Learn Katakana with Drops!

Are you feeling confident reading and writing hiragana? Continue your journey with katakana and dive into the world of loanwords in Japanese and more!

Why learn Katakana?

Learning katakana will be much easier than hiragana, since the characters use the same sounds that you’ve already learned! Katakana characters just look a bit different. They’re more angular than their rather cursive hiragana counterparts. For example, the sound “ka” in hiragana is か and カ in katakana.

The other difference between katakana and hiragana is their usage. The most common use of katakana is to transcribe foreign loanwords and some special vocabulary for onomatopeias, scientific, or biological terms. You can also find it on billboards and advertisements all around the streets of Japan (like “ホットほっとセール” Hotto hotto sēru for a hot-drink sale), so it’s an essential part of everyday life in Japanese culture.

If you are a native English speaker, you have a great advantage here. Once you master katakana, you will be able to recognise a lot of words that come from English words (like パスタ pasuta, yes, that’s pasta).

If you are planning to visit Japan, you will get a lot of practice reading katakana on menus for various foods and drinks (like “ハンバーガー” hanbāgā), in brand names (like “パナソニック” Panasonikku), and the names of tech (such as “コンピューター” konpyūtā).

The Fun Way to Learn Katakana with Drops

In katakana, each of the 46 basic characters represent a sound or a basic syllable in Japanese, just like in hiragana.

Katakana is also often taught using a handy character chart (we’ll show you in a second), but in Drops we take it one step further by teaching it in 6 bite-sized lessons.
By learning katakana with Drops in our Introduction to Katakana course, you will not only learn the 46 sounds, but practice writing them with correct stroke order using our scripts gameplay. After you tackle the basics, we’ll show you how to take it to the next level by combining them to create many the sounds you need to speak Japanese!

Let’s get started!

Take a look at the chart below: in the first row you’ll find the main vowels you’ll need to master:  “a” (ア),  “i” (イ), “u” (ウ), “e” (エ), and “o” (オ). They appear in the chart as the column headers and appear in the first topic: Katakana Vowels ア - オ.

Once you’ve nailed those, you’ll combine the vowels with the 10 consonant sounds in the following rows. So after “a,” “i,” “u,” “e,” “o,” you’ll learn “ka,” “ki,” “ku,” “ke,” “ko,” and so on  S, T, N, H, M, Y, R, W, and—a special character—the single N consonant.

Does that sound easy so far? It’s even easier when learning with Drops.

In our Introduction to Katakana course, we’ve broken this chart down into 6 bite-sized topics. Keep reading for more information about each character set to strengthen your skills!
Katakana Vowels

Katakana can be used to write the exact same sounds you learned with hiragana, but the characters are different: ア, イ, ウ, エ, and オ.

Although both hiragana and katakana are derived from Chinese characters, the main difference is that hiragana characters have a more loopy appearance, while katakana letters are more angular and sharp.

Be careful! The sounds of the Japanese language are limited, and quite fixed compared to other languages.

Once you get familiar with katakana, you'll understand how to say foreign words using Japanese sounds!

Practice vowels in hiragana and katakana with Zita, our Learning Content Coordinator and resident Japanese teacher.

The K-N Rows

As you know from learning hiragana, after the first five vowels, the next rows will be that vowel + consonant pattern all over again. For the most part, everything will be pronounced exactly the same. Easy peasy!

Let’s do a quick review on the upcoming rows, shall we?

Did you know? By changing from what is commonly written in hiragana to katakana, you can emphasize your words and add different stylistic purposes to it.

Next time, write “cute” as カワイイ instead of かわいい, to make it sound extra cute! ა

The H-W Rows

Last set!  You still remember the following sounds, right?

After you master this lesson, you can start looking at all of the weird katakana stuff. It can be challenging, but with Drops we make it fun and effective!

Katakana Transformations

Look at you! You’ve just mastered the 46 basic syllables of katakana! You can now read and write words like アニメ (anime) or カラオケ (karaoke) effortlessly.

Ready to take it to the next level?

Let’s get right into the fun part and discover how to read words like:

フォーク (fork)

ジャケット (jacket)

ズ (cheese)

Dakuten and 

Remember in hiragana how we changed voiceless sounds to voiced by adding two dashes or a circle to the top-right corner of some characters? Good news! That’s how they work with katakana too.

Katakana has some unique sounds to watch out for. For example, in katakana, you can actually turn an ウ into ヴ. This represents the "vu" (or sometimes “bu”) sound, and is used for transcribing v-sounds. But more about that later.

Warning: The pronuncation of ジ “ji” and ヂ “ji”, ズ “zu” and ヅ “zu” are actually the same, but mostly ジ and ズ are used.

Try to memorize the term オレンジ (orange) and ズボン (pants).

Double Consonants & Long Vowels

The sokuon in katakana works the same as in hiragana; all you have to do is add a small “tsu” (ッ) character to double consonants.

In Japanese words, normally only “t,” “k,” “p,” and “s” are doubled in this way. However! In foreign words, “d,” “b,” “g,” “j,” “h,” “f,” and even “v” or “r” sounds can be doubled as well!

Now, try to read these words out loud.

ヘルメト (helmet)

ココナツ (coconut)

キー (cookie)

It’s actually pretty easy, isn’t it?

To indicate the long vowels in katakana, you have a special vowel extender, that is represented by a dash.

Use it to write down words like:
コーヒー kōhī (coffee)
スーパー sūpā (supermarket)


Just like with hiragana, you can combine characters to make new sounds, but in katakana the sounds can be more diverse.

In addition to the basic combination katakana above (which are sounds ending with an i vowel + small ャ/ュ/ョ), you can combine some of the U-row sounds and the small vowels ァィゥェォ as well. Crazy, right?

You can also add those small vowels to the sounds of ウ, ヴ, フ and ツ to represent W, V, F and T columns.

With these extra sounds, you will be able to write down and pronounce words like:
フィットネス fittonesu (fitness)
ウェディング weddingu (wedding)

See the full list of special combinations below.

Looks rough? Worry not! What's important right now is to be able to read these extra combinations and know they exist!

You'll see some of these pretty often, which means that through practice they will come to you naturally. It's just one of those things you have to use and experience to become comfortable with it.

Time to practice!

And just like that, you have all the tools you need to learn katakana. By learning katakana with the Drops Introduction to Katakana course, you will not only learn the 46 sounds, but will practice writing them with correct stroke order using our scripts gameplay.

What are you waiting for?