This morning before I popped off to my Japanese class at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple, I practiced writing hiragana, and thought about my own practice of mastering it. While there are a few characters which I am still struggling with, just because I am not yet clear on the rules of pronunciation, I feel pretty good at being able to see them and identify them fairly quickly. What I would really like is to do is sit down and read them in a story and be able to understand the language constructs. I have yet to learn katakana and kanji, but that will come later.
Online, there are numerous sites with hiragana fonts, flip-cards to enhance learning recognition, software downloads. A lot of applications are also available for the iPod or iPhone. However, while those are great resources, for me there is nothing better than sitting down and repetitively writing down the hiragana and saying each sound as I do so. In class, we learned a song to sing, like the ABC song we learn as children. I sing it to myself (when no one is around to hear me!) and visualize each hiragana as I say it. I stumble around with the “hya” and such, when I sing, but at least I am getting it.
Another area which is challenging is recognizing subtleties of the hiragana. Many look similar, but have subtle differences. I found it very helpful to isolate the hiragana nu, ne, no, me, re, and wa since they all look very much alike. Listening to Japanese and transcribing it into hiragana is also difficult, particularly when vowels are drawn out, and when sensei says “tsu” and “su.”
Practicing and memorizing the hiragana is only the first step. Because I enjoy painting, I’ve used sumi ink and calligraphy brushes. Another fun thing to do is to paint the different ones in different watercolors. I’ve also got a brush pen from Sailor – a Profit – that takes cartridges and a piston filler, so I can use colored fountain pen ink in it. And the final fun way to learn hiragana (and then katakana and kanji) is the inkless calligraphy paper – just dip your brush in water, paint it on, look at the strokes, watch them disappear – and do it over and over again on the same piece of paper.
Result? Mission Hiragana accomplished, with a heck of a lot of fun!