A Guide to Pronunciation – Say It Right

Vowels:                                          Combined Vowels:
*a – as in ‘apple’                                ai – said like ‘eye
i – like ‘ee’                                           ii – elongate the ‘i‘ sound
u – like in ‘sue’                                   ei – elongate the ‘e‘ sound
e – as in ‘bet’                                      oo – elongate the ‘o‘ sound
*o – as in ‘modify’                             ou – also elongate the ‘o‘ sound
uu – elongate the ‘u‘ sound

Note:i‘ and ‘u‘ are considered lazy vowels. This means that their sound can be faintly dropped with certain words, such as ‘suki‘. The ‘u‘ is usually dropped entirely with the word ‘desu‘ and suffix ‘masu‘ so they sound more like ‘des’ and mas’
*a – (You make the sound with your tongue further back in your mouth, as is you were saying ‘father’)
*o – (Also pronounced with the tongue further back in your mouth, as if you were saying ‘or’)

Consonants:
r – the pronunciation is part way between that of an ‘r‘ and an ‘l‘ in English. It sounds similar to the way the Scottish pronounce their ‘r’s or Spanish.
fu – the pronunciation is part way between an ‘f‘ and ‘h‘ sound.
g – always pronounced like in ‘go’, not like in ‘ginger’.
tsu – the t is pronounced fluently together with the s.  (You may also see a small tsu. This is not pronounced but used to double the following letter. See below for how to pronounce double consonants)

Double Consonants:
Double consonants like ‘kk’ for example, are pronounced by giving a very slight pause before it, so that it sounds a little emphasised and separate.

*The best way to get a hang of these pronunciations is to listen to Japanese speakers, such as in anime or Japanese TV dramas, and try to practice.

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8 thoughts on “A Guide to Pronunciation – Say It Right

  1. Sorry to bother you again, but if you don’t mind I have a few corrections on your vowel sounds (:

    First of all, “a as in apple” is not very accurate. I think this statement is somewhat correct if you are talking about British English, but for American English the sound is very different (similar to that in “yeah”).

    I think the Japanese “a” is better represented by the “a” sound in “aww (isn’t that dog cute)”. It’s hard to describe the difference in the mouth, but looking at my mouth in a mirror I see the tongue is farther down and back when compared to the “a’ in “yeah” or “apple”.

    Also, the description of “o – as in modify” isn’t great either. Again it may be correct for British English (just a guess), but for American English the “o” in “modify” sounds like “awww” to me.

    I think the “o” in “orange” is much closer, but not quite right. I was taught to drop my jaw, jet keep my lips only slightly parted.

    One final thing, saying “to make a slight pause” for double consonants isn’t a bad explanation, but I would personally explain it as “to make a pause of one beat, where each syllable is said as a beat”. In other words, you want to give enough time for the pause. If you say things fast, this may not matter, but when speaking slowly it would sound unnatural to say an pause that is not properly timed.

    Anyway, I hope you find this useful (:

    Like

    • I have to admit I don’t agree with everything, as these are what worked best for me, but it’s true I hadn’t considered American English or varying accents so you have a point. But Of course I can’t accommodate for every varying English accent.

      I have mentioned the best way is often just to listen to Japanese people speak and try to copy. I think it comes much more naturally that way. I see your point when describing the ways you make the sound with your mouth, however I find practicing with those methods makes the sounds clumsy or exaggerated

      As for how to pronounce double consonants, I wasn’t quite sure how to describe it. But the best way I’ve seen it described is kind of like the way you’d say the ‘ck’ in ‘bookcase’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you’re British then your descriptions make total sense (:

        I agree that trying to imitate is one of the primary ways to learn pronunciation but depending on the individuals linguistic ability (based on inborn ability, age, other languages spoken, etc.) that can only go so far.

        I am sure you know people who have moved to America and speak with a slight to major accent. If you don’t try to actively correct your own pronunciation I feel there is a higher risk for that.

        Of course, since it sounds like you have spoken to Japanese people in Japanese before, your pronunciation is clearly good enough to be understood – and that is the most important. Also, there is a chance that your actual pronunciation is much better than your description of the sounds.

        Personally, I try to be a perfectionist about nearly all things (linguistically) Japanese, which is why even after so many years I am still working on my pronunciation. Yeah, it’s an obsession (:

        For double consonants, “Bookcase” is a good example to get started but I’ve heard from many sources that Japanese is ‘metronomic’, and “bookcase” doesn’t fit that because each syllable has a sound.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As a follow up, I asked a British friend to speak a few vowels and compare with Japanese sounds.

    We came to the conclusion that the “a” in “apple” isn’t very close to the Japanese あ, but the “a” in the British English “car” is actually quite close.

    Similarly, we determined that the “o” in “modify” isn’t very close to お, however the “a” sounds in “tall” is reasonably close.

    Of course there are variations in different accents with Britian, but his sounds like the typical British Accent to me.

    Like

    • Might I ask what part of Britain he was from?
      Regrettably I still have to disagree with you. If we pronounce ‘a’ in Japanese like we do in ‘car’, everybody will be going round speaking Japanese like the queen. I understood the point, because of the way the sound is made, and could agree that the actual sound is somewhere in the middle, but in the end it isn’t too important because it is impossible to label every pronunciation, and neither is that the point. It is a guide aimed to help beginners, not overwhelm them with language analysis and comparative discourse. Japanese is Japanese, you can’t be exact with this sort of thing because it is it’s only language, as is English. Hence why I made the comment that the best way to learn is to listen to Japanese speakers by some means and attempt to repeat.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not sure where he was from, I can ask him next time I see him.

    I completely agree that this thread in this form is counter-productive for beginners, but my intention was to just discuss these points with you, someone with significant experience in studying Japanese.

    I feel that as someone who is trying to teach Japanese, regardless of our level, we should try to explain the sounds as best as possible, so if one method is 50% close to native pronunciation and one is 80%, I would go with the latter instead.

    Anyway, we can agree to disagree (:

    I’m sorry if I belabored this point too far, so I’ll be quiet now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I apologise, you did make good points 🙂 ive tried to update the post a little point out a couple of the things you mentioned. In any case, I do find it interesting to see what you think. I’ve also been thinking about that onamae vs namae question, it would be interesting to know. I’ll try to find out this week if I remember to ask 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Where to begin with Japanese?! 10 Golden Steps | My Generation Japan

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