Neil Kendall Languages

The language learning challenge

Continuing my Japanese studies by learning the plain form of verbs, plus the Hiragana and Katakana writing systems

September 20, 2017

Earlier this year, I started learning Japanese with various courses such as the Michel Thomas Method Japanese (both the Foundation and Advanced Courses), Linkword Japanese, and a method called Earworms Japanese which involves learning via music.

Whilst all these course were really good, one thing that was not taught was the plain form of the Japanese verbs, nor any of the writing systems used in Japanese. You see, there are two main levels of Japanese - the polite form, which is used when talking to people of higher status than you or to those in positions of power etc, and the plain/casual form, which is used only when talking to friends and family and those close to you. The Michel Thomas Method Japanese concentrates only on teaching the polite form, which is ok but a bit limiting if you wish to become fully fluent in Japanese. So I decided to read/watch some tutorials about the plain/casual form of the language, and how to conjugate the verbs etc. 

It was really difficult to find a decent tutorial that explained everything in a clear and easy to follow way. It seems to me that many websites that teach Japanese grammar do so in a very formal, dry sort of way that makes it like reading a scientific manual, thus just leaving the reader even more confused!

Anyway, I eventually found a gem of a site called, which has some really amazing and easy to follow video tutorials about the verb structures of Japanese, including the plain/casual form of the language. I have been going through these videos recently and it's all starting to click for me. I've also started building up my vocabulary of common everyday verbs used in Japanese, and I will learn 200 to 300 of these in the next month or 2 so I can express myself in most situations.

And now onto the writing systems: Japanese has 3 different writing systems (4 if you include Romaji, a way of writing Japanese using roman writing) - Hiragana, Katakana, and then the Kanji characters. In recent weeks, I have been concentraing on Hiragana and Katakana via some excellent tutorials I found. The easiest way to learn to pronounce the Hiragana and Katakana characters (know as 'Kana) is to use mnemonics by thinking of something that the letter looks like that is also linked to how the character is pronounced - it could look like an object, and animal, a person, etc. Then you use that as a 'memory hook' in order to etch the pronunciation into your brain. For example there is one character that is pronounced 'Ya' that looks a bit like a Yak's head. The tutorials I have been going through give a mnemonic hook for every letter, then some exercises so that you can practice what you've learned. 

I have found it invaluable to start learning the Japanese writing systems, because a lot of grammar tutorials teach Japanese grammar with Hiragana, so it makes sense to learn these. Plus, there's just something really cool about being about to read in Japanese. To me, their writing systems look like a work of art. I will get to Kanji soon, which will be another big challenge as well, and I will write more on that soon.

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