Hiragana Teaching Order and the Importance of Teaching Hiragana Early
I recently received a question from a reader.
“In what order should I teach my children hiragana? Should I begin with あーいーうーえーお or begin with the easier ones, like くand し?”
I am no expert on the matter, but after doing a little bit of reading online, this is what I determined:
1) It doesn’t really matter on the long run. Having taught Kindergarten in the United States, I know that some teachers teach the alphabet in alphabetical order (A-B-C) while others prefer to teach the easier ones first. Some teachers spend a week teaching each letter, while others try to teach as many as possible at the beginning of the year so they can use the rest of the year to review.
It is the same way in Japan. There is no mandatory order for teaching hiragana. Some teach it in order, while others follow the easiest to hardest pattern. So, pick a style that feels right to you, and go with it.
2) I personally think it depends on the age of the child. A two or three year old might have a really hard time mastering あ、ね、and ぬ。Their fine motor skills are not refined enough (My daughter’s isn’t). But they may be able to handle the simpler shapes. Or you can begin with teaching them to simply recognize the kana before teaching them to write it (that’s what I’m doing). An older child, maybe one that’s already started school, may have no problems starting with あ. They may even be able to learn several new kana’s per week. Think about your child and how they might learn best.
3) Keep in mind that in Japan, hiragana is not taught formally until the first grade. So don’t feel bad if your preschooler doesn’t get it as fast as you’d like. BUT something else to keep in mind… when I attended the New Student Orientation at the local Japanese school a few weeks ago, the principal told us that in the case of bilingual children or children who will only be attending Japanese school once per week, it is highly recommended that the parents begin teaching hiragana BEFORE they enter the first grade.
The reason for this is: In Japan, first-graders go to Japanese school 5-6 days a week, AND they are surrounded with Japanese all the time. Children in America don’t live in the same environment, so it is going to take them longer to learn their letters. If our children don’t know hiragana, it’s going to be harder for them to advance in their Japanese language learning.
The principal also told us that we should also be teaching our children KATAKANA earlier as well. The reason being: Bilingual children tend to have non-Japanese names, so they will need to know how to write their names in katakana. The people, places, and things surrounding them will also most likely be katakana words. Makes sense!
SO, fellow teachers/parents trying to teach our little ones Japanese, we sure have our work cut out for us! No matter what teaching method you decide to use, the important thing is that we are doing something. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t give up. Little children are sponges and they are learning more from us than we think they are. You are all awesome for deciding to teach your children Japanese.