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Japanese Lesson #1: Pronunciation

» Features, Japanese Lessons | posted by Piro^kun on 01/27/2006 [Discuss]

Pronunciation is probably one of the hardest things to master for most gaijin. It determines whether you get the response of “hai? wakarimasen (I’m sorry, I don’t understand)” or “ua! nihongo zyouzu desu ne (wow, your Japanese is so good)”

Most Americans pronounce “god” as “gawd.” Therefore, it would sound rather weird applied to the Japanese word. A good rule of thumb for pronunciation is to use long vowel sounds, but shorten them to crisp clean bursts.

For example, a long “o” sound in English sort of has a “w” sound at the end of it…kinda like “ohw,” you would want to shorten that sound to a quick “oh” sound.

Another thing that seems to be hard for some is the R’s in Japanese. Sometimes they almost sound like D’s. An example of this (since I’m a videogame nerd and feel the need to make a street fighter reference here), the name RYU is misspronounced by nearly every gaijin i know. It’s often pronounced “raiyu” or sometimes “reeyu.” The rolled R is pretty tough for Amercians anyway because we roll the tongue differently (inwards instead of outwards like the Japanese). In any case, try using a short D sound when attempting the R’s.

EX: Ryu - Diu, Ryaku - Diaku, Rikon - Dikon..etc. remember, less emphasis on the D sound.

Here are some other helpful tips:

‘a’ as in “mama” or “mine”, not as in “day”

‘e’ as in “they” or “day”, not as in “me” (also not as in “the” or “hello”)

‘i’ as in “Mississipi” or “me”, not as in “mine”

ohayo (good morning) —> like “Ohio”

gozaimasu —> God + *sigh* + mass + u as in “you” (short sound)

konnichiwa (good day / hello) —> kon as in “Conny” + nichi(day) as in n-”itchy” + wa as in “what”

sayonara (goodbye) —> *sigh* + oh + nara as in “sahara” (or onara as in “O’Hara”)

gochisou-sama-deshita (after dinner) —> Go! + chi as in “chill” + so + sama as in “mama” + de as in “deaf” + shit + short ‘a’

gogo (pm / afternoon) —> as in “Wake me up before you GO GO” .. (oh my god, did I just say that??)

Some sounds, when combined, become a new sound —

300 should be “san-hyaku” but becomes “sanbyaku”

600 should be “roku-hyaku” but becomes “roppyaku”

8.000 should be “hachi-sen” but becomes “hassen”

For those of you who want to get some words or sounds on audio: My good friend has a bunch of stuff that might interest you on Check out the folders starting with “audio” .. If you’re interested in the programs, I have to warn you that most programs are about learning the japanese writing and not just romanji words. Also, the language/advernture demo is intended for children ..

The funny thing about romaji (romanji) is that there are quite a few different ways to type it. There are some sounds that do not even exist in the language so they take that to their advantage to shorten the words when typing them.

For example, the sounds “tee” and “see” do not even exist in the Japanese language. The closest sounds is “chi” and “shi.” However for romaji purposes, they sometimes type it “ti” and “si.”


chigaimasu (that’s wrong) may also be seen as “tigaimasu”

shitsure shimasu (excuse me) may also be seen as “siture simasu.” (notice the “tsu” was reduced to “tu.” )

I just makes it easier to type when using that wacky J-shift keyboard (roman charater to Japanese charater)

Oh yeah, if you ever try to chat with a Japanese person in Romaji, keep and eye out for the use of “ha” instead of “wa.” This is JUST for keyboard purposes and is NOT proper Japanese.

EX: kore wa pen desu (this is a pen) MAY SOMETIMES BE TYPED… kore ha pen desu.

the reasoning for this is because when they type “wa” in there, the wrong “wa” character will pop up. It may be a little hard to grasp but I hope you get the idea.

Confused yet?

Okay…whew . Remember kids, even though I am the “m4st3r 0f l33t”, I’m in no way a master of japanese, but feel free to ask questions about this and all of my lessons (email me at pirokun(at)gmail(dot)com) (or post in the Japanese Lesson forum)…and also call me sexy. Especially that last one.

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