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I wonder how exactly Japanese children learn to write. It may help a foreigner to know what is important to memorize or not. The only thing I know is that first of all, hiragana are learnt, and then in primary school they learn a set of kanjis each year.

However, more exactly:

  • at which age are hiragana and katakana learnt?
  • are hiragana and katakana learnt at the same time? Or first hiragana, and then katakana?
  • at which age do they start learning kanjis?
  • how are kanjis learnt? Do they have to memorize five by week?
  • are all the on'yomi readings of a kanji memorized, or not at all?
  • when in secondary school, do they still have to learn other kanjis?
  • ... and any other things about how Japanese children learn how to read and write Japanese
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The curriculum guidelines for grade one (see 言語事項 section イ) only state that children should be able to read and write hiragana and katakana, and use words that are written in katakana in sentences (e.g. know to write ペン not ぺん), and to read and to start to use the level-appropriate kanji.

As I understand it, instead of memorising individual readings, the focus is usually on being able to read/read aloud level-appropriate materials, or supply the correct kanji in the context of a given word in a sentence (e.g. use the right kanji for the right word when writing assignments). There's also some focus on stroke order and handwriting.

Materials supplied on the internet for practice, which are aimed at school children (or their parents), for example here, which has various levels of material, tend to use these sort of formats for kanji: writing practice (with characters to trace over), reading practice, more writing practice (give the kanji based on the furigana).

There are "official" readings (which you will see in sawa's second link in the comments on dotnetN00b's answer). They are expected to be known, in that words using those readings should be able to be read, but I've never seen any material that asks "what are the on-readings of this kanji" aimed at native speakers.

This page has guidance materials aimed at teachers using certain textbooks. For the first year version, in this case they start with hiragana, then it looks like they actually pick up a few kanji, like numerals, before getting into katakana. (Although to be entirely honest I only skimmed it, and I don't know how representative the provided plan is of the average class).

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According to this, they start learning kanji and kana from Grade 1. So around 5 or 6 years old. A quick Google should answer most of your questions. Though culturally it is interesting to know how kids in a completely different culture learn to be literate.

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The provided link uses thousands of pictures, and takes time to load. These may be better. Elementary school: ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/学年別漢字配当表 Junior highschool: ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/常用漢字一覧 (The links do not work. I had to manually add an extra slash after the final directory to both links. May be a bug.) –  sawa Jun 9 '12 at 22:27
    
The pictures loaded up pretty quickly for me (less than a second). What kind of computer do you have? Or is it bad internet? –  dotnetN00b Jun 9 '12 at 22:33
    
@sawa the above. –  dotnetN00b Jun 9 '12 at 22:39
    
@dotnetNoob I use a wireless connection that uses a celular phone network. What do you mean above? –  sawa Jun 9 '12 at 22:40
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Reposting the Elementary School and Junior High School links from @sawa. Though, this would probably be better in an answer instead of an obscure comment. –  Troyen Jun 10 '12 at 8:28

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