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Goin’ Japanesque!

Basics of Japanese: Writing Words in Katakana


The most important thing to remember when reading katakana is that it was written based off how the word sounds in the original language, not how it’s actually spelled. As you likely noticed during the katakana lessons, some words, like banana, end up coincidentally being the same. On the other hand, some words, like computer, end up looking very different but sounding similar (konpyuutaa).

This is important to also remember when you want to figure out how to write words in katakana. Whether it’s your name or an already pre-established word, you should base the spelling off how the words sound, not how they are actually spelled. Trust your ears–not your eyes!

Note: These rules are not hard and fast. There are exceptions. But in general this is how the trend goes and nothing these rules can make figuring out katakana–>English and vice-versa a lot easier! As you take note of these rules, also practice reading the katakana.


N, NK, NG, MB, MP = N

Line ライン   Pen  ペン   London ロンドン   Shampoo シャンプー

Vowel + R = extended ‘Aー’ sound (A, KA, MA, DA, etc)

Sponsor スポンサー   Hamburger ハンバーガー   Cursor カーソル    Heater ヒーター

Two vowels with the same sound = extended vowel sound

Beach ビーチ   Meat ミート   Speech スピーチ   Read リード

Vocalized L = RU, otherwise drop it

Belt ベルト   Milk ミルク   Pool プール   Girl ガール

T or D = TO or DO

Hotdog ホットドッグ   Drama ドラマ   Strike ストライク   Card カード

Any other consonant = ‘u’ sound row (KU, GU, SU, PU, etc)

Class クラス   Brand ブランド   Table テーブル   Sneaker スニーカー


Coach コーチ   Lodge ロッジ   Lunch ランチ   Badge バッジ

It takes some getting used to but you’ll eventually internalize the rules with enough practice reading and writing katakana words! And speaking of practice, how about a little pop quiz? Make sure you read the words out loud to help you “hear” the English!


Katakana to English

1. アイスクリーム                                                      
2. ジャケット
3. イヤホーン                                                              
4. コーヒー
5. インスタント                                                          
6. ツアー
7. サイト                                                                      
8. デザート
9. エネルギー                                                              
10. トイレ                                                                  

Check your answers
1. Ice cream
2. Jacket
3. Ear phones
4. Coffee
5. Instant
6. Tour
7. Site
8. Dessert
9. Energy
10. Toilet


English to Katakana

1. Vanilla
2. Star
3. Escalator
4. Test
5. Curtain
6. Drive
7. Kitchen
8. Passport
9. Juice
10. Party

Check your answers
1. バニラ
2. スター
3. エスカレーター
4. テスト
5. カーテン
6. ドライブ
7. キッチン
8. パスポート
9. ジュース
10. パーティー

Did you notice that last one? Remember: katakana can take little ア、イ、エ、オ to make new sounds! ティ makes a “ti” sound.

Now that you know all the rules, how do you think you write your name?

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About the author

Katrina has worked as a Japanese language teacher and freelance translator for several years. She loves traveling and has been all over Japan. Click here --> Free Japanese Lessons Practical Japanese Lessons

View all articles by Katrina