There are actually rules for figuring out how to pronounce or read a kanji without memorizing every single word in the dictionary. First, all pronunciations can be classified as either a “kun” pronunciation or an “on” pronunciation. Most kanji have at least one of each and there are patterns about when to use “kun” and when to use “on”. Once you know those patterns you can look at a word and make a good guess at whether you should use the “kun” version of the kanji or the “on”.
But that’s the sort of thing that’s only useful for people who are memorizing all the kanji and right now we’re mostly focusing on grammar and basic vocabulary.
However, if you do decide you want to learn all the kanji be sure to not only memorize what the kanji means and how it can be pronounced, but also how the different pronunciations are classified. Knowing that a kanji has two different pronunciations isn’t very useful if you can’t remember which is which!
今 = いま = now
日 = ひ = day
今日 = きょう = today
When Do We Get To The Fun Part?
Blue: Most kanji have two or three different possible pronunciations.
Blue: Which pronunciation you use depends on the word the kanji is in.
Blue: For example, when you combine these two kanji into one word it doesn’t just change their meaning, it changes how they are pronounced.
Yellow: So it’s not enough to just memorize all the kanji, I have to remember the words they show up in?!
Blue: This is another reason that texts with pronunciation guides are really useful to new learners like us.
Blue: On the bright side this means your 日本語 hobby will last for years and years.
Yellow: That’s not the part of the hobby I want lasting for years and years!