First up are the core vowel characters. These are important to learn as they make up the foundation of the other characters going forward.
What is Romaji?
Before we get into these I want to explain romaji real quick.
Romaji is simply the way to write Japanese characters using roman characters like we use in the English language.
It’s how I can write A for あ, U for う, or KA for か. (and no, romaji isn’t normally capitalized, I’m only using it here for emphasis).
Real quick let’s cover how to pronounce these core vowel sounds — which are simple, but have a couple sounds to look out for ( い and え).
Note: Tap each character to hear native speakers pronounce them.
- あ (a) – sounds like “ah,” but don’t hold the sound too long
- い (i) – sounds like “E,” like “eat” without the T sound
- う (u) – sounds like “ooh” but like あ don’t hold the sound, just a sharp “ooh”
- え (e) – sounds like “eh” — like saying the letter A in English
- お (o) – sounds like “oh” — just as it looks
Look Out for あ and お
These two characters look similar at a glance. When typed it’s super easy to spot the key differences.
But out in Japan on signs they’ll blend together much more because of the fancy fonts and handwriting.
Pro tip: I like to think of お (o) as the broken あ (a) — where the “stem” across the top appears broken in お.
あいうえお are the core vowel sounds in the Japanese language. They form the hiragana syllabary when combined with the K, S, T, N, H, M, Y, R, W consonants.
I’m not going to spam you with a giant chart of every character combination. Instead, we’ll go through each set individually — and weave them all together over each lesson.
For now it’s time to practice. Click the “Begin Recall Practice” button below and then practice until you can answer every character easily. It’s not graded; nothing is tracked.
Pro tip: If you’re an auditory learner do this: listen closely to the pronunciations in the list above. Then while clicking through the recall practice pronounce the sounds in your mind — or better yet, out loud.
Good job! Continue practicing until you can confidently identify each character with ease. Click the buttons below to restart the practice (challenge yourself with inverted and challenge mode).
Once this practice feels easy to you it’s time to take a long break and then move on to the next lesson.