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Self-study Lessons > Japanese > Beginner >

Katakana - cyphers and alphabets

by Michael Schaefer


There are a lot of similarities between learning a new language's alphabets to communicate and learning a cypher (also spelled cipher) to keep a message private.

Here is a cypher that some elementary school students used to use. It's called the Pig Pen Code.


The way it works is to draw the shape of the box section the letter you want to use is in. To decode or decypher, just look up that shape and write the letter in that place. Try decyphering this important message.


That wasn't too hard. It just took some time.

Now let's look at the Japanese Katakana alphabet.
Katakana is a phonetic alphabet used for foreign words brought into Japanese and for emphasis, much like italics or bold type in English.


*
K
S
Z
T
D
N
H
B/V
P
M
Y
R
W
N/V
A (ah)














ンN/M/Ng
I (ee)


シShi
ジZhi/Ji
チChi
ヂDgi/Ji








ヴV
U (oo)




ツTsu
ヅDzu

フFu






ウW
E (eh)















O (oh)


























Now let's take a look at how katakana can be used to make the sounds of English words with this important message.

アルファベツ テュルン サウンヅ イントぅ スィンボルズ。

Did you notice the smaller a, i, and u characters? Those small versions of the vowel group and the y group can be added after another syllable to modify it. You can also add a small tsu character to double the next consonant or shorten the last vowel sound. A hyphen acts to extend the last vowel sound.

An easy way to practice katakana is to write notes from English words to a friend and see if you can figure out what the other person is trying to say.

There are dictionaries of standardized katakana words in Japan, some of which don't do justice to the word they are trying say. Many of those are from French, Portuguese, and German, so don't get too flustered if you come across one you don't know.









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