Learning Japanese is quite challenging, but Duolingo is here to help! First and foremost, let’s start with Hiragana, one of three Japanese writing systems.

Hiragana click to enlarge

This chart starts from upper right hand side corner, and goes down from top to bottom.


Here’re the first five letters.

- a i u e o
Hiragana あ  い  う  え  お
Roman letters a  i  u  e  o
Pronunciation /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

⁺ Roman letters = Romaji, ローマ字(じ)

These are the vowels, and pronounce as short vowel sounds. This is easy to say but very hard to do for English speakers. When you see those vowel letters, it’s natural for you to pronounce as long sounds as English letters, a e i o u. This would be one of the best advice to keep in mind as you read Japanese in Romanized letters (Romaji). Reading those vowels with short sounds will definitely help you pronounce the rest of the Hiragana.


- Learning hiragana
Hiragana あ  か  さ  た  な は
Roman letters a ka sa ta na ha
Hiragana ま  や  ら  わ  を ん
Roman letters ma  ya ra wa wo n

This is the top row of the Hiragana chart from left to right with the irregular words added at the end. As you can see, the vowel “a” (あ) is combined with a consonant “k” to make the word “ka” (か). So, the rest of the chart will be the same: a consonant followed by a vowel. This is the way the Japanese students learn hiragana by memorizing the top row. Thereafter you would go into “ka” (か) column, and follow “ka, ki, ku, ke, ko” (かきくけこ), the next is “sa” (さ) column, “ta” (た) column, and so on. Once you learn the vowels, the rest is quite systematic. “Wa, wo, n” (わをん) are the irregular words. Also, the “ya” column only has three, “ya, yu, yo” (やゆよ).

たてがき・よこがき (Vertical and Horizontal writing)

In Japan, scripts can be written horizontally or vertically. Hiragana chart is usually written in the vertical writing (top-bottom) in the same way as in school textbooks for Language Arts and newspapers. Most literatures are also published in vertical format. However, more and more books are written in horizontal writing (left-right) as you see in digital world. Manga frames still tend to flow in right-to-left horizontal direction just as in the hiragana chart.

click to enlarge

ポケモン (ぽけもん)
Now that you learned the trick to pronounce Japanese words, you know it's "Sake" (酒/さけ) not "Saki", and "Karaoke" (カラオケ/からおけ) not "Karaoki". Knowing this, you'll also be able to avoid the common mistake of saying "Poke-EE-mon"!

・Related posts: Katakana
Language guides to help with learning Japanese
・Here’s tinycards for Writing Japanese—Hiragana

September 13, 2017


For those who know kana (both hiragana and katakana), there should be the option to not see romaji, and allow for not having to relearn kana when you know it. Waste of time. Also, allowing people to type out their own Japanese sentences instead of picking out from the bubble options, and speech practise. Those add-ons in your Japanese settings would help a lot. Also, to write out the kanji/kana on the screen to test their stroke orders. THANKS!

Thank you for your suggestions! I will let them know.

I agree, there should be ones with just audio, with the multiple choice of the hiragana and katakana, instead of seeing the english sounds, it would help me a lot.

i think the on screen writing might be unlikely to happen just because that would take a lot of programming and integration from scratch :/

However, I am a big fan of your suggestion for opting out of romaji and learning kana. They should have a skills test for kana in the beginning and if you pass, you just skip to the initial vocab they would have integrated with the kana lessons.

Actually nope, that is very easy.

I agree. I just started and downloaded a separate app for learning to write. Also, it would be good to have a section for learning the katakana. The intro to hiragana was great for me. But, not having the same for katakana is a drawback.

So far the app is good.

What was the other app you used to practice writing??

i just draw them myself in MS paint

I only started three days ago . Not knowing any kana . And would agree about the romanji its kind of off putting and being able to write out would be great.

I wonder why this is not directly below the very first lesson. It would be so useful if it were, with sound files when you click on each character.

Tinycards link is added for your practice!

So I started with the first lesson of Hirigana the other night and thought to myself "I feel like there should be an introduction because they're just throwing things at me and it's confusing and a little demoralizing." Up til today I felt that way, and I just finished the first module of "intro" so....a little ways in... and I just found this page and can't say how VALUABLE this is. It just felt like total unorganized jargon to me but now I can see the chart and know that consonants and vowels are deliberately aligned and suddenly it all makes sense. THANK YOU but this should really be like the first thing you see when you click on Japanese. Just... here's the introduction. Now onto your first actual lesson.

Agreed, this is very useful.

I've read through this multiple times and still have no clue. I'm on the edge of giving up ;(

I hope you haven't

I just started Hiragana 2. I've seen some letters pronounced differently from their English consonants in the Hiragana 1 & 2. So far, I've "ha" sounded as "wa"; "ro" sounded as "do", and "ru" sounded as "u" (almost like a grunt). Any reason for that?

The kana は has two pronunciations. 'ha' if it is used in a word and 'wa' if it is used as a particle. The kana 'へ' and 'を' also have this secondary function as a particle and are pronounced as 'e' and 'o' when used as such, but keep their original sounds when used in a word.

As for the R-column... you can NOT think of these R sounds like typical hard R sounds (Rah, Ree, Rue, Reh, Roh) you see in English. This would be a complete mistake.

Their "R" sounds are more like they are in the middle of R, L, AND D sounds, though mostly between R and L. Usually in English when we make R sounds the back of our tongue is raised to the middle to back of the roof of our mouths to get these hard sounds... JAPANESE on the other hand don't do this. They put the tip of their tongue to the back of their teeth in the front of their mouth with a flicking motion and make softer R sounds; the way that English (or other languages) would make distinctive L or D sounds.

The best exercise for this is to start by making L or D sounds with the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth, even alternating/combining. Then, without changing mouth position too much, try to make R sounds. It should come to a decent middle/balanced place where you can't really tell if you're doing L or R or even a D sound.

la, la, la, la, la. - da, da, da, da, da. - la, da, la, da, la, da, la, da, la, da. - la, da, la, da, ra... etc. for all the kana Ra, Ri, Ru, Re, Ro and you'll eventually get it.

Here are also some video links (These are kinda old so the quality isn't great but it's basically all I've said with practical explanations as well.) (This gives a pretty good technical explanation.)

I was a little irked when I encountered that myself. I feel like it's a little misleading, because Japanese does still include the "ha" sound, and they just gloss over that and it possibly teaches people to always sound out "wa" whenever they would see that.

"The Hiragana は (ha) is pronounced "wa" WHEN it immediately follows the topic of the sentence. This character is usually only pronounced "ha" when it is part of a word."

Yep. That's how Japanese speakers pronounce them. You'll also notice ''Su'' just sounds like ''S''

[deactivated user]

    hello I'm new to the Japanese course! I was wondering while I was doing the Hiragana 1 lessons, the "ha" symbol is pronounced "wa" by the voice there a reason to this? Thank you for making a Japanese course! I've been waiting for this class ever since I joined <3

    Because the 'は' kana is also used as a particle. When used as a particle, like after the subject of the sentence it is pronounced 'wa'. If it is part of an actual word like 'はな' (flower) or 'はなせる' (to speak).. it keeps it's own 'ha' sound.

    The kana 'へ' and 'を' also has a secondary function as a particle and pronounced as 'e' and 'o' when used as such but keep their original sounds when used in a word. (へび - snake)

    Urm, there is one more but it's not a particle. The 'tsu' kana can be used to show you when to hold a beat when 2 consonants are together if it is the small 'tsu'. Japanese doesn't normally have two consonants together all willy-nilly and you do NOT pronounce the small 'tsu'. Whatever the following consonate is you hold a beat for it before continuing.

    These are all 3 syllables.

    zutto - ずっと - zu-(t)-to

    chotto - ちょっと - cho-(t)-to

    matte - まって - ma-(t)-te

    Hope this helps!

    It would be fantastic if the course were for Spanish speakers. My brain goes from Japanese to English and then to Spanish and I get confused haha. the problem for me is that I am native Spanish speaker and I am still learning English but thank you very much for the course, although the course is still in beta.

    "Knowing this, you'll also be able to avoid the common mistake of saying "Poke-EE-mon"!"

    YES! FINALLY SOMEONE GETS IT! There are too many people who pronounce it that way, and it's my all-time pet peeve. There's a reason the é has a diacritic over it!

    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS I agree so much!!

    Very helpful! Thank you so much.

    Not sure if previously mentioned, but I know this is still the case in the lessons. I would highly suggest in the Kana practice portion of the app to write the romaji of を as “wo” even though it is always pronounced as “o”. Mainly to keep new learners from confusing お and を, but in the same way many other Romaji representations contain silent or clipped “letters” when used in practice, it just builds a better foundation for when making the switch to solely kana and kanji. Also, any full Japanese keyboard I’ve seen requires you to type “wo” to get を, so it would help to prevent ingraining a future of typos when learners start typing in Japanese. So I would recommend always pronouncing を as “o” in the sound clips (which is how it is currently set up), but when writing the Romaji representation it should always be shown as “wo”.

    It sounds like you caught a mistake because を is written as “wo”--there can be no other way.

    Can we expect more posts like this to come out in the future in the place of Tips and Notes?

    Thank you! This was very helpful! :D

    Hiragana always confuses me with the letters that look alike and such, is there any method you think that I could use to help me remember the distinct letters and their pronunciation?

    I just found a site that shows each symbol and gives them a picture to go by which can help memorizing, (thanks to another user for posting it) here it is: Hope this helps

    Tofugo is a jackpot of gold when it comes to learning Japanese. I think Duolingo needs to take a hint from them and start using mnemonics themselves

    Tofugo has tutorials on Hiragana by mnemonic, katakana by mnemonic, and pronunciation by technical explanation. They also have a Kanji-learning site that is invaluable but sadly only free up to the 3rd level. I won't name it for Duolingo's sake and because I don't want this comment deleted, but its not hard to find, since Tofugo's blog advertises it.

    This Tofugo article gives you a detailed roadmap full of resources on how to efficiently and successfully learn Japanese

    Tofugo: Learn Hiragana via Mnemonics

    Tofugo: Learn Katakana via Mnemonics

    Tofugo: Technical Pronunciation Guide

    Hope this helps

    Just saw Rachel's post--cool stuff. Great way for a beginner to visualize. Of course, later you'll be reading hiragana, katakana, and kanji so quickly that there's no time to put each symbol into a mnemonic. I like the Japanese sentences taught on Duolingo, so I'd say always come back here if you get too bogged down with other stuff you're studying.

    Practise writing the charts out by hand on a dollar store dry erase board, over and over, then do it from memory. Making sure to speak each kana as you write them out, make sure you use sites that help you hear the pronunciation and making sure to get as close as you can (recording your voice helps a lot).

    Then make your own physical kana decks (hiragana and katakana) w/one side the kana, and the other side how it is said with one basic word like ね: ねこ Cat and カ: カラオケ Karaoke. Also, write out vocabulary and say them as well. Using speech with the new writing characters help most.

    Also put a print out of the kana charts especially Japanese kids version, so it has vocab on them along with the charts. Immerse yourself in them and you'll learn them. I hope they start making the Japanese learning better so they can allow you to say words and be able to judge your pronunciation, also using Siri or Google Assistant in Japanese to search for things helps pronunciation as well.

    Two charts to help:


    Immersion is key in learning any new language.

    Unfortunately I live in the middle of Texas, the only Japanese I'll ever be able to immerse my self into it, is a romanji sushi menu.

    There's still anime and manga tho

    I live in Cen Texas too! I know how you feel T^T

    Their romaji on menus aren't even that great either, so many mistakes!

    I agree on this, I too need help remembering the symbols that look very alike but have different sounds

    Everyone learns differently, the method we used at school was one of making pictures/stories out of the symbols. However, I have tried to describe that to someone recently and they just laughed and said they would never remember that. Flash cards and repetition will probably be your friend! :)

    I've just started with lesson 1 and made pictures/stories out of the symbols; for me it seems a great way to remember them.

    I practiced them in sets and eventually I just... knew them. I'd do a set a week: sing them, write them, have post-its on objects around the house that they started with (This is really good for katakana. ラグ Ragu, post-it on my rug in the bedroom, ベッド beddo, post-it on the headboard of my bed.), make art with them, flash cards, make lists of words they started with without looking up in dictionaries.... it made all the difference for me having them in groups and being creative with them. Made it easier to recall, 'oh I need ラ ra, I saw it every morning when I got up. Made sure not to step on it.' or 'べ be, right! That was on my bed! It lost its stickiness and I kept having to pick it up when it fell'. etc.

    HelpfulDuo can you add a romaji for beginners as well as in korean?

    [deactivated user]

      I have another question HelpfulDuo...was wondering how come there's no kanji and katakana in the course? or it will be added sometime in the future?

      When it comes to writing in the Japanese answers, I have difficulty in making some of the letters small, like the small tsu and the yo and yu in today and nine. Is there a way of doing this on the keyboard (similar to using shift to create uppercase as opposed to lowercase in English)?

      Couldn't find a better place to report bugs, so here goes: I just did a Strengthen test on Hiragana 2, and it asked me to translate の む five times in a row! Doesn't seem to be selecting questions as intended.

      This helped out a lot thanks. I think flashcards might be helpful?

      this was so helpful, I was so confused but this chart helped me with my hirigana understanding

      I don't understand what to pronounce し as it is pronouncing 'chi' and it is written 'shi'.

      it is also pronounced shi

      し - is always 'shi' ち - is always 'chi'

      The sounds are really close so unless your advanced or native it's going to sound muddled.

      Hi, within Hiragana 3/Lesson 1 the pronunciation of [:nu:] (ぬ) has the audio spelling of [:ni:] (に). Like how the overall sessions are built and mixing in vocabulary early on :)

      Something has been bothering me. I have seen that some letters are not written the same way, compared to others places that I've seen them, specially a(う) and ri(り). This is how they look when I see them when practicing with Duolingo. But when looking at the table you provided they look noticeable different, especially ri, where we see 2 separated lines. I've seen this other places as well. Why is that?

      Just has to do with the font. Different fonts show certain characters 'drag marks'. Remember that these were written with calligraphy brushes. Think of it's like the difference between print and caligraphy or sans fonts and serif fonts.

      る is pronounced "n" instead of "ru" in this course. Is that intentional ? I compared it to google translator and some youtube videos just to be sure.

      Ru る of course is never pronounced as ん. Honestly the Japanese course is still loaded with errors. I’ve been keeping my tree guided to see if they’re making changes, but it’s still really bad. Some of the other trees are very well done, but Japanese is not even close yet.

      Apparently there are some errors that have not been corrected.

      more writing practice japanese needs it

      This is wonderfully helpful, however, I would just like to learn the words and be able to speak the language, not necessarily write the language. :)

      well that was helpful

      this is soo helpful !
      • 1129

      Danke! Duo

      This is very useful!!!

      Very useful for a reminder ! Thank you

      This is helpful! Thanks for sharing.

      Thx so much! I always thought that Japanese was just written vertically and read right to left


      I learn hiragana now. THANK YOU HELPFUL DUO! Japanese letters are complication and your help is very good.

      How am I to write hiragana in these lessons without a Japanese keyboard?

      If you are on PC you can install Japanese Microsoft IME through the language section or bar if you have that enabled. (Be sure to go through all it's settings and to set the shortcuts to your liking.) For phone, whatever type of keyboard you have, there is also a language section to download Japanese (I prefer SwiftKey for the quickswitch feature that other boards struggle with.)

      kanji is the second hardest letters to learn in the world!

      [deactivated user]

        thank you I love this table

        which is more popular katakana or hiragana?

        I'll quote Cheesy Ben and use their answer for your question: (

        " They are all both equally important because missing one means missing one of the structure of the language and would make a sentence incomplete.

        but if you really want to compare, I would rate it like this: Hiragana > Katakana > Kanji

        Kanji is in lowest because you can spell Kanji with Hiragana and speaking Kanji will be using Hiragana pronunciations instead of the Kanji's original Chinese pronunciation, but not knowing how to read Kanji or read it can be a problem.

        Hiragana and Katakana just includes tons of simple and common words and not knowing them is just problematic. "

        I will recommend this instagram account They started sort ago so there are only few symbols uploaded by they include sentences in hiragana on every post caption so i am using them to practice my reading and writting in Hiragana.

        thank you you have answered the question I asked Thank you again

        This was very helpful

        Pretty straightforward list , Not sure why you put the vowel sounds at the end of the list but that's OK. What's helped me learn the most was downloading a chart where I can draw the letters 10 times or so each and a description of the phonetic by it at the beginning, like you would may do in elementary school. Maybe duolingo can create there own lists for us. Anyway thank you for all your help.

        I feel so smart when I can translate, Romaji, Kana, Hiragana and kanji but I still cant have a convo with a nativer XD

        Does learn the characters feature work on the web browser version?

        It works for me on my phone on the app but not on my computer (on computer I use website)

        This is probably a common question and belongs in a different thread but ill ask anways. Are there any apps where you can talk face to face with Japanese speakers so you can practice what you've learned?

        Hi, just to ask is there a way for me to learn how to write japanese on duolingo I want ot learn

        There is no way to do it on duolingo but what I do is I use a notebook and write down the lessons

        this is very helpful

        Noticed new hiragana and katakana lessons today. Student writing practice can be on paper, but one improvement would be to let students see the characters slowly form as if someone was writing them. In fact, the actual strokes whether shown with numbered arrows or slowly appearing, should be a standard addition to all alphabets used on this website. Why not treat the Roman alphabet just as you would others? You'd also need to explain why the typed "a" is different from the written one.

        Ra like butter? In Hiragana 1 at the top you can select "Tips" ( and for ら/ra you get this explanation: "like the t in the American pronunciation of butter". What do ら/ra and t have in common?

        It's about tongue position. In British English, the t in butter and the t in porter are pronounced with air. In American English, porter rhymes with border. For purposes of teaching "the flap r," American butter is a good choice to show what the tongue does. It's a quick little tap on the roof of the mouth. That sound is represented by r in many languages but not English. When you start exploring the letter l, you'll notice that English and Russian have what is called "the corrupt l" because we flatten out our tongues quite a bit when we say it. For the l in other languages, the tongue is more pointed in its contact right in the same spot your tongue is going to hit when you say butter in American English. It's much easier to learn new consonants and vowels with examples like this to get your tongue or lips in the right position. The one you will really have to practice is the Japanese u. I just love the feeling when I'm sounding more and more like Japanese. Good luck!

        When do the stories show up in the Japanese course? After hiragana is mastered, or both hiragana and katakana? Or never, because of kanji?

        At the moment, Japanese is one of six languages with stories for English speakers. The stories were added recently, and I only know about them because of your question. Just click stories next to learn in the web-based version. You may practice stories at any time--no need to master other skills first unless you want to. Stories are awesome for listening practice: an essential part of communication. I just did the first Japanese one and give it a thumbs up. I study four courses. Obviously, Duolingo has put a lot of money and effort into the Spanish course. It has also been obvious that the Japanese course is being improved: must have staff working on it full-time. In Korean and Chinese, I've Golden-Owled. These two courses have been frozen without improvement for quite a while, but I know Duolingo was looking to hire staff to improve them. For these two courses, they'll need to fix and improve the courses first before adding stories. The Korean course especially is in dire need of help.

        Thank you for letting me know about Japanese stories!

        Don't know about your screen, but on my screen only "characters" button is visible to the right of "learn" in the web-based version. Same for tablet and phone. I've done some other courses with Duolingo, and the German course, for example, only showed the stories after I collected a certain number of crowns. However, I have already surpassed that amount of crowns in my Japanese course - yet the button for stories didn't show up. I have no idea about Spanish course, or Korean course, or Chinese - I suppose you expect me to congratulate you on your success in those courses, isn't that why you're bragging? My question was about the qualifications needed for the stories to appear specifically in the Japanese course - completion of hiragana, or both hiragana and katakana, or a higher number of crowns. You did not answer it. But by all means, pat yourself on the back for completion of all those other courses (about which I never asked), and for telling me to "click on the one beside it".

        You can never complete a course if Duolingo is constantly improving it. Someone posted that they completed the Spanish course five times. Back in the day, you only had to go through the cycle once to complete it. Now it is five times. I just meant those two courses are frozen due to lack of improvements. The Golden-Owl moment only means "Why bother studying it anymore?" My XP ranking is currently 187,648. With 500,000,000 accounts open, I guess that isn't bad. They just added those Japanese stories: maybe it has been a week. They'll keep adding to it. Sorry you can't see them and thanks for explaining. It's to the right of characters and the left of discuss. If you can't see it, it could be in testing mode and only shown to some users. Sometimes they are cautious about rolling out new things. I assure you one month ago stories were not available to me. You have a good question because of what you said about German. Try going into your German. Click on stories. You'll then be in stories. Click on your Japanese flag and see what happens. If it says not available, then maybe you'll get an explanation why you are not getting it.

        Unlike yesterday, today I don't have stories for Japanese. It seems to be still in development and testing. You should have it soon. I don't think the number of crowns or the study of characters could be tied to access to stories. Lots of changes and improvements all the time.

        Thank you @HelpfulDuo! Very informative and helpful!

        this was helpful thanks

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