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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Why is the hiragana HA sometimes read as WA?
So when I introduce myself, I say ‘Watashi wa Hiroko desu.’ meaning “I’m Hiroko.” The sentence has two ‘wa’ sounds. The first one is written as ‘wa/わ' but the second one uses the hiragana ‘ha/は.'
So what’s going on with this?
The hiragana ‘ha/は’ is usually read as "ha." For example, ‘hai’ meaning “yes” and ‘hajimemashite’ meaning “Nice to meet you.”
However, when it's used as a particle, it's read as "wa." The hiragana ‘ha’ in the sentence ‘Watashi *WA* Hiroko desu.’ is used as the topic marking particle. So you need to read this as ‘wa’ not ‘ha.’
It’s because the sound made by this character has shifted over time. The ancient Japanese people pronounced it as “fa” but, around the 9th century, it began to be said as “wa”. Even though the sound changed, people continued to use the character in the same way when writing. However, after the war, the government decided to renew the spelling rules, so that all ‘ha/は’ letters read as “wa” sounds were replaced to ‘wa/わ,’ except the particles. So the particles keep their traditional spellings until now.
So this letter is pronounced as “wa” when it’s a particle, but also in one other common situation: when it’s used as the last letter of the greeting phrases. Such as ‘Kon’nichiwa meaning “Good afternoon,” and ‘konbanwa meaning “Good evening.” Those two use the hiragana ‘ha/は’ at the end but the sounds are ‘wa’ because this ‘wa’ was originally a particle.
Other than the particle 'wa,' the sound of 'wa' is spelled as 'wa/わ' in hiragana. For example, ‘wakarimashita’ meaning “I understood.”
Got it?
I’ll show you one sentence in English and Japanese. Try to read it! Are you ready?
(Show the sentences)
"I like spring."
The answer is…(show the sentences in romanization)
‘Watashi wa haru ga suki desu.’ meaning “I like spring.”
How was it? Not that bad right?
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re not confused the multiple reading of hiragana ‘ha’ from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!