Learning how to write and read Japanese is very important. So we recommend you should learn how to write and read Japanese first before going any further.
IMPORTANT (too): While learning how to speak the Japanese language, do not rely too heavily on Romanized Japanese or romaji (Japanese written in English letters). It is not used in Japan nor is it widely known in Japan. It is very important to learn kana (the Japanese alphabets - hiragana and katakana) to avoid many issues that can come from using romaji as a crutch.
The modern Japanese writing system uses three main scripts:
- ひらがな (Hiragana): Hiragana is used to write native words for which there are no kanji, including particles such as から kara "from", and suffixes such as さん ~san "Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms." Likewise, hiragana is used in words for which the kanji form is obscure, not known to the writer or readers, or too formal for the writing purpose. Verb and adjective inflections, as, for example, be-ma-shi-ta (べました) in tabemashita (食べました, "ate"), are written in hiragana, often following a verb or adjective root (here 食) that is written in kanji. Hiragana is also used to give the pronunciation of kanji in a reading aid calledfurigana. The article Japanese writing system discusses in detail how the various systems of writing are used.
- カタカナ (Katakana): In modern Japanese, katakana is most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages except Chinese (called gairaigo). For example, "television" is written terebi (テレビ). Similarly, katakana is usually used for country names, foreign places, and foreign personal names. For example, America is written アメリカ Amerika (America also has its own kanji (ateji) Amerika (亜米利加) or for short, Beikoku (米国), which literally means "Rice Country" – though the connection with the "rice" character, 米, is purely a phonetic one).
- 漢字 (Kanji): Kanji is a Chinese character and has been adopted by the Japanese as their own.