Learning Kana FIRST, then WaniKani

Dear grand wizards of Kanji,

So I started to learn Japanes language since one month. Every Saturday morning I have class where the Marugoto method is used. We work on Hiragana and vocabulary, I really like it. My goal is to be able to have a good conversation and read everything while in Japan on business trips.

I found WaniKani and LOVE Kanji. But I feel it is best (for me) to just concentrate on Hiragana (succeeded by Katakana) and master that first. Kanji is not easy and it takes up quite some of my brain power and capacity… I have a job so cannot commit full-time to study, only weekends and evenings. So I will keep WaniKani in the fridge for a while until I master the Kana.

Just wanted to say I look forward to dive into the Kanji, but have to refrain from it until imprinting the basics in my brain. I like to hear what you think about that approach. Did you go the same route; Hiragana-Katakana-Kanji? Are you meantime proficient in Japanese language?


I believe that is the standard approach, yes. WK even tells you that you should learn the kana before starting.


Tofugu has a guide for learning Hiragana:

Learning katakana isn’t really required for Wanikani, but it’s probably more immediately useful since you can figure out the meanings of the word by sounding it out (a lot of times, but not always).


You definitely need to learn Hiragana first.

Katakana is negotiable, you don’t need it for Wanikani really, but you will need it eventually. I recommend learning the basics right away for sure, but you don’t need to have them all perfectly memorized- as long as you do a lot of reading practice with native material, you’ll pick up katakana pretty naturally, I’ve found.


I’m only posting this because you mentioned waiting until mastering kana before moving on to WaniKani. I think everyone here is in agreement that you should definitely LEARN kana and be able to easily recognize each character before going to WaniKani. You don’t need to be absolutely perfect at it though. Truly mastering it is something that will take take a long time. I’m not even sure that I can say with absolute confidence that I have yet. I’m definitely very comfortable with it, but I don’t think I’m exactly close to a native level.


I started WK about 2 weeks ago. I spent about a month learning hiragana and katakana first and wow am I glad I did that. It is a huge help.

good luck to you!

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Yes, definitely learn at least hiragana first. If you study intensively for a while, you should be able to learn how to read them fairly quickly. Writing takes a bit longer, and that’s up to you but not really important for Wanikani, though it will be for your Marugoto classes.

Katakana is not very hard once you learn hiragana, because the sounds are the same, and a lot of the shapes are similar or related to their corresponding hiragana.

Here’s my pro-tip for learning katakana (and it’s the way I learned): look at the way place names are written in Japanese for cities in Spanish-speaking countries. (I choose Spanish because the vowel sounds are similar to Japanese, and anyway Katakana is used for transliterating foreign words. It gets a bit more complicated with English words/place names, though.) For example, if you look up Queretaro in Japanese (queretaro 日本語 - Google Search) you’ll see ケレタロ: que, re, ta, ro. Now you already know four katakana!

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Just a heads up to avoid confusion ケレタロ is ke-re-ta-ro and not que re ta ro, I see what you did there and I just realized that if he knows all the vowels for Japanese it doesn’t matter.


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Perhaps a bit confusing as it assumes a working knowledge of Spanish pronunciation…

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i recommend kana invaders for quick recall - makes practise fun :slight_smile: good luck

(I also learned kana first and really dragged my feet to get to kanji as i was quite scared of it - however, now i have discovered i love it and it is one of my strengths! When you know kana fully and you feel ready, it will be great to have you back :smile: )

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That approach sounds good! I did hiragana, then started studying kanji, and I’m slowly starting to learn katakana. I’m mostly learning katakana by learning nouns that catch my attention (my home state & US states I’ve been to, brand names, etc.). I’m still in the beginning stages of Japanese proficiency, though I’ve been catching vocab & kanji from Wanikani in spoken or written Japanese!

I learned hiragana using the first chapter of Textfugu for reading & pronounciation, and a drag-and-drop game for reading. I used the drag-and-drop game once or twice a day until I could place every character in under two minutes.

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There are multiple ways of writing romaji. Just as ‘ka’ can be written as ‘ca’, or ‘tsu’ can be written as ‘tu’, ‘ke’ can be written as ‘que’ and so on. You can also see this happening with long vowels, sometimes they’ll be written as plain vowels (a,i, u, e, o), sometimes with a macron (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) or with double vowels (aa, ii, uu, ei/ee, oo/ou).
Romaji is NOT part of Japanese, so there really is not a standard way of writing it. That’s why you might find people, whose native language is different than yours, using a different set of romaji.

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Hiragana is effectively mandatory for learning Kanji, even outside of WaniKani, because hiragana is, with the exception of standalone kanji, what forms words and grammar in Japanese. However, beyond the logistical aspect, learning-wise, there’s a huge importance to learning hiragana.

As @dianarz pointed out, there is no universal or “standard” romaji. It’s a regular occurrence that my students (I live in Japan) use very strange and sometimes non-nonsensical romaji because they don’t have an innate understanding of how the Latin alphabet generates sounds. More “technical” systems will prioritize a consistent method of notation based on the kana readings, while some will take a phonetic approach (Toukyou vs Tōkyō, for example), adding to the confusion.

More personally, I found that eliminating romaji from my Japanese learning improved not only my ability to retain the readings of kanji but also improved my pronunciation. If your native language uses the Latin alphabet, it’s natural that reading Japanese words with it will cause innate pronunciation bias, as you have to “train” yourself to pronounce some letters “incorrectly” in order to produce the proper pronunciation. If you properly learn the pronunciation of hiragana and katakana and utilize it to learn kanji, it will feel much more natural to pronounce rather than having to go through multiple steps in your head from “English letters” to “Japanese letters” to “Japanese characters” to “kanji.”


Well that’s why I believe romaji is useless to begin with, It just confuses you.
Main reason why I think learning Katakana and Hiragana by looking at romaji words is pretty crap. Especially since your pronounciation will get confused too in most cases.

I know that “que” is pronounced similar to “Ke”, I studied some Spanish in school. My main gripe is that I think using romaji words to learn hiragana and katakana is pretty inefficient, It just gets confusing I believe :stuck_out_tongue: Not saying that it won’t work, but I don’t like it at all.

And I apologise for my first post, I didn’t even know that there is no universal way for romaji… which makes my point even more valid. I’m so happy I threw it out the window and got straight into kana, since now I barely even know anything about romaji.


Good idea, it makes WK life a lot easier to learn hiragana (and katakana) first. If you have Steam, there are two games that are a fun way to learn the kana. They are called ‘Learn Japanese to survive! Hiragana Battle’ and ‘Katakana battle’. Next to it being fun, it’s a quick way to master the kana.

Good luck!


I mean, I wasn’t writing Queretaro as romaji. It’s just the name of a city in Mexico (actually Querétaro). I think to qualify as romaji, something would have to be transcribed into the roman alphabet from Japanese. I’m talking about going in the other direction which is how katakana is often used.

Anyway, I only used Queretaro as an example because I stared learning katakana from my Japanese girlfriend’s guidebook as we travelled around Mexico, and I noticed how the letters corresponded to sounds. That way, I learned katakana before hiragana actually, because I could easily map out the phonetic correspondence to familiar names.

But I suppose my case is a bit of an outlier, and perhaps I shouldn’t be recommending it to everyone.

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I’m from México, I know Querétaro. I realized what you were doing. I wrote that because another person wrote it should be ‘ke’ not ‘que’ (which makes it obvious they were talking about romaji, and not the real spelling of the name), so I just wanted to clarify that there is no standard romaji.

Not that I feel strongly about romaji, but think about words in katana that don’t come from Japanese (e.g. シアトル・shiatoru); in the case of ケレタロ, it could be romaji’d in a few different ways, including the almost exact way it’s written in Spanish (queretaro). I mean, I know that’s not what you were doing, I’m just talking about romaji. I’ll stop now. :sweat_smile:

Also, I think for Spanish speakers that might actually be a good approach to learn kanas. :slight_smile:

There absolutely is - the Kunreishiki system has been standardised by the Japanese Government as the official romanisation for Japanese. It’s what they get taught in schools over there.

To be fair, mind, most of the internet uses the Modified Hepburn system. Go figure.


¡Gracias! I was a little confused by the discussion, but you cleared it up for me.

It’s an interesting topic to be sure. Romaji can be problematic in some ways, as can putting names and words from other languages into katakana. I laughed out loud when my wife (then girlfriend) mentioned the name of the famous American actor and I finally figured out who she was talking about: クリントイーストウッド.


Thank you all for the feedback, appreciated. Never knew Kana were so easy to learn for Spanish people :wink:

Rmizimo and Maaike thank you for your advise regarding Kana practice.

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