Japanese Pronunciation: The Beginner’s #1 Easy Guide

Japanese Pronunciation - Ling - Japanese Tori

Do you want to learn Japanese but are intimidated by Japanese pronunciation? Though the Japanese language seems pretty difficult to pronounce for learners, it is actually easier to pronounce than English. If you want to find out what we mean, keep reading!

In this article, you will learn the basics of Japanese pronunciation. We have divided the Japanese alphabet into sounds and noted which sounds have special cases. Without further ado, let’s get started by comparing English and Japanese pronunciation.

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Is Japanese Pronunciation Hard?

Is Japanese pronunciation hard? The short answer is no, and let me explain why it is easier than you think.

First things first, Japanese has a consistent sound system where each character is typically pronounced the same way regardless of its position in a word.

English, on the other hand, has many exceptions and irregularities that can make it more challenging. Japanese follows a “one sound, one character” principle, and that makes it easier to master the basics.

In Japanese, every syllable consists of a consonant followed by a vowel or a single vowel. This means that you don’t have to worry about complex consonant clusters like in English. For example, in English, words like “strengths” or “twelfth” can be tricky to pronounce due to consecutive consonants. In Japanese, such combinations are rare.

Plus, Japanese has a smaller set of phonetic sounds compared to English. English has around 44 phonemes, while Japanese has about 25. It means that there are fewer possibilities for mispronunciation, making it less overwhelming for you. There are even sounds for animals (Japanese Onomatopoeia) similar to what you can hear in other languages.

Let’s look at a few examples together with their phonetic transcriptions below to highlight the differences:

English: Strengths [stɹɛŋθs]

Japanese: Tsuyosa [tsujo̞sa]

In English, the consonant cluster “ngths” can be challenging, while in Japanese, the pronunciation of “tsuyosa” is straightforward.

English: Cinnamon [ˈsɪnəmən]

Japanese: Koron [ko̞ɾo̞n]

English has a complex consonant cluster, “cinn,” while the Japanese pronunciation of “koron” is relatively simpler.

English: Rhythm [ˈɹɪðəm]

Japanese: Rizumu [ɾizɯmɯ]

The word “rhythm” in English includes the tricky combination “rhy,” whereas the Japanese pronunciation of “rizumu” follows a consistent pattern.

Keep in mind that pronunciation is just one aspect of language learning, and there are other factors to consider. But overall, these different rules make Japanese relatively easier than English in terms of pronunciation.

Japanese pronunciation Japanese characters

What Are Japanese Sounds?

If you want to learn Japanese pronunciation, you should start with the basic Japanese sounds. When we look at the Hiragana chart, there are 46 characters, each of them with a single sound. This is very different in English. For example, the “i” in English sounds different based on the letters it is combined with. That’s not the case in Japanese: it always sounds like the “i” in the word “mimic.”

That’s a general idea of Japanese pronunciation. Let’s break it into small parts and take a look at Japanese vowels and consonants.

Japanese Vowels

Let’s dive into the world of Japanese vowels. Japanese has a total of five vowel sounds, which are pronounced as separate syllables: “a,” “i,” “u,” “e,” and “o.” Unlike English, each Japanese vowel is pronounced consistently, making it easier for learners to grasp the correct sounds.

Here’s a breakdown of the Japanese vowel sounds:

  • あ [a]: This vowel is pronounced as in the English word “father” or “car.”
  • い [i]: Similar to the vowel sound in the English word “see” or “tree,” but with a shorter duration.
  • う [u]: This vowel sound is similar to the “oo” sound in the English word “boot” or “moon,” but with less rounding of the lips.
  • え [e]: Pronounced as in the English word “red” or “pet.”
  • お [o]: Similar to the “o” sound in the English word “so” or “no,” but slightly longer in duration.

Remember that in Japanese, each vowel is pronounced distinctly and carries equal weight within a word. This differs from English, where vowel sounds can often change depending on the surrounding consonants. Japanese vowels are clear and straightforward, which can make them easier to pronounce and understand.

By mastering the pronunciation of these five vowel sounds, you’ll be well on your way to sounding more natural and confident in your Japanese conversations.

Well, where do you start your journey? All you have to do is download Ling now from the App Store or Google Play Store, and you’ll be ready to speak any language with confidence from the first day!

Enjoy exploring the beautiful world of Japanese vowels, and have fun learning the language!

Japanese Consonants

Japanese has a total of 16 consonant sounds, and they are usually followed by a vowel. Let’s take a look at Japanese consonants, with their phonetic transcriptions in brackets.

“K” [k]: Similar to the “k” sound in English, as in “key.”

“S” [s]: Pronounced like the “s” sound in English, as in “sun.”

“T” [t]: Similar to the “t” sound in English, as in “top.”

“N” [n]: Pronounced like the “n” sound in English, as in “no.”

“H” [h]: Similar to the “h” sound in English, as in “hot.”

“M” [m]: Pronounced like the “m” sound in English, as in “moon.”

“Y” [j]: Similar to the “y” sound in English, as in “yes.”

“R” [ɾ]: This consonant sound is a tap or a light flap of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, similar to the “r” sound in some English dialects, as in “better.”

“W” [w]: Pronounced like the “w” sound in English, as in “water.”

“G” [ɡ]: Similar to the hard “g” sound in English, as in “good.”

“Z” [z]: Pronounced like the “z” sound in English, as in “zero.”

“D” [d]: Similar to the “d” sound in English, as in “dog.”

“B” [b]: Pronounced like the “b” sound in English, as in “blue.”

“P” [p]: Similar to the “p” sound in English, as in “pen.”

“J” [dʑ]: This consonant sound is a voiced palatal fricative, similar to the “j” sound in the English word “jam.”

“V” [β]: Pronounced like a voiced bilabial fricative, similar to a mix between “v” and “b” in English, but with a softer articulation.

The Japanese consonant sounds are generally crisp and without complex clusters, making them easier to pronounce compared to some English consonant combinations. By familiarizing yourself with these sounds, you’ll be well on your way to mastering Japanese pronunciation.

Ling Japanese Watch Out For Japanese Sounds - Japanese pronunciation

Watch Out For These Unique Japanese Sounds!

If I were a Japanese teacher, I would tell you to pay attention to the sounds below if you want to pronounce Japanese words correctly. Let’s see what they are:

つ (Tsu)

“っ” is often romanized with the sound “tsu.” It indicates a pause before the following consonant. This can be tricky for you at first, as it requires careful timing and coordination when pronounced, but practice makes perfect, right?

ん (N)

The Japanese “n” is a unique sound, so it can be confusing for you. The “n” sound can connect with the following consonant or be pronounced independently at the end of a word. It requires attention and familiarity with pronunciation patterns to understand when to connect the “n” sound.

ら り る れ (Ra – Ri – Ru – Re)

The Japanese “r” sound is different from the English “r.” It sounds like a tap or a light flap of the tongue in Japanese. That’s why it may sound unfamiliar to you as an English speaker.

は (Wa)

The Japanese particle “は” is pronounced as “wa” in a sentence. This pronunciation is different from the actual sound in the Hiragana chart, where it is romanized as “ha.” So, when you encounter “は” in a sentence, it functions as a grammar particle, as in “私は…” (Watashi wa… / I am…) for example. And it is always pronounced as “wa” in spoken Japanese, not “ha.”

を (Wo)

The letter “を” is another case where the romanization differs from the pronunciation. It is always pronounced as “o” rather than “wo,” so just omit the “w,” and that’s it!

う (U)

Native Japanese speakers often devoice the “u” sound. That is why we don’t really hear it in their speech. For example, ます (masu) and です (desu) endings sound more like “mas” and “des” in spoken Japanese.

Double Consonants

In Japanese, a double consonant is represented by repeating the consonant character. For example, “katta” (かった) means “bought.” As the name suggests, the double consonant indicates a double sound, and the Japanese language has many of them. You have to pay attention to double consonants when pronouncing Japanese words, as they totally change the meaning!

Master Japanese Pronunciation With Ling!

Want to connect through a new language? Ling can help you with that!

Start learning Japanese with Ling’s interactive activities, quizzes, and Hiragana and Katakana practice. You can even practice your Japanese pronunciation and converse common phrases with chatbots! The Ling app makes Japanese learning fun and simple! Why don’t you join the millions of language learners who use Ling and connect through language?

And don’t forget to visit Ling’s Japanese blog weekly to learn new things about the Japanese language and culture!

Until next time, じゃあまたね!

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