Why is it so hard to learn katakana?

Hi all,

First post!
I’m level 7 now, really enjoying the learning experience. I started my journey with Duolingo, which was a slog tbh, and I have some books (Genki 1&2 and JFBP). I’ve managed - somehow - to learn hiragana, but the katakana is still eluding me. Judging by posts I’ve seen on here and elsewhere, it seems I’m not alone. Why is this?
I realise this has almost certainly been done to death, but I couldn’t find a thread specifically about it.
Thanks in advance!



I assume people just don’t see it often enough, so there’s less reinforcement, and that’s really all there is to it. Hell, I can’t even tell you how rarely I come across ヌ


It’s not surprising that people who frequent this site often have deficiencies in reading katakana, because it’s not a focus of the content here, and so if they aren’t diversifying their studies they aren’t going to see enough katakana.

I wouldn’t say there’s anything inherently more difficult about it though. The only thing I can think of is that sometimes loanwords can be transliterated in weird ways, from an English speaker’s perspective, so maybe interference between the pronunciation you already know and the one in katakana is slowing things down.


For me, it’s hard to learn Katakana because:

  1. Some symbols look the same. Looking at you シ(shi) vs ツ(tsu) and ン(n) vs ソ(so).

  2. Not all words written in Katakana is an English borrowed word. Sometimes it’s a Japanese made English sounding word, a Japanese slang word (saw it on a manga), or a shortened English word. Just figuring out how the word sounds is troublesome.

  3. You rarely get to practice them during immersion as you’ll mostly read hiragana and Kanji.

As with everything, you’ll get used to it.


You haven’t mentioned them specifically, but if you’re having issues with シ (shi) ツ (tsu) like the previous poster mentioned, this diagram might make them feel more intuitive.

EDIT: I take no credit for this btw, I think I found it on Reddit about a year ago.



For me, it’s 100% because I just don’t see it that often, compared to hiragana and kanji.


Oh wow… that was like a light bulb moment, thanks!


I’ll be the one to say it this time: Install katakana madness


That seems like a great idea, eventually.

I also can’t really read katakana for the life of me. I have no idea why…:cry:


Having the same issue with practice for Katakana so I found a simple wordsearch game app which will load up puzzles with Katakana (or you can choose Hiragana or Kanji) just to improve recognition for the letters and words, think this is now giving results in increasing my speed. Definitely helpful to have when trying to read cafe menus without a queue building up behind me! The one I chose was just called ‘Japanese Wordsearch’ but I think there are others options too, but this one also gives the word in english and kanji alongside the katakana word you have to find in the puzzle.


It’s hard to learn katakana so that someday, in the near-to-far future, you can look up something with ソ in it and realize suddenly “hey… I don’t have to doublecheck my katakana readings anymore” and feel a quiet wave of pride.


I basically assumed the same thing for a long time but tbh, は、ほ、わ、ね、め、ぬ、る、ろ also are fairly similar. Personally, I think the lack of exposure theory holds more water.


A quick way to learn katakana faster is to use a script that allow you to type your answers in katakana.

Fun tip I read about is to change the language on a map website and try to read the names of things. The review page from the Katakana Tofugu page is pretty fun too if you haven’t done it yet. Trying to read ジョジョ sound effects is fun too… ゴゴゴゴゴゴ

To learn it initially, I used the Real Kana app on my phone for a minutes at a time, maybe ten symbols at a go. I also had the Tofugu printout on my fridge for a while to nail down シツ and ソン though I still have to review once in a while.


I didn’t realize this was a thing. If you use RealKana a few times, and then practice writing (not typing) the kana, it should be easy.

ツ Looks kinda like a tsundere trying (and failing) to hold back a grin after they tell you it’s not like they like you or anything, baka.

シ is a more intense and smug smirk that looks like someone saying (profanity warning i guess?) “sheeeeeeeeeeeiitt.”

ン looks kinda like a stick figure (left side profile view) that just took a back kick to the abdomen so hard that they’re currently in the process of being knocked of their feet and grunting “NNNN!”

ソ is the other one.

Was never an issue for me using those mnemonics. :smiley:


Why’s it hard? Because it’s カタい.

A similar trick works for ソ/ン, but for ソ, you need to focus on the very start of the stroke for そ (goes across and curves down), whereas for ン, you need to focus on the end of the stroke for ん (goes down and then curves up).

They’re similar, yes, but they’ve all got extra strokes or curlies. ツ and シ differ only in the angle of the strokes. (Well, and the stroke order, if you’re writing them.)

Why not both?


Whoa :open_mouth: thanks, that is super helpful!

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The problem for me was less knowing which one was which and more developing the brain muscle memory to confidently get it right the first time without consciously thinking about it, in the middle of reading actual text.
Drilling’s one thing but not just snapping to ン at a glance because it tends to be more common in loan words can be another.
(granted, probably one more drilling could have solved quicker! … but time and practice did the trick too)

I just practice writing them out, so it gets easy to remember them after a bit.