How to Pronounce Japanese Words

Introduction

How to pronounce Japanese words is relatively easy. For the most part, all syllables are spoken independent of one another and with the same emphasis. A native speaker will recognize subtle differences in pronunciation and tone, but for the beginner, adopting a basic approach is acceptable and recommended when learning Japanese.

Step 1: Vowels:

Vowels are pronounced virtually the same throughout the Japanese language and are largely uninfluenced by other syllables. Although there are times when a vowel may appear silent for more fluid speech, it is generally recommended that beginners pronounce everything, until they obtain a firm grasp on the local dialect.

In the event two like vowels are written together, the sound is held twice as long. Vowels are pronounced as follows:

  • a - "ah", similar to "father"
  • i - "ee", similar to "see" but shorter in length
  • u - "oo", similar to "poodle"
  • e - "eh", similar to "egg"
  • o - "o", similar to "comb"

Step 2: Consonants:

Consonants are pronounced very similarly to English with a few notable exceptions. In the event two like consonants are written together, the sound is doubled.

  • r - pronounced somewhere between an "r" and a "d" and is similar to the "t" in water or the "d" in "rider"
  • ts - similar to "cats".
  • n - One of the few sounds that is dependent on context: It is pronounced "m" before m, p or b. Pronounced "n" before s, sh, t, ts, ch, n, r, z, d or j. Pronounced "ng" at the end of a word.

Step 3: Intonation:

Intonation does not play as important a role in Japanese language as it may in other languages. There are basically two tones (high and low) in Japanese language, but these tones are not used to differentiate between homonyms. Rather, tone is used purely to show unity of words in a phrase.

For a beginner, intonation is de-emphasized and recommended that its use be acquired through careful mimicry of fluent speakers. Adopting a rather monotone speech will not prevent one from being understood, and a more fluid speech can be added as one's understanding advances.

References

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