Hiragana is the character alphabet for Japanese native words. Words like "watashi" and "anata" would be spelled out using the Hiragana alphabet (you can use Kanji, too, but we're trying to be basic here.) The other two alphabets are Kanji and Katakana. Those are explained in the other sections, though. In the Hiragana alphabet, there are 46 different basic characters one can use. There are also special variations of certain characters that are also used, changing, for instance, "ka" into "ga" and so on, but we don't need to get into that here.
Before you jump into trying to pronounce half of these, there are a few very important rules you must know. (These rules are the same for the ones for Katakana)
Firstly, the "vowel" sounds in the Japanese language always sound the same. So, the letter "o" always sounds like "Oh" and the letter "e" always sounds like "eh." Here's a little chart that might help:
|"ah" sound as in "cola"|
|i||"E"sound as in "eel"|
|u||"oo" sound as in "food"|
|e||"eh" sound as in "wet"|
|o||"oh" sound as in "cola"|
With this in mind, one should be able to pronounce each of the 46 different Hiragana characters. Just add the consinents to the beginning of each vowel sound, and you basically have it. "ka" is read "kah," "ni" is read "knee," and so forth.
The second thing to keep in mind is the special characters. "chi" "tsu" "shi" and "fu" are the four characters that go against the patterns. For example, the row for the "k" characters reads "Ka, ki, ku, ke, ko..." but the row for the "s" characters reads "sa, shi, su, se, so..." instead of "sa, si, su, se, so." See the difference? It's a very slight difference, but it is noticable. The "t" row is the most complex. It reads "ta, chi, tsu, te, to" instead of "ta, ti, tu, te, to." Another special character is "fu." It is in the "h" row. "Ha, hi, fu, he, ho" instead of "ha, hi, hu, he, ho."
The last thing to keep in mind is the "r" row. It is natural for English speakers to pronounce "r" traditionally, but instead it is prounounced as an "l" sound. So, "rai" would sound like "lai."
I know it may be confusing, but just take your time to look at the chart. It isn't that bad when you get used to it.
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Editor: Eric Friedrich
Updated: November 27, 2007