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The First Step: Learn How to Type in Japanese on Your Phone or Laptop
Typing in Japanese can seem impossible if you don't know how. For example, how do you even begin to use a keyboard to type out all the different strokes for Japanese characters? Do you need a keyboard that has Japanese characters on it or can you use a regular QWERTY keyboard? Is the process the same on a phone and on a laptop or completely different? Is the process for typing Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji the same or different?
Luckily the answers to all of these questions are actually relatively simple. You don't need any additional equipment and we believe we can teach you the basics in just a few minutes. Keep reading to find out more!
Japanese characters are very diverse and can be segmented into 3 distinct 'alphabets' - Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Some of these characters are interchangeable and will be used differently in different contexts. Hiragana and Katakana are both typed phonetically - for example, if you type 'a' on your keyboard you will get あ (pronounced 'a'), if you type 'k' followed by 'a' you will get か (pronounced 'ka'). Below is a table of all Hiragana characters and how they are spelled phonetically.
We won't go into the details here but if you wish to start typing in Japanese then it's important you understand the basics of these 3 different alphabets and how to use them. If you're feeling really adventurous you can try to learn all the Hiragana and Katakana in just 2 hours using the video below. You could also sign up for some course time with one of our expert teachers who will be happy to help you learn and understand these more thoroughly!
Step 1: Installing a Japanese Keyboard
First things first, you don't need to buy a Japanese keyboard in order to type Japanese! You can type out characters using a regular QWERTY keyboard once the correct keyboard is installed on your device. The installation process is very easy to do on Apple, Windows and nearly all smartphones.
For iOS enter settings > General > Keyboard > Add New Keyboard
For Android enter Settings > System > Languages and Input > Add New Keyboard
Then simply select Japanese from the list.
Step 2: Understanding Your Japanese Keyboard
So now you understand that each letter on your QWERTY keyboard can be used to type out Japanese words phonetically but how do you go from typing using the Latin alphabet to having Japanese characters appear on the screen? And what happens if you want to type something in Kanji instead of Hiragana like the examples above? Let's look at some examples below.
Let's take a simple word こんにちわ (Kon'nichiwa), meaning hello. To type it you must first type the word phonetically - 'k''o''n''n''n''i''c''h''i''w''a'. Upon doing this, you'll see something similar to this list. All you have to do is select the correct version from the list and you've just typed your first Japanese word! For common words the first option will nearly always be the one you're looking for.
OK let's take a slightly more complicated example where you might want to type part of the phrase using Kanji instead of Katakana. Let's take たべる (Taberu, meaning 'eat'). One may wish to type this phrase using Kanji like this - 食べる. To do so you simply follow the same process as above - type out 't''a''b''e''r''u' to generate the list of potential phrases, only this time you will need to cycle through and select the version of 'taberu' which uses Kanji for the first character. On most devices this is done by pressing the space bar or selecting directly with the cursor or touch screen.
For further practical examples check out the below video!
Step 3: Writing more than one word
Once you understand how to write one word correctly using your Japanese keyboard, writing longer sentences is simple because they follow the exact same process - type the phoneme and select the correct characters from the list.
Be careful though! Sometimes the software does get things wrong and it can be difficult to know where to break off sentences and where to switch between alphabets, especially if you're a beginner. Our advice is to take things slowly at first. It takes some practice but you will start to learn when the keyboard prediction is likely to be accurate and when it isn't. Your choice of when to use Hiragana or Kanji will also improve with further study and experience!
While typing in Japanese is a relatively simple process, it’s important to know the basic structure of Japanese grammar in order to ensure the keyboard recognises the words you're trying to type - if you get the basics wrong it's very easy to create problems for yourself down the line. Luckily for you, we have a plethora of free online resources to help you improve your knowledge of Japanese. Alternatively you could even book some course time with one of our professional, native speaking teachers!
Step 4: Practice!
While you can spend hours making sure you have a firm grasp of Japanese grammar and recognise as many characters in as many alphabets as possible, there is no substitute for actually typing in Japanese as often as you can. At first it can be really difficult to do this without making mistakes but we promise if you persevere you'll pick it up in no time and be able to type without even thinking! There is no experience quite like mastering this so we recommend sticking with it.
Texting in Japanese
One question we often get asked is whether typing Japanese with your phone is more difficult than on a computer keyboard. Actually it's exactly the same. You just type out your words phonetically and select the correct characters from the list. However, there are many differences to be aware of when texting or instant messaging in Japanese. The culture places a lot of value on manners and societal rules so common acronyms and etiquette are great things to brush up on if you want to really impress your Japanese friends. Check out the below video to find out more!
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