Japanese Syllabaries

The Japanese language is written using a combination of two syllabaries (hiragana and katakana) and Chinese characters (kanji). In English each letter represents a consonant or a vowel, but in Japanese each symbol represents a complete syllable.

Hiragana is used for inflected word endings, grammatical particles and other words. Katakana is used for foreign loan words, foreign names and for emphasis.
Chart of Hiragana and Katakana

Classroom Exercises

  1. Try writing some of the Japanese words you have known using hiragana:
      • sushi
      • teriyaki
      • karate
      • samurai
      • kamikaze

  2. Foreign words are written in katakana. Complete the following chart by writing these words following the Japanese pronunciation. Try saying them as well.

    Foreign word Japanese pronunciation Word in Katakana
    America amerika  
    Christmas kurisumasu  
    McDonald's makudonarudo  

  3. Japan has also borrowed many words from various languages. Sometimes these words are abbreviated. Complete the following chart.

    Foreign word Japanese pronunciation Word in Katakana
    milk miruku  
    personal computer pasokon  
    white shirt waishatsu  
    pao (Portuguese for bread) pan  
    Arbeit (German for part time job arubaito  

  4. Try writing your name in katakana. As each letter needs to become a syllable, your name may become unrecognizable to you!

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