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I just started learning Japanese and I'm trying to understand the whole kanji thing. The book I'm using gives some kanjis and then some exercise of the type: "Write the reading of the following kanji in hiragana", follows. I don't really get them. Like this example:

  1. 男子トイレ and according to the answer sheet the book provides, the reading of this word is だんし.

Can someone please explain what is going on here, what is happening with the extra katakana there is in the word? Are these two different words or are they together. And how do you decide which reading (Chinese, Japanese, irregular) you use? Or, is it by pure memorization?

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There is a lot of memorization involved for new learners of Japanese.

Let me separate your points... In this case, the katakana you're confused by is a second word, and according to your text instructions, you can safely ignore it. Though you should probably try and memorize your katakana and hiragana readings as soon as possible, since they are sound based and should not be all that hard. A few hours with flashcards does a lot of good for memorizing the kana.

Secondly, it might help you to know that most Japanese kanji use their Japanese reading when standing "alone", but switch to their Chinese reading when combined with other kanji. It's not a perfect "either/or" situation, but it is often true, as it is in this case.

It may be hard to memorize every reading of 男 and every reading of 子, but the combination of those two, 男子 , is a very very common word in Japanese, so you should do your best to memorize that pairing and its reading. As you might guess from what I said above, it's the Chinese reading. As you found in the book, the reading is だんし. If you know the anime "Daily Lives of High School Boys", you will have heard this word dozens if not hundreds of times. It's literally in the title. ^_^

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男子 is だんし in hiragana. トイレ (katakana word for "toilet") is not the scope of that question, but I think it was added just to add the context and disambiguate the reading. You can safely ignore the katakana part and just do what is instructed; "Write the reading of the following kanji". If you have already mastered kana, you can already tell which characters are kanji and which are not, right?

You can read 男子 as だんし in 99.9% of the time in modern Japanese, but the kanji 男子 also has a rare historical reading, おのこ (をのこ). In archaic documents, you may have to read 男子 as おのこ. But with トイレ added, you can be 100% sure that this is not in a historical context and the 男子 part is read as だんし. (You can forget the reading おのこ until you reach an advanced level.)

男子トイレ is a common set phrase meaning "men's toilet" or "gentlemen's lavatory". If you wonder why 子 is used here, see 女子 vs 女の子 nuances and What are the differences between 女子{じょし}, 娘子{じょうし} and 女{おんな}の子{こ}?

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