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Japanese Pronounciation

Posted by Ken Cannon


baby girl pronouncing Japanese like Ken Cannon does


Perfecting your Japanese pronounciation is like saying "Diju go dada store."

I was doing some tutoring work the other day, and I was trying to correct one of my student’s accents to make it sound more natural. Now keep in mind this is one of those bastard genius students that everybody secretly loves to hate because they learn everything twice as fast. (I’m just kidding of course I love her...)

But I couldn't quite get it right, even though she was such a good student. That is until I had this little revelation. When you speak in English, do you enunciate every single syllable? I mean, even if you’re one of those people that do pride yourself in your speech, if you’re honest, I’d hallucinate that you really don’t. Because it just sounds weird when you talk to people like that.

It’s not natural, and frankly it’s more work too. And I hate work, so as you can imagine I’m one of the worst enunciators in the world. But, I sound like a native English speaker, probably cause I am, I think... But I believe a lot of it has to do with the fact I don’t enunciate everything. I don’t say words the way they are written. (Big key when learning Japanese!)

Now this might be influenced from slang, and if you’re British or something then you probably already think I talk like an idiot anyway and really shouldn't be encouraging it.

But if you look at the first sentence of this post, yes the one that looks like I fell asleep in spelling class.. which of course I did, just don't tell anyone… you’ll see the way you pronounce, “did you go to the store?”, is a lot closer to “diju go dada store” if you’re speaking at normal speed in the middle of a conversation.

Now of course like I said in the beginning there are always exceptions, so you don’t need to get mad and throw rocks and stuff at me for it. But once I tried explaining this to my student, her Japanese pronunciation improved immediately.

Instead of trying to say “Ore wa shinobi da” just like it’s written.

(I’m a ninja)

Try meshing the 4 words together a little bit more. Think of the whole sentence as being one big word instead of 4 individual ones.

If you get really close it should sound a little closer to something like.

Orea shnobi da

Let’s try another

Yatsu wa baka da yo
(He’s an idiot.)

If you mesh it together good enough, and don’t just try to say the whole thing really fast. Of course when you try this, the speed of the sentence does increase, but that’s not the only dynamic that occurs.

It should sound a little something like this…

Yatsa baka dao

Well I hope that helps your pronounciation a bit. For more methods of improving your Japanese pronounciation and other pieces of advice subscribe to my newsletter.

Ken Cannon


41 comments:

  1. Good point about enunciation! I actually don't think it's that difficult to pronounce Japanese words, but you just have to realize that there are simple methods to saying it. I rather thinking explaining how to say 'n' is harder, but that's just me lol.

    I can't really explain it either, but I learned that the 'u' words (ku, su, tsu, etc.) are semi-silent, in that it kinda cuts off and you don't usually stress it. Same for the special ones like shi and chi.

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  2. I agree with Youko. It reminds me of beginner Japanese class where people would emphasize things that did not need to be, such as pronouncing です like dess ooo instead of des or どうして like dough she tay instead of dosh teh.

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  3. @Youko, ah yeah "semi-silent" is actually a really good way to put it, nice.

    @Wolf, hahah yes I remember that all too well. Its kinda awkward but you feel a little bit sorry for them at the same time.

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  4. Do you know any good way to get Japanese at your high school. The only thing i can think of is a petition but my school district is kinda broke so haha.

    -Response to question:
    One good tip is to watch subtitled anime, listen to japanese podacasts, youtube videos, etc. to hear what the natives sound like. then eventually you will sound more natural. :D

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  5. Although your example for the English sentence was a good one, I don't think it's always the case in Japanese as much as it is in English. The vowels are blurred and semi silent alot of times, but I'm still not sure in your example of "Orea" how much the "w" sound disappears and mushes into "ore". I don't know if this would happen more in anime for some reason rather in real life. I guess I'm asking because you seem to watch or have watched more anime than me.

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  6. @Anonymous, I believe you could be right, maybe the extreme is not as drastic as it is in English. But I would still hazard to say that meshing the words a bit together sounds a lot more natural than fully enunciating everything, or at least for people who run across that problem.

    And yeah anime is almost by definition more slangy and casual than "real life". So this could also be the cause for my "revelation".

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  7. @Hunter JL, hmm I'll tell you what I'd do. Start a Japanese or Anime club! And if the demand is large enough, meaning you get enough members. Then the school will definitely see it as a smart idea to bring in a class. And if you don't get enough members than of course it wouldn't be smart for the school to bring in the class anyway.

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  8. pronouncing Japanese has always been very easy for me, i think its because i speak Spanish and some sounds are similar. i kinda think as Japanese as a 'soft language' and English as a 'hard language' because of how the words flow out when you speak and i consider Spanish as a 'soft language' so its easy to pronounce Japanese words....if that makes any sense.

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  9. yeah pronouncing japanese is easier for me too because i know spanish. Since is similar the way you read spanish...

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  10. @PanTh3R, yeah i hear the Spanish thing a lot. And i find the way you refer to English as a hard language, and Spanish and Japanese as a soft language very interesting. Very cool

    Thanks!

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  11. Pronouncing Japanese has been easy for me too, and I'm Dutch... Just never really had a problem with it.
    Btw, I'm really looking forward to seeing your method of teaching!

    Datisookmooi

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  12. It was quite awkward when I was in my Year 8 Japanese class. The teacher was just so amazed at my pronunciation. He stopped the whole class and he was all "you must have learned Japanese before" etc. etc. It was kinda creepy. =.=;;

    Though, by then, I had already watched 1000s of hours of anime. So, it would have been suckish for me if I DIDN'T have the pronunciation down by then!

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  13. Very Helpful! Also, thank you for replying to my email so quickly! I'm so glad i found your news letter. Although I am only a beginner to Japanese, I actually feel like I'm learning!

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  14. I find it really hard to pronounce Japanese words. That's probably because I'm German though... And the pronunciation of words in both languages are very different, as Japanese is a 'Soft Language'. I'd really like to be able to pronounce Japanese words!

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  15. I get the point of the post are the camparison you made is really a great example... But I think that I have it a lot easier... Romaji was based on Portuguese ortography, and as I'm portuguese, I read it just I read my own language, with this or that changing a little... (like "j", it sounds more like the italian "g" or something...) I guess Spanish is helpfull too, portuguese and spanish are a bit similar ... But yeah, I'm really proud of my language (the best thing in my poor little country, I have to say...) and know it even makes my learning japanese easier (if you're talking about pronunciation, of course) ^^

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  16. ups... that's supposed to be "and" on the first line and a "now" instead of "know" on the last part XD

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  17. when i cant spell something in japanese i just kind of reconstruct the sentence so that the words change but when you say it it has the same meaning..i cant come up with an example now but what i mean is "yatsu wa baka da yo" becomes something like "ya tsuwaba kadayo"

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  18. Hey...lol can you fit one more student? :D...PLEASE!! onegaishimasu!!!!!!!!!!!!??

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  19. thisw is somthing i try to explain to my step mother learning english so i find words in spanish with simular sound an have her say the word in spanish then tel her to use wat ever part of the word that she needs by it self the put it with the rest of the sentace in english an it helps not yet a tottal succece but getin there my problem i have no one at all to corect me in japanese if i mess up

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  20. I guess I wont have problem with that. We mostly pronunciate as its written.
    Croatia :)
    But... good point!

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  21. Please do a a video about how to pronounce japanese.
    i speak Jamaican Patoi and english <:( im being forced to learn english
    so im one of those persons who pronounce everything and make mistake a lot
    and explain japanese grammar >.<

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  22. That helped me a lot!! Great tip!! I'm always astounded by how fast people speak Japanese and I can never quite catch up, but once you start talking "more naturally" or with "slang", it really helps a lot. Thank you!! Great tip!!

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  23. I have thought the same way..when I watch the dramas I noticed they didn't say everything,but THANKS.

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  24. That's really, really interesting. Of course, since my native language is Spanish, I don't have much of a problem with Japanese. But now that I come to think of it, perhaps that's why my spoken English sucks so much. I'm going to try that now, thanks!

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    1. Hahaha well I'm glad I could help you with something!

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  25. yeah, i wanna sound native but i dnt have any japanese friends or friends who speak japanese hahaha -___- bt im trying really hard to practice on my own so yeah i need friends to help me out :} pretty please xD

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    1. You can check out the site http://www.japan-guide.com/ its one of the best places to find Japanese friends to practice Japanese with.

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  26. I saw your first video of how to get to Japan on YouTube and was wondering how i could see the other videos.I also signed up for the newsletter

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    1. If you already signed up for the newsletter, then you'll get em soon ^_^

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  27. I must write it... I'm Polish and here, in my country not many people learns Japanese languange. English, German, French, Spanish (and for older people Russian) is common languange, but when I said to my friends "Guy's I wish I could speak Japanese" they replied my "Are you crazy or something? You're not able to learn yourself all of theirs bushes!" (We malicious called "bushes" for Japanese letters). And then I thought "Well, maybe this is a little bit hard, so I will start from speaking Japanese". It would be great if I could go to the Japanese restaurant and make an order in their languange. So I started to browse the Internet and I found ... nothing in Polish exept for short videos like "Japanese Greetings" which contained "Good morning" and "Bye". And then accidentally I found your website and this is it. Just like you I started my experience with Japan from watching anime. To watch anything I must wait as somebody will translate Japanese to English and English to Polish. That's not the point of it. Even I could notice mistakes in the translation from English, and I'm afraid that previos translator from Japanese could make mistakes too. You're website is really great 'couse you're talking about casual Japanese which is using in anime, films or in Japanese streets. The way as you explain this is so simple that earlier I have no idea that learning Japanese by myself is possible. Thanks a lot !
    P.S. About the Japanese pronunciation... I think the best way to speak really good is to listen a lot because they doesn't speek such "round" as the English speakers do.
    Omg... this is the longest comment I've ever written! xD And sorry for my English too. :P

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    1. Oh wow thanks so much for the comment! I'm so happy my site could help you :) That's the reason I do all this stuff! You're far too kind but I really appreciate it all the same :)

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  28. そうかな?俺は言葉を一つ一つ違う物だと思って話した方が良いと思いますけど。まぁ、こうやって話せばまだ理解は出来ますが友達と家族意外こうやって話したら少し失礼だと思われるかも知れません。カノンさんの日本語はとても上手だと思います。初めて聞いたらびっくりしました。ですがこのやり方は少し変わっていますね。だめだと言ってません。ただ、気をつけて下さい。日本語を教えるのを頑張って下さい!

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  29. i am glad someone else noticed this! Something I noticed watching anime is that the words tend to sound more "mushed together" rather than super enunciated. I noticed it's the vowels, and males tend to do it more so than females. Like males drop the vowel sounds so much, sometimes it sounds more like a growl than speech o.o;. I thought of it was like how an English speaker says "I am going to the store." and it actually comes out "I am goin' to da store."..... I also wondered if it was an accent? I know in my state of IL someone from Chicago pronounces a word SO much different than someone from a small town at the southern top of the state! Like the word Wash... People in Chicago say 'Whaaaaaaaash' with a VERY long a, like ridiculously long and nasally... While some parts of downstate say "Worrrrsh" with this mysterious R sound thrown in lol.

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  30. Thanks to you I had finally found the ONE!!! :P crying of joy,,, Of all the videos and programs I finally found this one, that actually helps!

    I love your strategy,&& please make more videos :)

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  31. It really depends on what context you're speaking in, your gender, topic of conversation etc. These are all things that take time to be picked up! I remember I used to try and fake a silly girly voice when I started, and that helped me a lot with pronunciation. But now, listening to how other Japanese speak is the most important thing and mimicking them :) I still find it amusing when I'm mistaken for a Japanese on the phone some times, even though I have a foreign name they somehow expect me to be a Japanese simply married to a foreigner!

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  32. I enunciate everything I say (okay most) but even though I'm a native English speaker, I guess having lots of posh British guys talk a lot has kinda rubbed off on me, so when you used the "diju go dada store" thing I didn't get it xP

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  33. I get what you're trying to say, but honestly, that English example threw me for a loop. 'dada' doesn't sound remotely similar to 'to the' in American English.... even if you say the line really fast.

    I mean, most people will pronounce the word "water" as "wadder" ....but the vowel sound stays in tact, it's the consonants that usually get muddled around. At least in most situations that I can think of.

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  34. Hi Ken, I'm taking your course and I love it. Anyway, in case people are lurking on your blog and reading the last post on each thread here's something else I've learned to help pronunciation.

    1. Know the words and what each one means. Visualize them as you say them, otherwise you're only mimicking noises.

    2. Speak in an exaggerated foreign accent (of whatever language you are learning). It sounds funny, but it helps to train your vocal muscles.

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  35. lol I have been on your site for all about 5 min after I found you on youtube and you have already corrected the issue that has been causing me the most trouble in learning Japanese. I was trying to enunciate every syllable and forgetting that people don't actually talk that way so when I would try to read song lyrics or romaji subs while listening I could never follow along right or sing along since it never seemed to fit quite right with what I was reading. Your example through me for a loop when I first saw it but after you explained I listened to myself say the sentence a few times and that's pretty close to the way it sounds. For me it sounds more like "dija go dara store?" (the r having the almost l sound from Japanese pronunciation. Couldn't find any other way to recreate the sound I made when I said it lol,) Anywho I love the concept of your program and if you can fix the rest of my bad habits that are making it hard for me to learn as easily as this one was fixed then I think you just put me on the fast track to learning Japanese. I have been watching Anime and Japanese programs along with listening to J-Pop and pod casts and using Rosetta Stone. Will probably continue with all those since Rosetta will teach me formal Japanese lol along with everything I can learn from you and see if I can become fluent in under a year :) Thank you in advance for taking the time to use your experience to set up this program and I am glad I found you on youtube through your breakdown of honorifics.

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