The Basics of Japanese Writing: For Beginners, By A Beginner

blogahss1By Sinead Cryan

So, you’re thinking about learning Japanese, either by yourself, or in UL as part of your course. Or maybe you’re just a bit curious about it, because it looks like a bunch of nonsensical squiggles when you see it around. Either way, you’ve probably heard that Japanese is one of the most notoriously difficult languages to learn, because of it’s non-alphabetical writing system. I know how you feel. It can be a bit daunting taking up a new language, especially one that doesn’t use ABC’s. And I thought it was too, and everyone I know probably thinks I’m a bit crazy for doing Business with Japanese. But in all honesty, after doing it for 10 weeks now, I can assure you, it’s not actually as hard as I imagined.

First of all, you need to know what the squiggles you’re looking at actually are. Japanese is actually written using three different systems. Yes, three. Don’t panic, please. The first one you need to learn is Hiragana. It’s the most basic of the systems and is used to guide pronunciation for beginners once you start Kanji. The second, Katakana, is similar to Hiragana, except that it’s used to write foreign “imported” words from other languages, such as Television (テレビ), taken from English, and pain, (パン), the French for bread.
Kanji, the third and final system, is a lopographic system adopted from China. This is the hardest part of learning to write Japanese, because unlike the Kana systems, which only have 46 letters each, there are thousands of Kanji. But again, don’t panic! You don’t need to learn that many to be able to read and write Japanese. (In fact, you could almost get away with never learning any, although I wouldn’t recommend it, especially for numbers.) In this post, however, I won’t be discussing Kanji, as this is only the basics to writing.

So, how on Earth are you, a beginner, supposed to tackle the mountain that is learning Japanese writing? Well, the best way to go about it is obviously to start with the two “Kana” systems, Hiragana and Katakana. I managed to learn these both in about three hours, and I mean really learn them.

I’ll let you in on my secret: associate every sound with an image that relates to it or to the letter itself.
Okay, so not in any way original, but it’s the most effective method out there for learning Japanese. It applies to Kanji too, but we’re just focusing on the first two for now. If you ask around, you’ll find that this is one of the most widely used methods too, because not only does it work, but it’s kind of fun as well.

While making up a picture for every single kana yourself would be a lot of fun, a quicker method is to use some online resources. My favorite one, which I found to be the most helpful, was from Tofugu. Tofugu is full of interesting resources, both for learning the language and about the culture, but a lot of the resources, such as their own textbook, have to be paid for. However, their guides to Hiragana and Katakana are free, so that’s what I used, because not only were they useful, they made some very clever associations, and some of them actually made me laugh. And who doesn’t want to have fun while learning?
The one for learning Hiragana is here. The way I learned them all in just over an hour was by reading the article a few times, and then playing this drag-and-drop game I found on Usagi-Chan’s Genki Resources. It’s a timed drag and drop game, and it gets very addictive if you keep trying to beat your own time. I knew I’d learned them well enough when I took 1 minute and 30 seconds to match all the characters to the sounds, and that was just because I couldn’t move the mouse any faster.
Once you’ve mastered Hiragana, you can move on to Katakana. The Tofugu article can be found here, and the drag-and-drop is here!

So, go forth and learn yourself some Kana! Words can’t describe how accomplished you’ll feel, being able to read comprehensions in Japanese after such a short amount of time! So, if you’re struggling to learn Japanese, or just want to try it out, give those resources a go and see what you think! I promise you won’t find Japanese as daunting once you’re done!


Untitled design (5)My name is Sinead Cryan, and I’m a first year student here in the University of Limerick. I study Business and Japanese, as well as an extra German module, so I’m actually a student of the Kemmy Business School, but it’s the languages I’m here to talk about.


My first year at UL!

By Sarah Manifold

Screenshot_2015-10-09-13-53-54Hello there! Whether you have found this page by accident or you are interested in studying at the University of Limerick I would like to welcome you to the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences blog page. Hopefully this page will give you a clearer insight into what it’s like to be a student and study in UL, voted the top University of 2015 by the Sunday times (I’m not trying to brag or anything).

My name is Sarah Manifold and I am a first year In UL. Unlike the majority of the bloggers you will come across on this site I am not studying in the AHSS sector, I am currently studying Business with Japanese and it is the language side that I will be talking about and addressing on this page. I am a lover of old 80’s films and their amazing soundtracks, and enjoy taking part in singing classes and competitions in my free time. This year I will be taking the exam for my teaching diploma in classical and musical theatre.

Studying at the University of Limerick:

Like many of you who reside in Limerick or are living on the outskirts of the city I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of studying in Limerick for another 4-6 years and wanted to move out as soon as possible and explore another part of the country or even the world. Looking back I realise it would have been a huge mistake and I probably wouldn’t have lasted very long. We take it for granted what an amazingly facilitated university we have just on our doorstep and I never would have had the chance to experience UL in all its glory if I hadn’t had changed my mind. UL’s campus is by far the most modern and dare I say beautiful campus in Ireland or maybe even Europe. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m still in Limerick while walking through the huge campus as I sometimes feel I’m in another country. UL offers a vast majority of not only academic facilities but also ones for your leisure throughout the campus; these include the fully equipped Glucksman library, a vast majority of computer labs situated in several buildings across campus, the UL sports arena, the UL student union and many places to eat and have a few drinks with your fellow students after lectures.

Japanese at the University of Limerick:

The main factor which aided my decision to study at the University of Limerick was my love for the Japanese language. Japanese at the University of Limerick is studied at beginner level, so those of you who are interested in the language but feel they should have prior knowledge of the language there is no need to worry as the majority of the class will be in the same boat as you. It was a little different for me seeing as I had studied the language since transition year and had the wonderful opportunity to attend a secondary school in Japan for a month. There are so many wonderful facilities outside the classroom to help you with your study of this wonderfully unique and special language. The languages at UL society run group discussions for a wide range of languages that can be studied at UL. This is a great way not only to meet students who are from that country but also interact with them and others who are studying the same language as you. If you would like to further immerse yourself in the language one-on-one classes are also available. The library offers many textbooks on the numerous writing systems and can also provide you with useful tips on how to remember certain characters.

Your new life as a University student:

The idea of starting University is a daunting prospect for anyone and we have all been through it. Whether you are worried about making new friend, finding your way around such a large campus or struggling with your course, we are here to offer some advice to all of you thinking of applying to UL. Moving away from home and your friends can seem rather scary, the idea of going to a new place where you know nobody and have to make an effort to meet new people may not seem that appealing to you. The best piece of advice I can give you is put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. There is no better time to do this than orientation day when you are separated into groups based on your course. The people that I met the day of orientation are still my closest friends today. Another way to meet new people is by joining some of the clubs and societies that are offered in UL, whether you are interested in jumping out of planes or sitting down for a chat with a hot cup of tea there is something in UL for everyone.

It can be very easy to get lost on campus and I still do sometimes but don’t worry because the University offers what they like to call ‘The First Seven Weeks Program’. For your first seven weeks of college there will be fellow students stationed around the campus with the sole purpose of helping you find your way around and answering any questions you may have regarding certain buildings and rooms, so make sure to avail of this wonderful service as you won’t find it anywhere else!

This is just a snippet of what is to come on this site so look forward to more posts! I hope I could answer any questions some of you may have had and even helped you make up your mind on whether or not the University of Limerick is the right place for you. The only thing I will say is you won’t regret picking the University of Limerick, I sure haven’t!