This method allowed me to learn the hiragana and the katakana in 2 days. Though it is a little intense, it works if you’re willing to put in the effort.
Are you ? Good. Trust me, it’s worth it.
I would call this a “brute method”. It basically revolves around printing directly on your brain the characters and their readings at a very high rate/speed, and then carve them forever in your memory by using and writing them everyday.
You’ll be able to read all the kanas in about a day or two (or more if you’re not so brutal or just want to take it slow) and then you’ll just have to entertain your memory in order not to forget them.
The first step is downloading a brain printing memory app of some kind. Basically an app that allows you to take tests or quizzes with multiple choice questions for as long as you want until the character is printed in your memory.
Something along these lines:
If you have an android, definitely download Obenkyo (image above). It’s a free app, it’s the one that I used. It is very good and has everything you need. It’s very easy to handle and very fast; and you won’t get lost in the menus. The downside to this app is that it is not available on iOS and does not work well on Microsoft powered engines (because I do not own a Microsoft phone, I cannot try it myself, but I read some reviews saying that the quizzes crash, which is the thing we need most in this app). But if you have and android, then this app is a must!
Best alternative to Obenkyo: kana.pro.
This is a website that has exactly what we need. I think it serves perfectly as an alternative for Obenkyo if you don’t have an android; as a website it works on every platform. I tried it on my mobile phone, it displays very well. It’s very good, it has different types of quizzes (look at a character and choose the reading, look at a reading and choose the character, etc…). Each quiz can be reviewed more thoroughly: at the bottom of the page stands a button “lock to stage”, it allows you to choose a type of quiz and work with it for as long as you like.
The only downside to this alternative is the fact that you need an internet connection. But if you don’t plan on studying outside or have enough mobile data, then you’re good to go!
If you have an iOS AND no internet connection (how can you read this article though?), I recommend this app: Real Kana. This app is 2.99$ (I talk about a free app below, keep reading!), and has a website equivalent: realkana.com (but if you are to use a website, use kana.pro). This app is more flashcard oriented, but it can definitely do the trick since you can see the answer when you’re wrong. You can try on the website to get a feel and here is a video showing the app: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTnclb9ZMIw.
If you wish to learn your kanas someplace where you don’t have access to an internet connection, this app does the trick. Unfortunately it isn’t free.
Here is another app (not free… but, again, free app below): Learn Japanese! – Kana, Kanji and Grammar (Hiragana & Katakana). It would cost 3.98$ dollars to get access to the kanas with this app. It is based around multiple choice questions. It also offers a whole 7.99$ dollar package with vocabulary, grammar and such that you might consider. I think it may be a little pricey, but the app itself does the trick for this method plus it seems to have good beginner material.
It really depends on your preferences, I’ll leave the choice up to you.
But don’t you dare worry, here is a FREE iOS app that you can use for this method: Hiragana and Katakana – Complete Basics of Japanese. But to be totally honest I don’t think that it is very good (but only for this method!!), because the method revolves around reviewing the characters a lot of times and very quickly. For it to work you would have to reload the quiz lots of times since it only reviews 5 characters at a time, plus, the quiz itself is pretty slow. So with this app I don’t think that you could learn as fast, but hey, never said it was impossible.
Other apps exist for this of course, only they fit a bit less for this method. But see for yourself, here are a 2 of them:
TenguGo Kana (Hiragana and Katakana)
Hiragana Pixel Party
These kind of apps are based around games or mnemonics which is a great to learn too! But it’s not exactly what we’re looking for.
So for iOS unfortunately I didn’t find lots of apps that qualified very well as alternatives to Obenkyo, that’s why I included apps for which you have to pay.
In other words : if you have an android, download Obenkyo right this instant; if you don’t have an android use kana.pro; and if you have an iOS and for some reason you cannot use said website, then you can choose one of the listed apps, or maybe look around for other alternatives that might suit you.
The second step is what I call “brain printing”. This is the intense part of the method. Basically, you’re going to take the quizzes until your brain implodes.
More seriously, you’re not going to bother memorizing the characters on their own before doing the quizzes. The way I did it was, I simply started the test and even though I didn’t know the character I selected an answer, and on Obenkyo (same on the other platforms suggested above), you can check if you were correct, and if you were not, the correct answer was shown. This way when you’re wrong you can see what the answer was and you’ll remember for next time. After doing that for a while you’ll end up memorizing the the characters.
So, step by step:
First you are going to select, for example, the first five hiraganas in the “lesson” section, and then you are going to start the quiz. On Obenkyo you can choose which type of quiz you would like to do. To start with, I recommend the first one, “hiragana to romaji multiple choice”. On kana.pro you can choose the type of test using the “lock to stage” button at the bottom: number one is the same as on Obenkyo: “hiragana to romaji”, there will be a character, and you will have to choose the correct reading.
Once the quiz started, a character shows and below it, readings. You have to choose one of the later. At first you’ll often be wrong, but when you are, you can and have to review the correct answer in order to remember. That way, when the character shows up again, you’ll know the reading. Of course it’ll take a few (maybe a lot) of tries, but at some point you’ll end up remembering it. You have to do this process over, a (whole) lot of time; this is why we needed an app that was fast. When you want to, switch to another quiz to mix it up a little. And if you feel that you’re done learning the first characters, go back to the “lesson” section and add some more. And keep doing that until you know each and every kana. If you do it very intensively and fast, you’ll end up knowing them all in a day or two. Personally, I was stuck in an apartment and didn’t have much to do, so I spent my whole night just doing this process and in the end I knew them all, though my brain imploded. If it occurs, then it means you did the job well!
To sum up: select the characters you want to learn and keep doing the quizzes until you know them all.
The third step (did you really think it would be that easy? :p).
The third step consists of “carving” these newly learned character forever in your memory. Because while learning them really fast is cool, you’ll forget them just as fast, plus, you didn’t learn to handwrite them! Though I don’t think it is as useful as knowing how to read them (unless you plan on living in Japan, or just showing off really).
If you’re learning the kanas, it probably means that you’re planning on studying Japanese, or at least learning some of it. And in this case I highly recommend just buying a Japanese textbook, and diving right ahead into it. Start reading and doing the exercises. Don’t bother learning how to write each character, just do the exercises, and it’ll come on its own. Here’s my textbook recommendation for beginners, it’s the one that I used (make sure to buy the Japanese book AND the translations book, they go as a pair) :
みんなの日本語 Minna no Nihongo
“I never ‘learned’ how to write, I just wrote.” Man! That’s poetic.
I really think that you shouldn’t bother learning the stroke orders and all (I personally don’t even write my roman characters the “right” way!), you should just start writing your own way; and if the characters are a bit wrong, you’ll notice it yourself at some point after reading a lot.
That’s another tip, read a lot of Japanese material in order to practice the kanas, and then read your own writing. At some point you’ll notice if your characters are wrong. But don’t worry too much about that, it’ll happen on its own.
If you weren’t planning on studying Japanese at first, I suggest you learn some basics or maybe just some words, and try to write them. You don’t have to learn Japanese seriously but maybe just a few things to enjoy what you’ve learned. I personally learned how to read hangeul (the Korean alphabet) but I’m not studying Korean. Although, I did learn a few words and a some basics to have fun using what I learned.
Basically, don’t bother learning the way of writing itself, just start learning Japanese and start writing by diving right in your textbook or Internet material. And read a lot too. Do that everyday at first, so you don’t forget everything and then you can space it up (spaced repetition technique). If you study Japanese seriously and regularly you won’t even need to think about that forgetting the kanas, since they’ll be a part of your life!
I know some people will disagree about not learning the stroke orders, even more so for kanji, but I feel that they come pretty naturally; and even if they don’t, it’s not that big a deal as long the characters are correct. At least that’s my opinion. But it is a part of Japanese writing and so some people might want the full experience, which I totally admire. But I’m not gonna bother, my characters look okay and that’s all that matters to me! :p
3 steps to learn the kanas for life:
Keep doing the quizzes ’till your thumbs are sore
Don’t learn how to write, just write
Best way to find out if this method works: try.
I’d love to hear about your experience in kana learning.