phonetics, half the katakana battle is already over.  You then just have to assign a new symbol to the sound in your mind.  Recognizing and writing the katakana characters also takes practice, but at the very least, after learning your hiragana well, you will already have the phonetics down.

I like to think that these four are indirect effects of knowing and USING the symbols you learn.  If you learn your hiragana for the short term and never use them, chances are you won’t realize some the amazing benefits the can result from mastering these characters.