How to learn to read kana fast?

I learned to read hiragana and katakana a few months ago, and after the first few days I feel like I’ve hit an endless plateau in terms of reading speed. For example, no matter how many times I’ll see the letter ブ, I have to think: “oh, this is fu, and it’s voiced, so it’s bu”, it still takes a conscious effort to distinguish between わ、れ、ね、め、ぬ, and when I see ちょう, it takes me a second to convince myself that it’s not ちゅう.

I’ve been reading every day and it doesn’t seem to help. There seems to be a fundamental difference between scripts I learned as a child and scripts I studied later in life: for scripts I learned as a child my brain grasps the entire word as one unit, but when I read kana or Arabic (which I studied in high school and all the years since high school haven’t changed it), I still read the word letter by letter like a 5-year-old.

Is there any scientific research behind making the leap from reading slowly letter by letter to reading at reasonable speed? If you made this leap with kana, what was your secret?

3 Likes

Yes, but when you were a child, there was a time when it didn’t. Even as a child, your brain had to learn over time how to make that symbol-to-sound association automatically. The same thing will happen for Japanese eventually, just keep practicing.

13 Likes

Exposure is key. Your brain needs to create enough neuron clusters in your brain that identify those patterns and in order to do so it needs time. Its building memory here, we’re talking time and energy and creating actual matter in your brain. Give it time, feed it well.

Exposure to simple text over and over again is one thing. Just like kids do it when they want the same bedtime story e v e r y nighttime for months… and then some of them pretend to read before learning to read because they know the text by heart. Lingodeer is a good option for simple repetitive exposure that includes audio with the words/sentences.
Duolingo changed the way they teach kana, and it might also help you drill it specifically, they have a section dedicated only for that, both hiragana and katakana, and it’s really good in my opinion.

The other thing is going old school - writing kana on screen or better yet pencil on paper. Muscle memory is a great way to add a layer of learning. And fine motor skills have been valuable as language learning aids for centuries for a reason, and not just because there were no word processors…

Personally I think it worth it putting a few hours into learning to write with this video.

But at the end of the day you know best what works for you, what your strengths are. Use them. What helped you best with your english and your mother tongue would help you with japanese as well. You already know how to learn. Just try to recall what worked for you.

11 Likes

In line with what @2tea said, I have found that learning to write the kana on demand (which involves recall instead of mere recognition) has helped me tremendously. I’m definitely still relatively slow at it since I only first learned it a couple of months ago, but I have already started to notice a shift where I’m starting to see multiple kana at a time as units. That was most definitely not the case prior to spending the time to learn to write them from memory alone despite having spent roughly the first month drilling the kana over and over (recognition wise) and reading a little bit every day.

A smartphone app that I’ve found is quite nice and free for the time being is ringotan.

It does writing for the kanas via SRS and even includes 3500 kanji if you want to do them too. You can configure it to present the kanji in the order of WaniKani too if you want to move on to the kanji after the kanas.

Finally, it has various configuration options such as the drawing leniency (I set it to use very strict myself) and whether or not to snap the strokes in place as you draw them (easier if you do, harder if you don’t).

8 Likes

Second that!

I forgot I have it as well (used it for kanji for a while, and it goes with wanikani). Really helps with drilling stroke order. Or just getting the gist of it.
Didn’t need it for kanas though.

3 Likes

I mean it is, but you’re reading stuff without the kana that confounds you.

The simple answer is read more which, while trite, is the correct answer, if you’re struggling with katakana you just need exposing to katakana more.

Do you play computer games? Super Mario Odyssey will make you a katakana genius before you know it.

4 Likes

Back when I first learned kana I just read a lot of manga that had full furigana, basically just pick an anime/manga you’ve already seen, and if it’s for a young enough audience then everything will have kana

I started slow but eventually picked up the pace

2 Likes

Yeah, it just takes time. Most people will find that their ability to read hiragana improves faster than their ability to read katakana, which is because in modern Japanese text hiragana are everywhere but katakana are only in the occasional loanword, so you build up the necessary experience in reading hiragana sooner.

7 Likes

I find that it comes naturally over time as long as you keep exposing yourself to Japanese. Media such as manga and games can really help with that.

3 Likes

i can’t remember exactly when i was able to read kana pretty easily, but it definitely took me a while from first learning the 2 alphabets before i got to that point.

what helped me most was, surprise surprise, regular exposure :laughing:

i play online videogames that let me read kana usernames, and have encountered youtube comments/video titles with kana. i challenged myself to try to read the kana, and over time i became a lot faster at reading them without thinking “yes, this is ‘nu’ and not ‘ne’” (for example).

i wouldn’t stress over not being able to read kana quickly, it will happen if you keep on encountering it!

5 Likes

Update a month later: My reading of hiragana is significantly faster. I’ve started to pick up grammatical patterns. It’s become easier for me to know where each part of a long sentence ends, so I can split it into words and units of meaning.

There’s less progress with katakana yet, it still takes me a while.

7 Likes

Congrats! I’m happy to hear that.

I’ve noticed the my speed has significantly increased over the last month as well. In fact, I have been tracking my stats with daily reading on Satori Reader and will likely eventually post an update over on the SR appreciation thread as a part of a review.

In short though, in addition to the more subjective aspects, in terms of purely quantifiable numbers, I went back to a few earlier episodes and compared my reading speed and it has nearly tripled. One factor that test doesn’t totally account for though is that much more kanji now appears without furigana as compared to previously due to learning a lot more on WK in that time.

3 Likes

I’m still pretty slow at reading kana as well. Though sometimes a chunk of kana will register as a word and I find myself not going through every single character and just reading the whole word. Some words more than others. And for some words that I’ve seen so many times, it just seems to happen without me thinking about it (like ありがとうございます or すみません for example).

However, sometimes what happens is if I recognize it as one word, I actually misread it, and it’s actually a different word :sweat_smile:

4 Likes

I think it’s more about vocab and grammar familiarity. You can recognise words and phrases in your native language at a glance because you know what to expect, so you don’t actually have to read the letters, just look at the “shape” of the whole structure.

Your progress with hiragana is illustrative of you getting better at the language.

And katakana is used far many loan words which even if you can recognise from eg English you still have to think about it because they are spelled in Japanese way.

I think it’s about getting used to the vocab as well.

From my personal experience, now I’m quite comfortable reading Japanese text, but if I have to read ac single character out of context I often get it wrong. Even it comes to kana I sometimes confuse め and ぬ but when reading I can usually just guess based on context, so I don’t have to “know”.

It’s been a few years since I practiced any handwriting, so I can’t write most of the kana, and yet it I am the most fluent in Japanese I’ve ever been, so there’s no direct link.

4 Likes

おめでとうございます٩(^‿^)۶

And as for the katakana, just read an article called writing by hand is good for your brain, lots of research that supports my going old school suggestion.

Some practical advice with katakana - first, learn to write you full name with katakana, that’s how you’re suppose to write it in Japan, so it’s a good thing to know. And drill them all for a few days with Tofugu’s Learn Kana Quiz. I really struggled with them comparing to hiragana, and only mended this this time around. I’ve been drilling the quiz, the Duolingo practice and writing for about a week when I came back to wanikani, and it works. Just give them some special care and you won’t have to think about it anymore.

2 Likes

There is a cool little game that I’ve found very recently : Kana Invaders
It’s a fun way to train your brain to be faster at recognising them. Personally I’m still a little slow with katakanas sometimes, just like it was said in this thread we don’t see them as often as hiraganas, and I found them less intuitive…

2 Likes

There is a cool little game that I’ve found very recently : Kana Invaders

Thanks for sharing this. My katakana needs help and this game is fun.

1 Like