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ERIC Number: EJ846104
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005-Sep
Pages: 9
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 10
ISSN: ISSN-0005-3503
Harnessing Furigana to Improve Japanese Learners' Ability to Read Kanji
Kirwan, Leigh
Babel, v40 n1 p18-25, 38 Sep 2005
The historical development of written Japanese has resulted in an extremely complex system. Modern Japanese is usually written in logosyllabic script consisting of a combination of "kanji," the Chinese characters, and "kana," the Japanese syllables originally formed from them. There are two types of "kana," the "hiragana" and the "katakana." Additionally, "romaji," the romanised version of Japanese script, and other symbols such as Arabic numerals, may be considered to be a form of Japanese writing in itself although they are not used by the Japanese themselves to write continuous text. "Kanji" are used mainly to write nouns and the stems of verbs and adjectives. "Hiragana" are used for verb and adjective endings, conjunctions, and postpositions. "Katakana" are used primarily for writing words borrowed from other languages. There are approximately 3000 "kanji" in use in Japan, 46 "hiragana," and 46 corresponding "katakana" letters. As "kanji" can be read with both Chinese readings ("on-yomi"), mainly for multiple-"kanji" words borrowed from Chinese, and with native Japanese readings ("kun-yomi"), mainly for simple one-character native Japanese words, sometimes even Japanese adults have difficulty knowing how a new or unusual word may be read. In these cases, it is perfectly normal to write small "kana" letters over the Chinese characters to show the reading. These letters are called "furigana." Issues explored in this paper are how many "kanji" are needed to read Japanese, how many teachers are actually teaching in Australian schools, and whether this number can realistically lead to the proficiency in reading that students might reasonably expect. Evidence that "furigana" assists in "kanji" learning is then considered. Finally, the implications for teachers in successfully employing "furigana" in their classrooms, based on surveys of students, are discussed. (Contains 2 figures and 4 tables.)
Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations. Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Tel: +61-29351-2022; e-mail:; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Australia