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I've found learning to speak Japanese in a classroom, rather than being self-taught, is useful because you get feedback on whether what you're saying sounds correct. Is the same true about learning to read and write the kana? Are there risks in merely self-learning, or is it ok to do so? If the former, is it ok to do it in your own time and briefly show your "homework" to your teacher?

I've got some books for learning the kana including "Kana can be easy", which includes the correct stroke order and warning about which kana are similar to which other kana. And the ubiquitous pictures used as mnemonics!

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To be frank I'd think that there's nothing wrong with writing it anyhow we want. For example, I believe most of us write the letter "a" without the hat above. However it is ridiculous for anyone to say that writing it with the hat is officially wrong and stuff like that. –  Pacerier Apr 11 '12 at 8:40
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Simple pictorial information is sufficient for describing the strokes used in kana, for most uses. If you were to want to use them in calligraphy however, then there would be merit in training under someone else.

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Learning to write the strokes (and their order) correctly is also important for handwriting recognition systems; although this only really becomes a problem when you are trying to look up kanji using such a system. –  Trevor Alexander Jan 7 at 1:16
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Learning to read and write the kana on your own is fine, if your book is decent. But here are some small caveats:

  1. For reasons unknown to me, most books I've come across (rather infuriatingly) seem to write the kana in brush or printed form, where they look slightly different to handwritten. For example, き (ki) tends to be handwritten as four strokes: two horizontal lines, a vertical line, and - completely disconnected from the other three strokes - the bottom of the hook. You will see this printed or brushed differently. When printed, the hook will join up, and it will look like three strokes. When brushed, the hook will either join up very lightly or will not join up at all, but in either case there will normally be a 'flick' coming off the bottom of the vertical line where the printed hook starts. Same is true of さ (sa - three strokes), but not of ち (chi - two strokes) - this one always has a hook.
  2. Don't forget that Japanese people do not see them as arbitrary shapes - there are important bits and unimportant bits to every kana, and there are some slips you're allowed to make and some you're not, and you don't necessarily know what they are. For example, you may well get accused of writing your ま (ma) like a pound sign if the tail is even slightly flourished, regardless of how straight and un-£-like the top is. (The difference is actually probably best emphasised through some kanji. You might think you know how to write 目, 夭 and 土, until you realise that they have to be distinguishable from 耳, 天 and 士. And not just distinguishable by you. Distinguishable by natives!)
  3. Do not learn to pronounce the kana on your own if you wish to sound convincing. You'll probably get some of the more subtle ones (thinking of ち (chi), つ (tsu), ふ (fu) and し (shi) in particular) wrong. This won't cause anyone to misunderstand you, but it will cause you to sound horrendously non-Japanese.

I give such a long answer mostly because I only really learnt to write the kana properly several months after starting to learn Japanese when I wrote something for one of my Japanese friends and she laughed at my handwriting! :)

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Any decent guide will cover point 1 the first time you run across it (and yes, that means that I am declaring some kana guides indecent!), and the good ones illustrate both mincho and gothic forms. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Sep 28 '11 at 1:31
    
@Ignacio: Agreed, many kana books are poor. Mine were poor. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so. :) –  Billy Sep 29 '11 at 4:50
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