Reading/Writing and combining kana/kanji confusion! + for teachers

Q: I love your site and am a complete novice attempting to teach myself to read, write and speak Japanese. I am currently working through “Lets learn Hiragana” and am confused. The same syllables (ka, ke, etc.) are in katakana, but look different. Why is this, why not use just one? Also, when Japanese is written, like in a newspaper, does it use a combination of Kanji and Kana, and if so, could it be written out completely in kana only? Why don’t they? – Oscar

A: Hi Oscar.  It’s just like English really,  why do we have ABC BIG LETTERs but also abc small letters?  They’re just the same, but we just use them in different places.  You just have to learn the rules e.g. Big letter to start a sentence, katakana to write out foreign names etc.

Newspapers use as much kanji as possible and then kana for the rest.  Now you could write it out in kana only, and some children’s newspapers do, but …. it would be unreadable!   One reason is that many words in Japanese sound the same, and hence would be written the same in kana, but have totally different meanings.  For example “jishin” could either mean “confidence” or “earthquake”.  The pronunciation is exactly the same but it’s not until you see the kanji (自信 for confidence, 地震 for earthquake) that you know what people are talking about.

Plus one really, really cool thing about kanji is that it allows you to “read” a page without actually reading it!  You can just look at a page and get a good idea of what it is talking about by just looking at the kanji pictures.  This is really useful when you are flipping through a book to find the part you need.

So kanji isn’t going anywhere, and of course it’s what makes Japanese look so beautiful!

Be genki,

Richard

And just in case any of you are teaching Japanese, Jessie just sent in this very nice email!

Q: When ever we learn something new in my Japanese class in school, my teacher always plays one of your videos. We always are laughing and singing along during these songs! Thank you so much for having these songs on your website!!!!!  – Jessie

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