|My hiragana and katakana notebook. No romaji in sight.|
If you use romaji when learning, it makes your pronunciation horrid. Japanese and English share many words that are pronounced differently, but look alike (such as a hair bow, and to bow at a performance in English). If English is your first language, then every letter has a certain sound you already associate to it. “e” is “eh”, “me” is “Mi”, etc.
However, Japanese has different pronunciation than English does and using romaji hinders your progress. You will stumble upon Japanese words such as man (Mah-n), tone (toh-neh), and me (meh). It’s hard to write the pronunciation, since the sound for a Japanese “e” isn’t so drawn out as I make it seem.
However, when you see まん, とね, and め, and associate the correct pronunciation to each character, they can never be pronounced wrong!
Learning hiragana and katakana early gives you a good foundation for learning. It’s a clean slate, upon which to base your pronunciation. Not only this, but you don’t have to go the extra step of learning Japanese in romaji, then re-learning it in kana.
It’s not hard learning the kana if you’re diligent about it. For me, the only hard part when learning the kana is stroke order.
There are some good DS games, but they’re only good when you know a little hiragana/katakana. It’s best to use actual Japanese games meant for young children. My favorite game is Kageyama Method - Denno Hanpuku Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun. It might have a long name, but It's a great game. Not only is it good for hiragana/katakana, but it’s also very good for learning kanji!
I DO NOT recommend using My Japanese Coach for learning hiragana/katakana… or at all. The game teaches stroke order wrong, there’s no option for complete Japanese (romaji even when you’re learning Kanji), and the game isn’t organized well. You “learn” around 10 words per lesson, and you don’t even have to know what you’re doing to pass them. The games almost always give you the most recent words, and the old ones are almost forgotten even if you choose the open for mastered words. They also have games that really don’t teach anything helpful, such as the romaji word search and the “Spell the word in romaji as fast as you can” game. In case you didn't guess, I don't like that game at all.
The games are good supplements, but nothing is better than the old fashioned method: constantly writing the characters while mentally repeating what they are. I think it works far better than any other method, and gives you the satisfaction of having worked hard, and that’s a part of learning any language. If you don’t work hard, it shows.
For those who wish to support the cause with a twitter account, go to http://noromaji.com/ (connected with Edulift).