JAPANESE WORDS Pronunciation and ENGLISH WORDS Pronunciation

Many Japanese beginners are curious about how to pronounce Japanese words, how does it work? Is it too difference from their native language or English? So in order to answer to this curiosity, it is a good idea to compare two languages: Japanese words pronunciation and English words pronunciation.

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Japanese Kanji

1 — Vowels and Consonents

Vowels and Consonents in Japanese are quite difference than English. In Japanese, there are 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and 14 consonants (k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w, g, z, d, b, p). The way they pronounce vowels can be seen like this:

  • “a” — similar to “ah”
  • “i” — similar to “we”
  • “u” — best to describe it like “urg”/”uh”/”um”
  • “e” — somewhere between “a” and “e” (in “pet”)
  • “o” — similar to “oh”

Combining with consonants, we will have the pronunciations of syllables (Hiragana). For example, by combining “k” and “a” we will have “ka” ( spelling is similar to “car”).

Unlike Japanese, Vowels system in English seems to be much more complicated as we have vowel diagram as below:

So in this case if we only compare vowels rule, we can say English vowels system is somewhat more difficult than Japanese.

So what will happen when we pronounce Japanese words? Actually it’s kinda simple, we just pronounce each syllable plainly. For example, we have the word “kuruma” (means “car”), the pronunciation will be “Ku — Ru — Ma”. The pronunciation of each of 3 parts is just similar to what we learn about Hiragana chart pronunciation. By putting this way, we can say Japanese words pronunciation is no harder than English. As for English, we have many vowels and consonants, so when we combine them to speak a word, it seems to be more complicated.

2 — Words Intonation

In this case, many Japanese beginners may surprise that there is no intonation for each word in Japanese. All the sounds in a Japanese word are spoken in the same strength and length (except for long vowels). On the other hand, in English we have intonation for each word, we cannot just spell an English word plainly without intonation. So what happen when we apply intonation rule into Japanese? Our Japanese words pronunciation will sound weird of course. Take the word “kuruma” above as example, in Japanese we will just pronounce it like “Ku — Ru — Ma”. When we put intonation into it, the sound will be “KU — Ru — MA”, or “Ku — RU — Ma”, or “Ku — Ru — MA”. If we are so familiar with English then this could be considered to be normal, but in Japanese standard, it is extremely weird.

3 — Sentence Stress and Accent

This will be related to Words stress and intonation. Since it will be a difficult topic to go deep into sentence stress and intonation of Japanese and English, so in here we will see basic rule of each language. In term of English, it is considered as “stress-timed” language, which mean it is the stressing and the exact timing which determine the sentence meaning. There is no correct order here, the stressing and timing will be different depend on the information needed to be delivered. Let’s take the sentence “I want to kiss you” as the example and compare different stressings below:

  • “I want to kiss you.”
  • “I want to kiss you.”
  • “I want to kiss you.”
  • “I want to kiss you.

So as you can see with each stressing time, the meaning of sentence will be changed. What about Japanese then? In Japanese, they follow a different rule and this is one of the reason why Japanese people face hard time speaking English. Japanese follows a rule called as “pitch accent”. To explain in basic way, pitch accent involves in high pitch and low pitch, and these two can actually change the way people understand. For example, the word “hashi” with high pitch on the first sound will mean “chopstick”, while “hashi” with high pitch on the second sound will mean “bridge”. Each word in Japanese has a exact pitch order, also a Japanese sentence follows high and low pitches, therefore making a Japanese sentence sound like a steady rhythm, unlike English with difference tones.

In overall, if we look at this we can say for people who are so used to English words pronunciation then it will be really difficult for them to learn Japanese words pronunciation as each of them has a totally different rule from the others. However, as we can see, despite of these differences, Japanese words spelling is not as hard as people may think.

And that is it for today! Stay tune, have fun and good luck in your Japanese learning journey!

Source: blog.akirademy.com

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