And welcome! I’m an absolute beginner at reading Japanese, but I thought I’d share some of the tips, tricks, and mnemonics I’m using to learn the Japanese alphabets (syllabaries, actually: the hiragana and katakana) and then building on that to learn the kanji – the pictographs that also make up written Japanese.
I’m not a fluent speaker (of Japanese — or English, debatably) and I’m in no position to present this as a valid or authoritative course in Japanese:
Which is why it’s available for free on some guy’s blog. ;)
the vowels A E I O U come out as “ah, eh, ee, oh, oo” in Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, no doubt a number of other western languages I’m not familiar with — and apparently Japanese as well. It’s just English that’s weird (ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift) and the exact pronunciation of some vowels, especially in English, depends on where you live. A Glaswegian, a Cockney, and a Southie all walk into an Australian bar — write your own joke for this one, but be prepared to translate for this quartet as the four branches of “English” are sure to be mutually unintelligible.
In Japanese, we need to relearn the ‘usual’ order: the kana are arranged A I U E O : Ah Ee U Eh Oh — and there is no Y: note the lack of any Y’s in pronunciation, as we Americans are tempted to throw onto our vowels:
“Ah” あ ア – Ah (“ah ha!”) not [fonzie]Ayyyy![/fonzie]
“Ee” い イ – Ee (sw“ee“t) not Eye. It’s spelled “i” but reprogram your ear.
“U” う ウ – a short “oo” sound, not “You”
“Eh” え エ – Eh not “E”. And yes, that means there are two vowels you need to be careful around when reading romaji. i = e, e = a. It’s Sake — “sah kay” – the e in saké kinda like the e in café — and not “saki”
Thankfully, “O” お オis Oh. So you’re already pronouncing Shōjo and Shonen correctly. 多分 (tabun – maybe).
Wikipedia has some pronunciation aids:
…though of course I think the tracks not specifically labeled Japanese tend to really lay into the sound for emphasis; most Japanese pronunciation — that I’ve heard in anime ;) — tends to be short, unless an actor is drawing out a word for effect. But also, well, the same is true in English
The wikipedia article on “vowels” is also pretty damn good. The http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel article not only has audio samples, it charts them on some graphs and provides at least a basic introduction to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet
あ in hiragana or ア in katakana (romanised a) is one of the Japanese kana that each represent one mora. あ is based on the sōsho style ofkanji 安, and ア is from the radical of kanji 阿. In the modern Japanese system of alphabetical order, it occupies the first position of the alphabet, before い. Its hiragana resembles the kana no combined with a cross.
wiki is handy to quote, but not quite as helpful for students. Let’s learn あ / ア
Arigatō —do I need to translate this? A certain basic familiarity with Japanese is perhaps assumed.
Aa Megami-Sama = Ah! My Goddess
Azumanga Daioh. Classic. Like I said, “A certain basic familiarity is assumed”
Amaenaideyo!! = Released by Media Blasters as Ah! My Buddha – it’s just a harem comedy with the barest gloss of the spiritual; if you hadn’t heard of it already I wouldn’t seek it out.
per ANN: “At the temple he finds himself surrounded by beautiful female priestesses-in-training. Upon seeing a girl naked, Ikko has the ability to turn into a super-monk, performing massive exorcisms for the good of the temple.”
You can buy it from Right Stuf in a 26ep box set. If you have to.
Ashita no Joe – Classic boxing manga & anime. The original manga ran from 1968 to ‘73; you’ve likely seen references to this as a sight gag in other anime many, many times – without knowing the source
Asobi ni Ikuyo! – this was given the English subtitle, “Bombshells from the Sky” —you can go watch it on Crunchyroll right now, if you like fanservice-laden anime with cat-girls. [yes, yes, Of Course I’ve seen it.] —And it’s a shade better than I let on, but only by a bit.
The difference between hiragana and katakana is subtle, but one can think of katakana as the “bold” or “italic” option: while used most often for words borrowed from other languages, katakana is also often used for emphasis.
Akira – in Japanese the title is written in katakana for emphasis
Akiba – similarly, I’ve seen the abbreviation for Akihabara (kanji 秋葉原, “Field of Autumn Leaves” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara) written in katakana
Akihabara Dennou Gumi = Cyberteam in Akihabara – once again, katakana is used instead of the kanji for emphasis; this was released State-side by ADV.
Adolf ni Tsugu = Osama Tezuka’s manga Adolf – in this case katakana is used for the foreign name, アドルフ = adorufu = Adolf
both Aqua & Aria use ア twice. And, if I can be forgiven some proselytizing: You need to own as much of these as you can find in whatever format you can get your hands on. There are currently 8 manga volumes (2 for Aqua, 6 for Aria) from Tokyopop and 52 episodes of the anime (in four box sets) available from Nozomi.
Will any of this help you to remember あ and ア?