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Difference between Hiragana and Katakana in Japanese Language

As the 9th most-spoken language worldwide, Japanese, is the third-largest language on the Internet, after English and Spanish. Be it speaking or writing, many people have started showing interest in learning this unique and fast-paced language.

The Japanese art and culture have always had their originality and many people from different countries have taken inspiration from the works of many Japanese artists. To understand more about the fascinating cultural heritage of the Land of the Rising Sun, many people are now studying hard to master the Japanese language.

There are three basic scripts in the Japanese writing system: hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字). As they are considered to be much easier, hiragana and katakana characters are usually used to structure a complete sentence. Together, these two are also called Kana.

Out of over 5,000 kanji Japanese symbols, as long as you can write 3,000 characters, you will be able to understand and structure sentences quite easily. Although considered to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, learning to write in Japanese is not as difficult as you may have been told and of course the amount of time you spend to master it also depends on your willingness and dedication.

In this article, let’s focus on Hiragana and Katakana. So, even though Kana is commonly used, it is still made up of two different scripts, which are Hiragana and Katakana.

What is the difference between Hiragana and Katakana?

In January 2021, Meguro Language Center (in Tokyo) website released free home study materials for those who want to learn the Japanese language. According to them, “Hiragana (phonetic sounds) are basically used for particles, words and parts of words” and “Katakana (phonetic sounds) are basically used for foreign/loan words.”

Here are some basic differences between Hiragana and Katakana:

  1. Katakana can easily be identified as they usually look like blocks and are sharp. Hiragana, on the other hand, are curly shaped like English cursive.
  2. While Hiragana are used for native words, Katakana are used for loan words such as names of animals, food or companies that cannot be further translated into Japanese.
  3. Hiragana is for grammar notation and Katakana is for phonetic notation.
  4. While Hiragana is considered the basic way of writing in Japanese, katakana is often used for emphasis and to make it sound and look stylish.

Some similarities these two share is that both Hiragana and Katakana consist of 46 characters, one for each syllable and some kana of the characters are derived from the same Chinese characters.

Our suggestion: You start with Katakana and gradually move to Hiragana. Why? Well, Japanese loan words are written out in Katakana. So, if you want to go to a restaurant and read a menu where the name of the food is not a Japanese word, Katakana will come in handy.

So, if you want to live in Japan or work in Japan, other than learning to speak Japanese language, you should also learn to read and write in Japanese.

To be proficient in writing in Japanese, we suggest you join offline or online courses in Japanese language. Japanese language schools such as AKAL Japanese Academy are where you will be able to learn to speak and write in Japanese within just a few months.

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