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Hiragana Lesson 2: かきくけこ and がぎぐげご

Japanesepod101

Illustration and voice by Shou Yukiya
Voice by Yukiha Saki
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Hiragana Romaji Mnemonics

ka

ga

A shopping cart.

ki

gi

A key.

ku

gu

The straw of a cool drink.

ke

ge

Medical care.

ko

go

The upper and lower sides of a coin.

Are か and が somehow related?

Yes, they are related. Actually, が is the voiced counterpart of か, just like "g" and "k" in English. The two dots in がぎぐげご at the top right corner indicate that these Hiragana characters are voiced and have unvoiced counterparts.

In other words, you don't need to memorize these 10 Hiragana separately. Instead, you should divide them into two groups, e.g. voiced and unvoiced, and memorize 5 only.

About Japanese unvoiced consonants

You may find that Japanese "ka, ki, ku, ke, ko" sound a little bit different from their English counterparts. Congratulations! Your ears function 100%.

In English, unvoiced consonants such as "K", "T", "P" are always aspirated, that is, air gets out from your mouth when you pronounce words starting with those letters. (Try pronouncing "pace", "tart" and "kill") The only exception is when those letters are after letter "s", e.g. "space", "start" and "skill". Say "pace" and "space" repeatedly and you'll find that the same letter "p" is pronounced very differently in these two words. ("Pace" has air coming out from your mouth, but "space" does not.)

In a nutshell, in English, unvoiced consonants are always aspirated, except when they are after the letter "s".

But in Japanese, things are more complicated. Unvoiced consonants can be aspirated or unaspirated. So for か, き, く, け and こ, each of them actually has 2 pronunciations. For instance, か can be pronounced as "car" (without the "r", of course) or "scar" without the "s". And even when it is aspirated, the aspiration is not as strong as English.

For か, き, く, け and こ, each of them actually has 2 pronunciations

Before you want to give up on learning Japanese, I want to tell you that when you learn a foreign language, be it Chinese, Russian or Hindi, chances are you'll encounter difficulties and easy points. For instance, you may find Chinese verbs easy to learn because they don't have tenses whatsoever. But the writing system is worse than hell. So when you learn Japanese, always remember that you will encounter a lot of difficulties. A successful learner is not in any way smarter, but he can overcome difficulties while others simply give up.

About Japanese nasal voiced consonant "ng"

Stay on your chair and try not to punch your computer monitor.

For Hiragana が, ぎ, ぐ, げ and ご, each of them also has 2 pronunciations. When they are at the beginning of a word, e.g. "がいこく" (foreign country), they are the good boys and are pronounced as "ga, gi, gu, ge and go". But when they are in the middle of a word, such as the famous "arigatou" (thank you), the "g" is sometimes pronounced as "ng" as in "singer" in English.

For Hiragana が, ぎ, ぐ, げ and ご, each of them also has 2 pronunciations

I use the word "sometimes" because this rule only applies to certain regions in Japan, usually the eastern parts, which means that some Japanese native speakers do not use "ng". When to use and how to use "ng" is not taught at school in Japan, so my advice is that, as a learner, if you think it is cool to use "ng", use it; if you have difficulties mastering two pronunciations for a single Hiragana, then don't use it. But by "don't use it", I mean you can choose not to speak it. When people talk to you, you can't simply tell them to shift their "ng" to "g". So you need to know the fact that が, ぎ, ぐ, げ, ご have 2 pronunciations.

Be careful of the false friends!

Although the Romaji for Hiragana ご is "go", which is exactly the same as the English verb "go", their pronunciations are very different. While the "o" in English "go" sounds like the letter "o", in Japanese, it sounds like the "o" in "Oct".

Don't pronounce Japanese "go" the English way!

So you MUST listen to the pronunciation demonstration at the top of every lesson. Do NOT assume that because the Romaji transcriptions look easy, you can learn how to speak Japanese without using the ears. You simply can't.

2 ways to write き

1. The lowest part is linked to the rest of the kana, as shown in most computer fonts

2. The lowest part is not linked to the rest of the kana, as shown in the image below

How to write:

hiragana ka
hiragana ki
hiragana ku
hiragana ke

hiragana ko

The stroke order illustrations are made by D.328, used under CCSA3.0.