When foreigners move to Japan the first alphabets they learn is normally Katakana – the alphabet for foreign words. Each character is given a sound and this will never change. It is a “phonetic” language that means when you see these you know what to say. It’s not like English where the vowels can change in different words. For example:
Hold ‘o’ is pronounced as expected – as in “or”
Woman ‘o’ is pronounced ‘oo’
Women ‘o’ is pronounced ‘i’
London ‘o’ is pronounced ‘uh’
Katakana will always have the same sound which makes it easier to read words. Another difference between English and Katakana is that in Japanese words, only one consonant can end a word. That is the equivalent of ‘n’. All other words will end with what we call a vowel – a, i , e, o, u but will have another sound in front of it. You can see this is the chart. Look at the top line after the first symbol – ア you can see ‘ka’ ‘sa’ ‘ta’ etc.
So let’s look at some names. Last week I gave you the katakana names for the two main characters in The Game Master, Josh and Alex. See if you can find the right symbols to make their names in Katakana.
Josh: Well, we have Jo and sh. Because Katakana does not have a “jo” sound the ‘yo’ symbol is added after ‘jo’ to make it ‘jyo.’ The same thing happens with ‘sh’ by adding ‘yu’. See if you can find these symbols.
Alex: This is a little easier – but there is a small addition because in Japanese there is a short ‘e’ sound, when in a name it has to be slightly shorter so a small “tsu” (ッ) is placed in the middle to shorten the sound.
See if you can find them in the chart above. It can take a little time to get used to the Japanese symbols but most foreigners in Japan quickly learn how to read katakana. If you want to know how your name is written in Japanese, type your name in the comments box and I’ll convert it into katakana…