‘Why do I need to memorize hiragana and katakana before I start my study with you?’
We understand that it seems a little strange to ask people who can’t speak Japanese at all to learn how to read it before we teach you anything. However, the reason we have this requirement is this: the best textbook for beginner learners, Genki: An Integrated Approach to Japanese, uses only hiragana and katakana, not romaji (English letters) to display Japanese words in some parts.
In addition, as the Japanese alphabet is almost 100% phonetic (i.e., each letter represents a single sound), if you can read all the letters, you can sound out any word written in that alphabet, even if you don’t know what it means. Therefore knowing the alphabet is a vital first step to enable you to start increasing your vocabulary. It’s the equivalent of requiring people to be able to recognize the English alphabet before going to a school to study English.
Finally, there are a total of 46 unique hiragana characters. While this is a lot more than English’s 26 (actually, about 45 if you include both capital and small letters), it is still possible to memorize these in 2 days or less (as some of our students have in the past) without a teacher, by using flash cards or software. Spending a weekend to memorize them in advance allows you to spend your time in Japan focusing on the communicative study that requires a good teacher. Spending half of your first week here memorizing hiragana and katakana just so that you can get round to beginning your actual studies would be a waste of your time, and if there’s one thing we hate with a vengeance at GenkiJACS, it’s wasting your time!
So, that’s why we ask you to memorize the basic characters before you get here. So, what are you waiting for? Get cracking!