Why are we using these words? We actually did a whole bunch of research and consulted with some of the most prestigious Japanese professors in the country. Every word in this 30 day challenge has been chosen based on its high frequency and flexibility in the Japanese language. This vocabulary list has been developed in order to build your Japanese knowledge upon a foundation of essential words so that you can start putting your study into practice from day one. So make sure to learn and be able to pronounce each of the daily vocabulary words, because unlike some textbooks *cough* all of them *cough* we want to teach you words that you will ACTUALLY use.
THE NEXT STEP
Now that you have Hiragana under your belt, it is time to learn another 46 symbols and 19 vocabulary words. This challenge can be very stressful in the beginning, we know, but we are helping you develop a strong foundation to build your Japanese on. Hence, we are not going to cut corners or skip steps. Today's grammar point, Katakana, is not as useful as Hiragana, but necessary for your language learning.
But why are there two phonetic systems? What's the difference between Hiragana and Katakana?
While the reading and pronunciation remains the same across the two sets of characters, the main difference is found in what they are used for. Japanese does not normally use spaces between words in a sentence so certain scripts and particles (we will learn about that tomorrow) are used to identify the various parts of speech. The main reason why these two phonetic systems are used is, primarily, to identify the distinctions between different types of words. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words, while Katakana is for foreign words. Words like pork and rice were natural for the Japanese lexicon before the introduction foreign cultures and societies, and were therefore written in Hiragana. Words like ice-cream and sandwich were introduced by foreigners and are written in Katakana because they are non-native Japanese words. This applies to names as well; John is written in Katakana and Hitoshi in Hiragana or Kanji.
An important note: Because the people taking the challenge are mostly non-native Japanese, or at least do not have a Japanese name, you should use Katakana to write your name. The trick is to write it not how it is spelled, but how it would be said with Japanese pronunciation.
A good example of this is a name like Jose. Jose is not pronounced Joe-see (I guess it could) but Ho-se. Hence it should be written ホセ (maybe ホセー, but it depends on who you talk to), not ほせ.
If your name ends with a consonant that is not 'N' you should end it with the a symbol that ends with an **oo** vowel sound. A good example is the name Sam. Sam is Samu, Nick is Nikku, and Kim is Kimu – written as サム, ニック, and キム respectively. If your name ends with a vowel, or a sound similar to a vowel sound, simply end your name with the consonant/vowel combination (for example: Jessica – ジェシカ, Jose – ホセ, or Abby – アッビ) that matches.
After you think you have Katakana down, try writing the name of your family, friends, and teachers. One of the best ways to get Hiragana and Katakana down is to practice writing it down, so practice whenever you have the chance!
If you aren't big into charts, we recommend making your own flashcards and saying them out loud. There are also a bunch of free apps out there and heaps of classes on Youtube. Regardless of your methodology this is the next step to being able to 'Japanese'. (We are in the process of developing physical and digital flashcards for the site, so check out our store every so often and we should have them available by late July or early August.)
The reason we have you do this in the beginning is so that you can begin learning the structure while also taking time to get used to the sounds the language makes. Japanese is really cool because it rarely, if ever, varies from the sounds on the little list. So as long as you can pronounce and memorize those sounds you can pronounce Japanese. This goes against the popular belief that Japanese is a tonal language. It is not. Japanese has something called pitch accents, but that is neither here nor there. For all intents and purposes, Japanese right now, is pronounced simply with the sounds on the chart (that you can download below).
Once you have Katakana down, you are ready to move on to the 30 Day Challenge Day 3!
We will be upgrading this to a mobile flashcard system for you soon, but this is the best that we got with what we currently have.