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How to remember Katakana using Chinese characters

In this article, we will learn Katakana with the help of Chinese characters.
Katakana characters were originally derived from Chinese characters.
If you already know Chinese, then it can be easier to remember Katakana.

Reading time: 19 minutes (130 wpm).

There is another article about how to remember Hiragana using Chinese characters

1. Katakana characters: a, i, u, e, o

See figure 1 for the Chinese characters.

A: ア

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: 阿 is spoken in Mandarin and Cantonese as “a”, the same sound.

I: イ

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: 伊 is spoken as “yi” in Mandarin and Cantonese, minus yi-y is “i”.

U: ウ

Look: it is the top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: the 宇 is pronounced as “u” in Min Nan language, so they have the same sound.

Figure 1: katakana characters a, i, u, e, o with the Chinese characters

E: エ

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: it does not “e” in the Chinese language.

To remember, we can use the Chinese character 茄, spoken as “ke” in Cantonese. 

Minus -k is “e”.

O: オ

Look: in my opinion, it does look like the Chinese character.
The left part is looking more similar.

Sound: the 於 does not sound “o”.

We can use 屙 as an alternative to remember お, which is spoken as “o” in Cantonese. 
屙屎 “o si” means “defecate” in English.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.

If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. う:
  2. え:
  3. お:
  4. い:
  5. あ:
  6. い:
  7. え:
  8. あ:
  9. う:
  10. お:

2. Katakana characters: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko

See figure 2 for the Chinese characters.

Ka: カ

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: same sound “ka” in Cantonese and Hakka for 加.

Ki: キ

Look: it looks a little bit similar to the Chinese character.
Sound: 機 it is pronounced as “ki” in Min nan, Wu Chinese, and Hakka language.

Ku: ク

Look: it is the left top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: same sound “ku” in Wu Chinese for 久.

Figure 2: katakana characters ka, ki, ku, ke, ko with the Chinese characters

Ke: ケ

Look: some parts twisted of the Chinese character.
Sound: Unfortunately no Chinese dialect sound “ke” for 介.

We can use 茄 as an alternative to remember it, which is pronounced as “ke” in Cantonese.

Ko: コ

Look: it is the top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: no Chinese language sounds “ko” for 己.

We can use 歌 as an alternative, which is “ko” in the Cantonese language.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. こ:
  2. か:
  3. く:
  4. き:
  5. け:
  6. き:
  7. く:
  8. こ:
  9. け:
  10. か:

3. Katakana characters: sa, shi, su, se, so

See figure 3 for the Chinese characters.

Sa: サ 

Look: it is the top part of the Chinese character and one stroke little longer.
Sound: none of the Chinese languages sounds “sa” for 散.

We can use 殺, which is “saak” pronounced in Cantonese, so “saak”-ak is “sa”.

Shi: シ

Look: it does not really look alike.
Sound: unfortunately, 之 does not sound “shi” in Chinese.

We need to use the alternative 是 character to remember, which is “shi” in Mandarin. 

Su: ス

Look: it is the lower part of the Chinese character. 
Sound: unfortunately, 須 does not sound “su” in Chinese.

We need to use 術, which is pronounced “sut” in Cantonese, so “sut”-t is “su”.

Figure 3: katakana characters sa, shi, su, se, so and the Chinese characters

Se: セ

Look: it looks similar to the Chinese character.
Sound: 世 is pronounced “se” in the Wu Chinese language, so they have the same sound.

So: ソ

Look: it is the top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: we need to use an alternative like 傻, pronounced as “so” in Cantonese.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. し:
  2. せ:
  3. す:
  4. そ:
  5. さ:
  6. せ:
  7. そ:
  8. し:
  9. さ:
  10. す:

4. Katakana characters: ta, chi, tsu, te, to

See figure 4 for the Chinese characters.

Ta: タ

Look: it is the first top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 多 does not sound “ta” in any Chinese language.

We can use the alternative 他, pronounced as “ta” in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Chi: チ

Look: it is the whole Chinese character, a little bit twisted.
Sound: 千 has the same sound as Wu Chinese and Xiang Chinese. 

Tsu: ツ

Look: it does not really look like the Chinese character. 
Sound:  unfortunately 川 does not sound “tsu” in any Chinese language.

We can use the alternative 出, which is “tsut” in Cantonese, “tsut”-t is “tsu”.

Figure 4: Katakana characters ta, chi, tsu, te, to and the Chinese characters

Te: テ

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 天 does not sound “te” in any Chinese language.

Instead, we can use 踢 which is “tek” in Cantonese to remember, “tek”-k is “tek”.

To: ト 

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character.  
Sound: unfortunately does not sound “to” in any Chinese language.

We can use 陀, which is “to” in Cantonese, to remember it.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. つ:
  2. と:
  3. ち:
  4. た:
  5. て:
  6. ち:
  7. つ:
  8. と:
  9. て:
  10. た:

5. Katakana characters: na, ni, nu, ne, no

See figure 5 for the Chinese characters.

Na: ナ

Look: it is the left top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 奈 does not sound “na”. 

We can use the alternative 哪, spoken as “na” in Cantonese to remember.

Ni: ニ

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character
Sound: unfortunately 仁 does not sound “ni”.

We can use the alternative 你, spoken as “ni” in Mandarin Chinese to remember it. 

Nu: ヌ

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 奴 does not sound “nu” in any Chinese language. 

We can use the alternative 女 spoken as “nu” in Mandarin Chinese.

Figure 5: Katakana characters na, ni, nu, ne, no with Chinese characters

Ne: ネ 

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character. 
Sound: unfortunately the 祢 does not sound “ne” in any Chinese language.

To remember, we can use 呢, which is “ne” in Cantonese.

No: ノ

Look: it is the left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 乃 does not sound “no”.

We need an alternative like 挪 which is spoken as “no” in Cantonese and Mandarin.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. ぬ:
  2. ね:
  3. の:
  4. な:
  5. に:
  6. ね:
  7. な:
  8. の:
  9. ぬ:
  10. に:

6. Katakana characters: ha, hi, fu, he, ho

See figure 6 for the Chinese character.

Ha: ハ

Look: it basically the same as the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 八 does not sound “ha” in any Chinese language. 

To remember, we can use 哈 which is pronounced as “ha” in Mandarin, Cantonese and other dialects.

Hi: ヒ

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 比 does not sound “hi” in any Chinese language.

We can use 謙 “him”, spoken in Cantonese but without the “m” at the end.

Fu: フ

Look: it is the top left part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 不 does not sound “fu” in any Chinese language.

However, we can use 血 pronounced as “hyut” in Cantonese, without t, sounds like “fu”.

Figure 6: Katakana characters ha, hi, fu, he, ho and the Chinese characters

He: ヘ

Look: it does not look like the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 部 does not sound “he” in any Chinese language.

We can use the alternative 吃, pronounced as “hek” in Cantonese, minus the “k” is “he”.

Ho: ホ

Look: it is the bottom right part of the Chinese character.
Sound:  unfortunately 保 does not sound “ho” in any Chinese language.

We can use the alternative 可, pronounced “ho” in Cantonese to remember it.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. ひ:
  2. ほ:
  3. は:
  4. へ:
  5. ふ:
  6. は:
  7. ひ:
  8. へ:
  9. ふ:
  10. ほ:

7. Katakana characters: ma, mi, mu, me, mo

See figure 7 for the Chinese characters.

Ma: マ

Look: it does not really look like the Chinese character. 
Sound: 末 sounds “ma” in Wu Chinese and Min Dong Chinese languages.

Mi: ミ

Look: it is exactly the Chinese character but twisted.
Sound: 美 sounds “mi” in Min Dong language. 

Mu: ム

Look: it is the top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 牟 does not sound “mu” in the Chinese language.

We can use 女, pronounced as “nu” in Mandarin and replace it with “m”, it becomes “mu”.

Figure 7: Katakana characters ma, mi, mu, me, mo and the Chinese characters

Me: メ

Look: it is the bottom part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 女 does not sound “me” in Chinese. 

We can use 命, pronounced as “meng” in Cantonese minus ”ng”, becomes “me”.

Mo: モ

Look: it is the middle and the bottom part of the Chinese character.
Sound: 毛 is “mo” in Cantonese, basically the same sound.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. み:
  2. も:
  3. め:
  4. ま:
  5. む:
  6. ま:
  7. も:
  8. め:
  9. み:
  10. む:

8. Katakana characters: ya, yu, yo

See figure 8 for the Chinese characters.

Ya: ヤ

Look: It is a part of the Chinese character.
Sound: the Chinese character “也” in Cantonese and Hakka is “ya”.

Yu: ユ

Look: It is the bottom part of the Chinese character.
Sound: the Chinese character 由 is pronounced as “yu” in Jin Chinese. 

Figure 8: Katakana characters ya, yu, yo and the Chinese characters

Yo: ヨ

Look: It is the top right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 與 is not as “yo” in any Chinese language.

To remember, we can use 玉, spoken as “yok” in Cantonese, -k is “yo”.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. よ:
  2. や:
  3. ゆ:
  4. や:
  5. よ:
  6. ゆ:

9. Katakana characters: ra, ri, ru, re, ro

See figure 9 for the Chinese characters.

Ra: ラ

Look: it is the top right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately 良 does not sound “ra” in Chinese. 

To remember, we can use  拉 spoken as “la” in Mandarin Chinese, replacing with r becomes “ra”.

Ri: リ

Look: it is the right part of the Chinese character. 
Sound: 利 is spoken as “ri” in Wu Chinese, they have the same sound.

Ru: ル

Look: it is the bottom part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 流 does not sound “ru” in any Chinese language.

To remember, we can use 如, spoken as “yu” in Cantonese and replaced with “r”, to become “ru”.

Figure 9: Katakana characters ra, ri, ru, re, ro and the Chinese characters

Re: レ

Look: It is the right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: in Min Nan language, 礼 is pronounced as “re”, basically the same sound.

Ro: ロ

Look: It is the top part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 呂 does not sound “ro” in Chinese.

To remember, we can use 六, pronounced as “lok” in Cantonese.
Lok +r -k, becomes “ro”.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. ろ:
  2. る:
  3. り:
  4. ら:
  5. れ:
  6. ら:
  7. る:
  8. れ:
  9. ろ:
  10. り:

10. Katakana characters: wa, wi, we, wo, n

See figure 10 for the Katakana characters.

Wa: ワ

Look: it is the right side of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 和 does not sound “wa” in Chinese.

To remember, we can use 娃, spoken as “wa” in Cantonese.

Wi: ヰ

Look: it is the middle right part of the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 井 is not “wi” in Chinese.

To remember, we can use 為, which is pronounced as “wi” in Min Nan language.

We: ヱ

Look: it does not really look the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, does not sound “we” in any Chinese language. 

To remember, we can use 為, pronounced as “we” in Wu Chinese.

Figure 10: Katakana characters wa, wi, we, wo, n and the Chinese characters

Wo: ヲ

Look: it does not really look like the Chinese character.
Sound: unfortunately, 乎 does not sound “wo” in any Chinese language.

We can use 屙 as an alternative to remembering を, which is spoken as “o” in Cantonese.
It is the same mnemonic used for お.

N: ン

Look: it does not really look like the Chinese character.
Sound: in Min nan language 无 is pronounced as “ng”, so it is a similar sound.

A little test

To test your knowledge of Katakana so far, you can do the test below.
For this test, you need to know the Hiragana characters.

Write next to the Hiragana Katakana letter.
If you have forgotten the character, you can highlight the space next to the : colon to see the answer.

  1. ん:
  2. ゑ:
  3. ゐ:
  4. わ:
  5. を:
  6. ゐ:
  7. ん:
  8. わ:
  9. ゑ:
  10. を:

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