Struggling to read dialogue of only Hiragana/Katakana

TL;DR I’m WK Level 22 and I can read what grammar points I know okay-ish but reading sentences of Hiragana/Katakana only is harder than reading a sentence with Kanji in it, any tips or tricks to help with this?

The deal is that I’m WaniKani Level 22 and I’m going painfully slow through Genki 1 but I can read what I know with varying success so I thought I would dabble in playing a JP video game. I chose Doubutsu no Mori e+ for the GameCube, a.k.a. Animal Crossing, since 1) I’m very familiar with the series and 2) it’s intended for children so nothing too complex conversation wise. However the character dialogue is only in hiragana/katakana and I’m shocked because I could barely catch on that someone was asking what my name was. I eventually switched to Chibi-Robo and with great success I could understand a lot more than I did with Animal Crossing because of context, knowing a good amount of kanji, and some basic grammar.

Is there any tips someone could bless me with or is this simply a growing pain I’m going to have to struggle with? I guess I feel silly because I’ve spent all this time learning a fair amount of vocab and kanji then K.K. Slide dunks on me with his hiragana/katakana only dialogue.


I have the same issue when words are only in kana, I think it is because we don’t have enough practice listening and thus can’t recognise the words via the sounds they make and bc kana is a phonetic script you are reading the sounds. So what I plan to do in the near future, maybe in another 5 or 6 weeks is to really up my listening practice.

Also when its like this, the context is even more important to understand what word it actually is


You need a ton of practice. Because children aren’t expected to know kanji, they get a ton of reading done through hiragana only books. At some point you’ll develop a sense of what word can even possibly appear somewhere, do weeding out the possibilities will be easier.

At least you usually get spaces in those kana only videogames, which makes it bearable.


I am no expert on the topic, and maybe a disclaimer here is that I’ve spent several years with my Japanese studies (starting, stopping, huge breaks, etc.).

Part of me wants to say this is maybe a growing pain, but something I feel that helped me is knowing basic grammar, which Genki 1 should help you with. I believe I’ve finished half of Genki 1; I self-studied this first half, then had a refresher with the first 8 or so lessons of Genki 1 when I took Japanese in college. Needless to say, the grammar bits were seared into my mind.

As you know, Genki 1 is structured so that you need zero knowledge of kanji to progress through the book, so all of the sentences are comprised entirely of hiragana and katakana. These sentences are typically very simple, and should be structured somewhat identically to what you may find out in the wild when absorbing Japanese media targeted for children.

As you learn more grammar, you should be looking for particles (は, を, に, が, と, etc) that help you break apart sentences only written in hiragana and katakana. Once you know basic grammar well enough, it makes it much easier to single out the vocabulary and assists with deciphering the jumbled messes that can arise from hiragana and katana sentences. In the same vein, knowing the various conjugations for verbs and adjectives help for similar reasons.

If you didn’t get one with your textbook, you should really look into getting the companion workbooks for Genki 1 and 2. Even when I self-studied the first half of Genki 1, I was doing ALL of the exercises in the workbook. If I’m not mistaken, there are answer keys you can access for free online, so you don’t have to buy the answer keys to go with them. These workbooks have plenty of simple sentences, specifically targeted at what should be your current level, all entirely in hiragana and katakana.

At the end of the day, grammar is the glue of every language. You could know tons of vocab, tons of kanji, and as you can already tell, you can still struggle with basic sentences out in the wild. IMO, grammar is infinitely more important than most other aspects of language learning–it’s what allows for more complete expression of thought and more precision in communication.

So I guess all I can really say is maybe try spending a little more time with Genki? Between Genki 1 and its workbook you should be getting plenty of exposure that should help mitigate the issues it sounds like you’re having. Hopefully this helps some! Good luck and persevere, my friend! These things take time! Don’t get discouraged and take things slow when you have to!


Perhaps some listening practice; otherwise a lot of reading with read-aloud or subvocalization (preferably with Furigana).

Then, sentence parsing skills or grammar would be needed, and might be harder than materials with Kanji. If that’s the only problem, having spaces would be helpful. (It’s even harder than clearly-spoken listening, in fact.) I believe Comprehensible Japanese website provides both Furigana and spaces. Picture books for small children may also have spaces (but avoiding Kanji).

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I can’t really tell you how or when this became less painful, but it eventually just did. I think if you just keep at reading, listening, speaking, etc. eventually it just clicks without you noticing. I mean that for everything, not just kana-only reading, but definitely that too.

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Many people feel this way, so you are not alone! As for tips: I suggest you practice your listening comprehension. You’ll get no help from kanji there either, but just have to know the words and what they sound like. It’s slow going at first, but you’ll learn to parse words from grammar. Then when seeing sentences without kanji, you’ll notice where the words start and ends and grammar begins. But, just keeping on reading should also get you there. :slight_smile: がんばって!


Congratulations! You’ve reached stage two of learning Japanese!

Following on from stage one - “why are there so many kanji?!” - stage two is “gah! why are there so few kanji?!”