If you’re thinking of learning Japanese, or if you’re just starting to learn Japanese, learning hiragana is probably one of the first steps you’re going to want to make. The problem, though, is that there are a ton of different ways to do it and not enough guidance along the way. So many resources makes learning hiragana overwhelming for beginners, and since it’s one of the first things that they’re supposed to do, it’s a bad experience and people end up quitting.

On TextFugu, I recently rewrote and improved the “reading and writing hiragana” chapter (feel free to check it out, it’s free), improving it a lot. The idea was to create a step by step process that anybody could use to learn hiragana so that they could move on to the “good stuff.” There were a few goals with this:

  1. Make learning hiragana simpler.
  2. Create a step-by-step process that anybody could follow.
  3. Take the “mystery” out of learning hiragana (especially hard for self-learners).

After coming up with everything and writing it down, I thought it would be useful for readers of Tofugu as well, so I’m posting up a slightly modified hiragana how-to guide for all of you to enjoy as well. If you’re just starting to learn Japanese, or haven’t started yet, this is one of the first things you want to do. There’s no better time than now, right?


Before You Get Started

For this guide, I’ll be combining several resources. The idea is to take from the best and ignore the rest, organizing for you a great set of resources that will help you to learn how to read and write hiragana (and ultimately allow you to learn Japanese). Before you get started, there are a few preliminary steps I think you should take. They’re optional, technically, but they’ll really help you learn hiragana a lot more effectively and quickly, in the long run.

1. Read about the various Japanese alphabets.

If you knew there was more than one Japanese “alphabet” (okay, fine, they aren’t technically alphabets, but that doesn’t matter much), then maybe you can skip this step. If you didn’t know this, then you should do some reading so that you understand more about what it is you’re about to learn. If you don’t do this, it would be like learning the English alphabet without knowing the letters spell words. With so many Japanese “alphabets” this reading is pretty important.

There’s two ways you can do this:

  1. Read some really in depth articles about hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji on wikipedia (this is the more complicated option).
  2. Read about the Japanese “alphabets” on TextFugu (simpler, quicker, but not as in depth).

I don’t know which one you want to do, but to be honest either is probably fine. Personally, I’d go with the simpler one (#2), just because you only need to know some background info, not become a PhD in Japanese linguistics.

After you’ve gotten the background info on the various Japanese writing systems, you can move on to the next step.

2. Learn The Pronunciation

For me, I think learning pronunciation and understanding how the “patterns” of hiragana work are important to do before you learn to read and write. If you spend some time on this first, you can then associate this with the reading and writing that you learn a little later. Learning the pronunciation of hiragana before you learn hiragana will help you build a foundation of better Japanese pronunciation, help you to understand how the Japanese language works, and ultimately speed up your hiragana learning in the long run (I think it will, anyways).

  1. Hiragana pronunciation can be looked at on TextFugu as well (another free chapter)

After you’ve gone through this, you’ll be ready to start learning the reading and writing parts of hiragana.


The Hiragana How-To Guide

Before you start, I want you to think back to your days of when you learned how to read/write own native language. This will help you to readjust any unrealistic expectations. Most likely, it took you years to get comfortable with English (or whatever you grew up with). Despite this, you’re going to be able to learn hiragana much faster. It’s going to be hard, and you should expect to be perfect in one, two, or even three weeks. It’s a process, and the more you practice the better you’ll end up getting at it, just like anything (as long as you practice the right things, whoops).

1. Download A Hiragana Chart

I’ve actually made a hiragana chart that you can download right here. I think it’s pretty simple, printable, and easy to use. Feel free to use it, give it away, or whatever else you want to do with it. It’s a totally free hiragana chart.

[ilink style="download" url=""]Download Hiragana Chart[/ilink]

You’re going to be using this a lot, so print it out (if you have a printer) and make it handy.

2. Let’s Take A Look At Some Words You Know Already

Despite what you might think, reading and writing Japanese (at least when it comes to kana) is actually really easy. In order to illustrate that, I thought we could look at some words you already know, starting with the word “sushi.”

For the most part, all hiragana characters (or kana) consist of a consonant (a letter that’s not a vowel) and a vowel. If you look at your hiragana chart, you’ll see that there are things like “ka, chi, mu, ra, hu, ji” etc. Although there are some “weird” ones, like “shi, chi, tsu” etc., that are two consonants plus a vowel, you can probably see the basic pattern emerge. Other than this, the only exceptions are “n” (a single consonant) and “a, i, u, e, o” (which are just vowels on their own).

So, knowing that kana pretty much consists of a consonant sound and a vowel sound, let’s figure out how to spell “sushi” in hiragana. It’s quite easy.

The word “sushi” consists of two separate kana: SU + SHI. Take a look at your hiragana chart and see if you can find the kana for both of these (su & shi). What are they? Just for the sake of letting things sink it, go ahead and copy the characters “su” and “shi” in order to write the word “sushi” out. All you have to do is copy them off the chart, we’ll be really learning them in a bit.

This image is taken from the hiragana chart we’re using, and I’ve circled the correct characters. Now, on the sheet they aren’t in the correct order, but when you write out す (su) and し (shi) together, you get すし (sushi). Writing in hiragana really is that simple. It’s amazing, right?

Now, unfortunately, there is a kanji for this word as well (寿司 = すし = sushi), but you don’t need to worry about that at all right now. We’re focusing on hiragana for the time being. Let’s take a look at another word, karate.

This word is often mispronounced as “karadee,” but if you use your knew found knowledge of hiragana pronunciation you’ll realize how karate is actually pronounced. Let’s write it out in kana.

Take the word “karate” and break it up into its individual kana parts (I’ll give you a hint, there’s three parts). Find those three kana on your hiragana chart and write the word out. Pronounce the three individual kana to find out the correct pronunciation of the word karate. Did you get it right?

When you write “karate” out in hiragana, it comes out to からて. This is the hiragana for KA + RA + TE. Totally different from “karadee” that most people end up saying everywhere else.

After taking a look at these, are you starting to understand how hiragana is used to write things in Japanese? Do you also understand how kana in hiragana are pronounced (consonant + vowel, etc)? Good, let’s move on to the actual process of learning to read and write hiragana.

3. Learning to Read & Write

Before you get started, you should make sure that you have a account. This is what we’re going to use to drill the individual kana to help you learn them. We’ll be using it quite a bit in this guide, so it’s best you get an account now so you’re ready.

First 10 Hiragana: あいうえ、おかきくけこ

1. Study your first ten hiragana using – あ、い、う、え、お、か、き、く、け、こ. You’ll have an option of studying these either 5 at a time or 10 at at time. I’d recommend choosing 5 for now, until you get better. Here’s a quick screencast going over how you should use to study your hiragana.

[yframe url='']

Essentially, you want to…

  1. Write the kana down every time you get it right (or wrong)
  2. Use the pronunciation audio that’s available to you on
  3. Only study 5 at a time
  4. Let tell you when you’ve learned something (usually it’s pretty good at that)

2. Go to Drag n’ Drop Hiragana, and only drag the first ten hiragana (a-column and ka-column) into the right spaces. By only doing these ones, you’ll have to find the right hiragana amongst all the other hirgana (helping you differentiate them) and secondly force you to remember what they look like. Try this twice (refresh to restart) and see if you can do it faster the second time!

3. After you feel good about the first 10 kana on, it’s time to put some of that into practice. Complete this worksheet and try to cheat as little as possible.

[ilink style="download" url=""]First 10 Hiragana Practice[/ilink]


Hiragana 11-20: さしすせそ、たちつてと

Of course, it’s important that you review the kana you just studied while you’re learning your new kana, so we’ll make sure to do that here.

1. Start by writing out the ten kana that you know and try to do it from memory (starting with あ and ending with こ). If you had to peek it’s not the end of the world. Write out the romaji next to / below / above them for reference.

2. Now write out the ten new kana (sa-column and ta-column) along with the romaji. These are the kana you’re about to study.

3. Go ahead and open the Master Hiragana list again. Since you finished the first 10 kana on there, you should be able to do the next ten now. Do them in groups of five, just like before until you’ve completed up until と (to). Remember to follow the steps from before where you write out the kana each time you get it right or wrong.

4. Visit RealKana and check the four columns of hiragana that you know already. Click on the katakana tab and uncheck anything that’s checked (you don’t want to learn katakana yet). Now, hit the practice tab and go through the practice a few times, until you feel good about reading the kana.

5. After you feel fairly decent about the first twenty kana (especially the new stuff) complete this worksheet to really solidify that knowledge.

[ilink style="download" url=""]First 20 Hiragana Practice[/ilink]


Hiragana 21-30: なにぬねの、はひふへほ

You’re actually past the halfway point for the “main” hiragana now! Just keep going, you’re making good progress!

1. Write down your ten new hiragana on your piece of paper with the other hiragana, so you can have them for reference.

2. Log on to, and complete the next ten hiragana (na-column and ha-column). As always, be sure to write down the individual kana every time you get it right or wrong, so you can practice writing. If you need help with stroke order, you can always use the stroke order guide on the hiragana chart page.

3. After feeling okay about the next ten, complete this work sheet, which helps you practice reading and writing the individual kana.

[ilink style="download" url=""]First 30 Hiragana Practice[/ilink]

4. Visit RealKana and check the four columns of hiragana that you know already. Click on the katakana tab and uncheck anything that’s checked (you don’t want to learn katakana yet). Now, hit the practice tab and go through the practice a few times, until you feel good about reading this kana (you should be pretty good, actually!).


Hiragana 31-46: まみむめも、やゆよ、らりるれろ、わを、ん

You’re almost there! In terms of the “main” hiragana, this is the last of it. After this, you’re just learning things you already kind of know (like dakuten and combo hiragana), which means you’re pretty much all the way there. Just a few loose ends to tie up after this.

1. Write down your new hiragana on your piece of paper, along with the romaji, for reference.

2. Log on to and finish out the hiragana until ん (n). There’s more than this on, but that’ll come soon enough. Make sure you’re writing down the hiragana you get both right and wrong. Once you’ve finished it up until ん, move on to the next step.

3. Go to RealKana, and this time only check columns な, は, ま, や, ら, & ん. You’re learning more this round, so I want you to focus it a little more on recent kana. Here’s an image to show you what to check (make sure you uncheck the katakana columns in the katakana tab too, if you need to).

Go through these a couple of times until you feel comfortable with them.

4. Complete this worksheet, which focuses on ま through ん columns.

[ilink style="download" url=""]Hiragana ま – ん[/ilink]

5. Head on back to Drag n’ Drop Hiragana. In theory, you should be able to complete the puzzle now (rather than just little bits of it). How fast can you get it done? Record your times and see if you can get done in under three minutes.


Dakuten: がぎぐげご、ざじずぜぞ、だぢづでど、ばびぶべぼ、ぱぴぷぺぽ

In theory, these should be easier than what we’ve been doing so far. You already know the main characters (which dakuten use) and all you have to do is know what little symbol to put next to them (hint: usually it’s a quotation mark). That being said, I’m going to give you more things than normal to study in this section. You should be better at studying hiragana by now, and you should also know the symbols above (minus the dakuten part). I won’t say this section is easy, but it should be easier.

1. Start up and work through the dakuten hiragana. You should finish on ぽ (po). As always, keep writing these things out as you do them whether you get a card right or wrong.

2. Complete this worksheet. This worksheet’s goal is to help you remember what a column will change to when dakuten are added to it. Focus more on remembering that “S” goes to “Z” or “T” goes to “D” rather than focusing on individual kana.

[ilink style="download" url=""]Dakuten Practice[/ilink]

3. On RealKana, let’s practice dakuten hiragana as well as the original kana from which the dakuten came. Check the か, さ, た, は, が, ざ, だ, ば, & ぱ columns. Here’s an image to illustrate:

Make sure you uncheck any katakana columns that might be checked as well. Go through the drills like this until you feel pretty comfortable telling them apart. Can you write them out on your own now? If I said things like…

What do “K-sounds” turn into?

Answer: “G-Sounds”

What do “H-sounds” turn into (two answers here)

Answer: “B & P Sounds”

What do “D-sounds” turn back into?

Answer: “T-Sounds”

What do “Z-sounds” turn back into?

Answer: “S-Sounds”

Could you answer all these questions? If not, be sure to drill RealKana a little bit more so you can learn the differences. Really, just learning these differences is the secret to learning dakuten, so if you can do that, you can do dakuten :)


Combination Hiragana: きゃ、しゃ、ちゃ、にゃ、ひゃ、みゃ、りゃ、ぎゃ、じゃ、ぢゃ、びゃ、& ぴゃ Columns

Sometimes, certain kana can be written smaller. When placed next to another kana, it can modify the way it sounds. Don’t worry, though, because the modifications actually make a lot of sense. For example:

き + small ゃ = きゃ (which sounds like kya). It’s almost like saying KIYA, but you drop the “i” sound. KYA!

There are other “combo-hiragana,” but these are the main ones, and the most important for you to know right now. Combo-kana will get a little crazier once we hit katakana, but for now it should be fairly straight forward, especially after you drill them for a bit.

1. Fire up your good buddy again. By now, you should be through the dakuten, and ready to study the combo-hiragana, starting with きゃ, きゅ, and きょ. Since you already know all the characters being used (you just have to remember that the y-column kana are “small”) feel free to study ten at a time. The goal is to get to the end of this list, actually and finish out everything that has to offer. Like I said, though, these should be one of the easiest sets (even though its the longest) for you, and drilling through it should be more about reviewing kana you already know.

2. Let’s practice writing them. Remember, the やゆよ for these are small ゃゅょ. If you don’t write them small, they are just regular sized, and pronounced normally. It’s the difference between:

きや (kiya) vs きゃ (kya)

Those are two different sounds and you can’t switch them out with each other. The difference is important! Use this worksheet to practice:

[ilink style="download" url=""]Combination Hiragana[/ilink]


At this point, you should feel fairly good about almost all the hiragana. You don’t need to be perfect, nor do you need to be at 100%. That’s definitely not expected at this point. It’ll take a while before you read hiragana nice and fluidly, but luckily there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to practice as you continue to study Japanese (now in hiragana!). Well done!

Where To Go From Here?

Well, there’s plenty of things to do, but I’d round out your hiragana reading & writing career with some lessons on hiragana’s long vowels and the small tsu. That right there will make sure you know just about everything you need to know about hiragana, then all that’s left is more practice.

By learning hiragana, though, you’ve opened up a ton of new resources from which you can study Japanese. If you don’t know hiragana, you’re really limited in what you can do. If you do learn it (like you just did, in theory), there’s so much more available to you now, whether it’s various Japanese textbooks, blogs, websites, or whatever. Hiragana will open doors for you.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and I hope you found it useful as well. If you’re thinking of learning Japanese, this isn’t a bad place to start, and I think this guide lays everything out pretty simply and easily. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

P.S. If you wish this tutorial was 140 characters or less, you should follow Tofugu on Twitter.

P.P.S. If you want to read a more in depth guide to learning hiragana, you’ll want to check out the first six chapters of TextFugu (all are free).

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  • Anonymous

    Wow, love this. You really went all out for this one. Definitely sending all hiragana questions I get to this guide from now on.

  • Ingrid Strasheim

    お is NOT “oh” like in “joe”.
    (English) oh = oʊ
    (Japanese) o = o
    English approximations of Japanese sounds are just as misdirected as writing English in katakana is.

  • Kiii

    Great post! I bet it will be great for beginners. It’s weird, though, I had no idea people actually had -problems- with hiragana. When I started college, we had about a week to learn hiragana, a week for katakana, and then we started with kanji (20-30 a week). People had problems with katakana (presumably because it was the rarest), and kanji (because it’s kanji :D), but everyone was really fine with hiragana. I suppose reading a lot of it almost every day really helps. But it does take quite a while to develop your own handwriting. When I look at my old notebooks now, I can only laugh. By the way, maybe an idea for an article: handwritten Japanese, what it can look like, what not to do, how to make it “flowy”, etc.

  • Screams_of_erida

    I agree. お should be pronounced much more like the ‘o’ in “job” , not “joe” ;)

  • koichi

    At least in American English, “Job” would pronounce a “jah” sound – Lemme guess… Are you… British? (Most definitely wrong, I bet, but fun to guess)

  • koichi

    Are we talking different accents of English here or am I confused?

    Joe = Joh → “Oh” sound, which is the sound I want people going towards. Perhaps this is more an issue of how people pronounce “joe” in different languages?

    P.S. What in the world is this guy? ʊ Looks like a little ひ! (My poor American education has just been revealed, dun dun dunnn).

  • Screams_of_erida

    LOL sorry koichi, i forget that you’re american :P. I am indeed english (not just british, – no such thing as a british accent remember :P). I see what you were going for now with the ‘joe’ thing … even so, i would say ‘job’ (english pronounced) compared with american ‘joe’ is closer to the japanese ‘o’.

    sorry to be picky… hehe ^__^

  • Jonadab

    The “o” in job is MUCH closer to あ than お.

    If you don’t like Joe, how about the o in “broken”, “hope”, or “omega”?

  • Jonadab

    I really only have one major thing to add: I would recommend, strongly, that beginners to Japanese who are native speakers of English should stay the heck away from romaji, and any Japanese-language resource that uses romaji, until you are *comfortable* with Japanese pronunciation. Early use of romaji causes much confusion and can lead to bad habits that will plague you for years. There’s no good reason to mess with romaji early on, because it’s by far the least important of the Japanese writing systems. Save it for later. If you don’t know at least a thousand kanji, your ability to runction in the Japanese language has not reached the point where romaji will really help. Seriously, it can wait.

    Start with hiragana, then start in on a few of the easier and more important kanji and at some point pick up katakana… After a few months, when you can read hiragana easily and have a few hundred kanji under your belt, you can *think* about maybe trying to learn romaji.

    Do *NOT* make the mistake of thinking you already know romaji and it’s easy because they look like the letters you use to write English. That’s wrong. The correct observation is that romaji look *deceptively* like the letters used to write English, which makes them confusing. You’ll end up pronouncing Tokyo as three syllables or some jazz, and nobody will understand a word you’re saying. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

  • Jonadab

    > English approximations of Japanese sounds are just as misdirected as writing English in katakana is.

    I tend to agree with this statement. Handing romaji to an English speaker with no linguistics training is extremely misguided. I know a majority of the available books do it, but it’s a bad idea just the same.

  • Serhij Gajdosh

    As for me all these words, up and above are wrong, because correctly, these “o” ‘s are pronounced as “ou”. I think the word “fog” will be the best. What do you think?

  • koichi

    “fog” is also an “ah” sound (in American English).

    I think we’re just debating accents here, which means everyone’s right and
    everyone’s wrong, too, haha.

    If you’re reading this and confused, you should just go to TextFugu and
    listen to the audio to figure out what it is. English accents are,
    apparently, confusing.

  • Allison Oldford

    I think of the pronunciation simply as saying the letter “O”.

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  • Daniel Parrey

    Hmm I think i’ve lost the beginners mind. It is hard for me to think of kana as something that its difficult to learn. If I can give one piece of advice to people, its to write a lot. Sure Heisig advises against it.

    But It really does work, and learning the stroke order helps you understand the characters and the writing systems more in general. Don’t put it off just start doing it.

  • Willow Branwen

    This may seem strange but I use a certain method to practice my Hiragana. I’m a big fan of The Gazette so I pick some songs and google the lyrics. I practice by rewriting the lyrics in Hiragana while I listen to the songs. I hope this helps someone! I think it’s a pretty painless way to practice my japanese.

  • Hinoema

    Great post! Also, here’s a tool that’s simply excellent- using this, I memorized the basic kana (hiragana and katakana) in a few days.

  • aurickandrien

    ʊ is one of the letters of the International Phonetic Alphabet, which people use for writing things in close approximation to how they actually sound. You wouldn’t come across it as much in Japanese, but if you’re learning a language like English (where there are multiple spellings for the same sound and multiple sounds for the same spelling) you’ll come across it in most learner’s dictionaries.

    Joe in IPA:
    British English – dʒəʊ
    American English – dʒoʊ

    Job in IPA:
    British English – dʒɒb
    American English – dʒɑːb

  • Kazami

    Ehh, How can i tell ”i know ” to only learn those kana? i always got other kana like sa.

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  • mckack

    For American English perhaps “core” or any -ore word like “bore”, “lore”, “tore” etc. would be a better example?

    If only you guys knew the almighty “å” :)

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  • Jiekobu

    I know some kana and i know how it works, but what i really need to know or learn is the romaji for japanese words. words that can help me if i went on a trip to japan.

  • susanne

    Which way is Hiragana written in every day notes/writing with a pencil or ballpen?
    The font used for the Hiragang-Chart for ka-ra-te and su-shi irritates me, it seems too ornamental for learning purposes, at least for beginners. The font used after “Hiragana 11-20″ etc. seems easier to write.
    I use some different Anki decks with Hiragana. Some of them uses different fonts, I’ve seen at least 3 so far and that is just confusing at the moment.
    Well, I use different decks since some of them offer the stroke order, some others the sound etc.

    Is there something like an official Hiragana-writing-by-hand-with-pencil-font, chart, help, whatever available or reccomended?

    At least there is one official school font available in my country – that’s how students learn to write and teachers are supposed to grate on the blackboard using chalk ;-)

  • susanne

    btw the link for 1.2.
       Read about the Japanese “alphabets” on TextFugu
    has some www etc. too many.
    After removing the unneeded stuff it works using this link:

  • Santiago Madrigal

    Very awesome resource Koichi! Really comprehensive information on how to learn hiragana, and eventually katakana… although for reviewing I would recommend to use Anki over iKnow… iKnow now is a paid service, right?

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  • mikimichi

    i started learning it,and now i know almost the whole hiragana,
    im only 16 too xD
    I love japanese,and i think this is very helpful,thanks ^^

  • Grayson2496

    I understand the concept of Hiragana vs Romaji, but using Hiragana you are essentially creating Romaji words right? For instance, Su-Shi = Sushi. Su and Shi are “letters” in Hiragana, but they create a Romaji word. You are basically learning both alphabets at the same time, but my question is why we “aren’t supposed to learn Romaji.” I cannot take an english word and turn it into Hiragana without knowing the Romaji for it. An example being the word, basketball. Basketball in japanese is “basuketto”, which is Romaji. The Hiragana for basuketto is 
    バスケット . I could never come to that translation without first knowing the Romaji. So yes, for beginners trying to learn the language, I can see why you would need to know Hiragana first, but regardless you end up learning Romaji anyways. Also, how do you know that “basketball” is basuketto? It’s not like you magically know the japanese word for Basketball…Can someone please explain this too me? 

  • susanne

     Of course for people writing in latin letters it’s much easier to read Romanji instead of Hiragana or Katakana. If you’re studying some Japanese sentences for a vacation, well, then the writing doesn’t matter. But if you’re planning to study Japanese seriously, the question is, when are you learning to read and write Hiragana and Katakana?
    You definitely won’t be able to study this language without those skills. You might be able though to study it up to a certain point without studying Kanjis. But if you go to Japan, you’ll probably feel like an analphabeth who neither can read nor understand anything written, since there is neither furigana nor a Hiragana translation to texts in everyday life.

    Or are there apps in the meantime that can put Furigana to Kanjis, if you take a picture of thext?

  • Lauren

    textfugu and tofugu are the absolute best japanese learning systems i’ve come across online so far – and i’ve been looking everywhere from japanesepod101 to rosetta stone. thank you so much! ^.^

  • R. Ali

    I’d love to get one of those large hiragana/katakana charts for children.

  • Hiragana Mama

    I like how the photo I took is being used without permission… :) I guess it’s my fault for not watermarking it.

  • Hiragana Mama
  • Atlas

    I speak Spanish (and English -_-) and it makes learning Japanese easier cause the sounds are all basically the same.

  • BamBa

    And this is why I’m lucky cause I’m romanian… We read the letters alike with the japanese so there was never a problem with pronunciation for me.

  • Alisa

    Thank you very much for your tips this is helping me sooo much and I’m very happy because I’m actually understanding where your coming from unlike when I tried to use other unreliable sites. I’m a total begginer other then the fact that I can watch japanese dramas, music or animes without subtitles most of the time .(≧∇≦)

  • Harlan Hikaru Fox

    I’m having major trouble with the actual process of _writing_ hiragana itself. I’m trying, but even the very first syllable, “a”, I can’t make the character look anything like how it’s supposed to. Even after 20, 30 attempts, it doesn’t look right at all… Even though I’m doing the strokes in the correct order, it still doesn’t look right. What can I do to get it down?