Product Idea: Read Hiragana Online

By Najaf Ali

After seeing this post on Hacker News a few weeks ago, followed by the following comment:

I didn't see any mention of this on your website - is there support for memorizing the included vocab as well, or is it just there for reference? This feature would be useful for someone who'd like to learn vocab while they're learning the kanji (although this obviously isn't the traditional RtK method).

w1ntermute - Comment on HN

This is the central tenet of all I hold true about learning Kanji, i.e. that you can't really learn them without seeing them in context i.e. In real Japanese.

How could this work for Hiragana?

The first step for anyone who wants to learn Japanese is learning the basic phonetic writing system, hiragana.

Hiragana by itself is a pretty useless collection of symbols and phonemes, you can't convey any meaning with them alone. It's only when you put them together into vocabulary that they become useful.

Most learning tools/textbooks for learning hiragana focus on you learning them all before you learn any vocab with them.

What if you had:

  • A series of lessons introducing five characters at a time.
  • Five new vocabulary in each lesson, using only characters you've learned so far.
  • Spaced repetition reviews for both vocab and hiragana.

This is the basic idea I have for a nascent project I'm working on Read Hiragana Online (working title).

Why this will be a great little product

There are a number of reasons why this will be easier to get off the ground than a more ambitious web app, among others:

  • Big target market, essentially anyone who has a passing interest in Japanese (rather than hardcore Japanese students).
  • Limited scope, there are only so many hiragana to learn.

The rest of this post will go through what I've come up with so far in planning Read Hiragana Online.

Landing Page

One of the big failings of Japanalicious was that there wasn't much thought put into the landing page. Although it's a fairly textbook SaaS landing page, here's what I came up with for it:


Lessons Index

This is a rough idea for what a lesson might look like. Rather than splat it all out in one big linear wall of text, you'll be able to click through sections of a lesson, and a progress bar gets updated as you do. This keeps the UI flowing towards completion of a lesson. Each lesson is unlocked as you complete previous ones.

Lessons will contain drill sessions where you're quizzed on new hiragana/vocab, and I'm thinking you'll have to get through these before you can progress to the next lesson.


User Profile

You'll be able to unlock achievements and any vocab you learn will be reviewable in a simple Leitner-based SRS system. Simple user profile, something like:


The Money Question

I think learning Hiragana isn't going to take you more than a month, especially if you use spaced repetititon and get plenty of sample reading material to get you started.

That being the case, I'd be hesitant to charge a monthly fee for this. Instead, a one shot fee (similar to how you might pay for an ebook) seems more appropriate. My initial thinking is to charge within the region of $9-$14 USD.

As I add more features and lessons I may consider increasing this, but I don't think a subscription is on the cards for this. That also makes it clear that while bugs shall be fixed, there's not going to be any real support for this.

Wrap Up

Not much to do now but build this thing. I'd guess this will take a couple of months to put together, and possibly much longer depending on client work. Anyhow...

$ rails new read-hiragana-online