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A Guide to Teaching Color Words in Japanese

By Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch

Are your students learning the names of colors in Japanese? Use these tips for different methods of teaching these color words. Look for the included color-coded flashcards to use in your classroom.

Two Categories of Colors

Color words are another important lesson when teaching Japanese. These words can be used to describe many things, like clothing, Japanese Language plants and other objects. In Japanese, colors are divided into two categories: words that end with (i), which are treated as adjectives, and words that are nouns, which are connected to other words with (no). Most color words have a hiragana reading and a kanji, though some colors have a katakana reading, since they are based on the English words for colors.

Color Words That Are i-Adjectives

First, let's start by writing the six color words that are i-adjectives. Point out to students that these six words can be written by starting with the kanji, then adding い.

黒い (くろい): (kuroi) Black

赤い (あかい): (akai) Red

黄色い (きいろい): (kiiroi) Yellow

白い (しろい): (shiroi) White

青い (あおい): (aoi) Blue

茶色い (ちゃいろい): (chairoi) Brown

Since some students will benefit from visual association when learning color words, download this document with flashcards depicting the word written in the corresponding color. See the images below for the contents of the document. Start by writing the kanji, explaining to the students what the stroke order is. Next, write the reading underneath in the same color.

After explaining how the kanji for the color words are written, explain how this group is used in a sentence. Since these are -adjectives, it might be beneficial going over the different conjugations and uses. Write out the examples on the blackboard:

青い くつ (aoi kutsu) Blue shoes

赤い が すき です (akai ga suki desu) I like red

Make multiple flashcards of the color words and pass them out to the students. Ask them to write out a sentence for each word, then check to see if they understand how to use the first group of color words.

Flashcards for i-Adjective Color Words

BlackRedYellowWhiteBlueBrown

Color Words That Are Nouns

Next, introduce the second group of color words. Unlike the first group, these colors do not have an at the end of the word, and cannot be used as an adjective. Some of these words have katakana equivalents, which are close to the English words. Choose which form you would prefer your students to use. Start in the same fashion as the first group of color words: write them on the blackboard, show the stroke order of the kanji, and use colored flashcards.

(みどり): (midori) Green

グリーン: (guriin) Green

灰色 (はいいろ): (haiiro) Gray

グレー: (guree) Gray

ピンク: (pinku) Pink

銀色 (ぎんいろ): (giniro) Silver

シルバー: (shirubaa) Silver

(むらさき): (murasaki) Purple

水色 (みずいろ): (mizuiro) Light Blue

金色 (きんいろ): (kiniro) Gold

ゴールド: (goorudo) Gold

Since these color words are nouns, they use to qualify another noun. Write some examples on the blackboard of how to use these words:

緑 の かばん (midori no kaban) Green purse

この はな は ピンク です (kono hana wa pinku desu) This flower is pink

Pass out a second group of flashcards and ask the students to write out sentences. After checking if they understand how to use these words in a sentence, shuffle the two groups together and see if they can pick out the usage differences.

Flashcards for Noun Color Words

GreenGreenGrayGrayPinkSilverSilverPurpleLight BlueGoldGold