Reading Japanese Katakana: Lesson 2

“Yen,” “Jesus,” “wars,” and more: your next katakana words

Welcome to Lesson Two of WordBrewery’s Reading Japanese: Katakana series. We have created a frequency list of Japanese words, then mined that list for the most common katakana words. If you already read katakana, you can still learn from the vocabulary in this post series. But if you’re new to katakana, these posts will help you learn to read it quickly and accurately while picking up some useful vocabulary along the way.

This post presumes knowledge of the five vowel characters introduced in Lesson One, so be sure to review that if you need to.

The five most frequent katakana syllables

Recall from Lesson One that Japanese has only five vowel sounds, and the sound of these vowels never changes. Most Japanese syllables consist of one consonant paired with one of these five vowel sounds. Except for “n” (as in ra-me-n, the noodle dish, Ho-n-da, the automaker, or Ni-n-te-n-do, the video game maker) and one other case we will see later, Japanese has no standalone consonants. Often, when an English word is adopted in Japanese, a vowel sound (often ウ (“u”)) is added to these standalone consonants.

You learned the five vowel symbols in Lesson 1; now you will learn the five most common Japanese katakana. After this lesson, you’ll already know almost 25% of the katakana script.

n (“n” as in “none”—but a standalone syllable).
エン Yen
オン on
イオン eon
ウィン win
ウン very common sound indicating agreement (can be extended to ウンウン)
オンエア on-air
アイアン iron (golf club)
ウィーン win
ru (“ru/lu”; to pronounce the Japanese “r”, try this: say “Eddie” fast (but without putting any stress on “Ed,” because Japanese doesn’t stress syllables like English does). That is the same sound as the Japanese word eri, meaning “ring.”)
ルール rule
オール all-nighter, oar
オイル oil
エール yell, ale
ウォール wall
アイル aisle
su (“soo” as in “sushi”)
スイス Swiss
ウイルス virus
エース ace
イエス Jesus
スー Sioux
アイス ice, iced
スルー “through”: going through, looking past, ignoring
アース Earth
zu (“zu” as in “Zulu”)
ウォーズ wars (as in “Star Wars”)
エイズ AIDS
ウェールズ Wales
to (“toe” as in “tofu”)
トン ton
ルート route
スト strike (workers’ strike)
アウト out (baseball)
アート art
ストア store
ウエスト waste, waist, west
オート auto
イースト east
トーン tone
アルト alto
do (“doe”)
ドル dollar
インド Indonesia
ドア door
アンド and
アイドル idol
ウィンドウ window
エンド end
オールド old
アド ad
ドンドン knock knock
アウトドア outdoor

Keep reading and writing these words again and again until you can recognize these first ten syllables immediately and read them as quickly as you can read English. Keep practicing, and soon you will be ready to learn Japanese by reading real sentences from the news.

Practice by reading these aloud over and over again

ドンドン オールド エンド
アンド ウエスト ウォーズ
ルール アド アウト
ドア ストア ドル
エイズ インド アイル
アイドル ウォール オンエア