Learning the Character System
In the Japanese language, three character systems are used: hiragana, katakana and kanji. For students to become fluent in the language, they will need to know how to read each of these character types. Many teachers start by going over hiragana, a syllable system that is used for native Japanese words (this chart from Genki Online shows the different hiragana characters). Katakana is used mainly for foreign words, while kanji are the based off the Chinese character system. So how can teachers assess if students can read these characters, especially hiragana for beginners? Flashcards and quizzes can allow teachers to see what characters students know and which ones are troublesome. Some of these exercises can be used to prep students before an exam.
Flashcards are a great way to review hiragana: it requires students to read the character, then has them practice their pronunciation (this is important with characters that have similar sounds that American students may have difficulty differentiating, like す(su) and つ (tsu)). Teachers can create paper flashcards of the different hiragana and practice them in a group setting. For example, the teacher can break the class into groups, then show a flashcard to one group at a time. If the first group does not correctly answer the flashcard, then the next team gets a chance to answer. When a group answers correctly, the teacher can add a point to a tally on the chalkboard. Whichever group has the largest number of points at the end of the flashcard practice can win a prize, such as extra credit points on the next test.
Another flashcard option involves technology. Genki Online has flashcards that show students a hiragana character, and three sounds in English (ex: ko, ro and ki for ろ). Students click the corresponding number for their answer, and the program keeps a tally at the bottom of the page. Three groups of flashcards are available on the site: あ to そ, た to ほ and ま toん. This flashcard practice lets each student answer every question, and the teacher can monitor students’ progress with the tally on the screen.
Different Reading Tests
Once students have a handle on hiragana, it is time to test them. With Japanese hiragana reading tests, the teacher provides students with either the characters or sounds, and students give the corresponding answer. For example, the teacher can give students a word in hiragana, such as いぬ (dog), and the students write it out in rōmanji (inu).
Another option to test hiragana reading is a matching test, such as this one that includes all the hiragana (teachers may choose to break them into groups if they would rather give small quizzes instead of tests). The sounds and hiragana characters are mixed up, and students draw a line from the character to the corresponding sound. Teachers can also use these tests to gauge if students are having problems with any of the hiragana characters. If so, review these trouble areas before moving on, as not being able to read certain hiragana characters can affect students’ Japanese reading capabilities as the class becomes more advanced.
- Genki: Hiragana Flashcard Set Two, http://genki.japantimes.co.jp/site/self/site/js/hiragana2.htm
- Genki: Hiragana Flashcard Set Three, http://genki.japantimes.co.jp/site/self/site/js/hiragana3.htm
- Genki: Hiragana Flashcard Set One, http://genki.japantimes.co.jp/site/self/site/js/hiragana1.htm