Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to pronounce Japanese

If you're going to be reading this blog (or even just living in a world where Japan exists), it will be helpful to know how to pronounce Japanese words. Lucky for you, it's extremely easy. Just sound out everything you see.

Consonants all behave as you would expect in English and "y" always acts as a consonant. This means that "Tokyo" is two syllables and is pronounced "Toh-kyoh" not "Toh-ki-oh". There are similar consonant combinations with "y" and all of them act as combined consonants, "y" will never sound like a vowel.
"Tsu" as in "Tsunami" is pronounced as it looks, like the "ts" in "cats" (with an additional "u" sound of course), except it can come at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Japanese "r"s and "l"s are all the same letter and sound like something that is the combination of "r" and "l". Pronouncing it as one or the other usually is not a problem.

Vowels are few in number and are always pronounced the same way:
a = ah (father)
e = eh (pet)
i = ee (ski)
o = oh (bone)
u = oo (flume)
When vowels come in succession, simply sound them out together and you'll end up with the correct pronunciation. ("Pai" sounds like "pie".) When two of the same vowel come in a row (sometimes written as a long vowel with a bar over it), hold the vowel sound for a little longer.

Sometimes, there will be double consonants, as in "Nippon". These are pronounced as a small pause before the consonant. It would be easier to understand if you heard an example on youtube, but if you're in a hurry, pronouncing both consonants tends to force you to break up the syllables and make a small pause anyway. So you can say "Neep-pohn".

That's it! Now you can go impress your friends with your ability to pronounce Japanese words. Nah, but seriously, don't be so proud of yourself, it's really easy and you should have learned this ages ago.

BONUS:
When speaking, some vowels end up being devoiced (because honestly, who has the time for vowels these days). This mostly happens in common places like "-masu" at the end of verbs, where the "u" is devoiced making it sound like "moss". Same thing in "desu". "-shite" and "-shita", more common endings of verbs, tend to have the "i" devoiced so they sound like "shte" and "shta". Also sometimes where "suki" or "suke" occur in words, the "u" is devoiced. There are probably other instances of this, but these are the most common.

1 comment:

  1. Your Uncle Peter got a kick out of what you said here.

    "That's it! Now you can go impress your friends with your ability to pronounce Japanese words. Nah, but seriously, don't be so proud of yourself, it's really easy and you should have learned this ages ago"

    ReplyDelete