Japanese has fewer sounds than English. When you are speaking Japanese it is important to use the Japanese pronunciation instead of English. In general Japanese is a flat toned language and does not have high pitched accents such as English does.
The Japanese syllables are written in Japanese writing using kana. There are two types of kana; Hiragana and Katakana. These syllables are put together to make words. The difference between Hiragana and Katakana are the way they are used, but the pronunciation is the same.
First we will start off by learning the Japanese vowels. Below is a chart that has how to write the character in Katakana and Hiragana, as well as the English equivalent in English writing (romaji). If you click the play button you can see how this sound is pronounced.
All sounds in Japanese except for one end in a vowel sound. All of the sounds in Japanese that are not the basic vowel sounds start with a consonant. Below is the sounds written in Romaji, Katakana and Hiragana as well as the pronunciation.
Japanese does not have the same sound that the English L or R makes. Instead it has its own unique sound that is a cross between the two. This is why many Japanese English learners have trouble pronouncing and distinguishing the difference between the L and R sound. In Romaji this sound is represented by an R.
Below you will find the sound labelled as (wo) O. When you type in Romaji on a Japanese keyboard you will enter the letters wo however the sound is most of the time pronounced O in modern Japanese. This character is almost always used as a particle in grammar (a particle is like the English words to and the connecting words together to form sentences). Since Hiragana is used for Grammar, the Katakana symbol will hardly be used and only acts as a counterpart in texts that need to be written in only Katakana.
In certain regions of Japan or in songs you may hear this sound pronounced WO. You will understand more about Japanese grammar and this sound in other lessons.
The syllable N (ン / ん) is the only sound in Japanese that is not followed by a vowel. This sound also changes in pronunciation slightly depending on what letter follows it. As a general rule you can remember that if it is said before the letters m, b or p then the sound changes to a M sound.
The next sounds you will see have different pronunciation, but the Hiragana and Katakana symbols that represent the sounds may look familiar. In Romaji there is a huge difference between them, but in Japanese writing the only difference is the addition of a dakuten. The dakuten ( ゛ ) also known as ten ten, are two small lines that when be placed in the right hand corner of a kana it changes the sound.
Keep in mind of the oddities that exist, There is no Japanese sound ZI.
Another oddity is that there are two ways to write the sounds JI and ZU in Japanese. The first ones you were introduced to are normal and are used most of the time. In some Japanese text books it is taught that the difference in the two is the pronunciation. However this is not correct information. The difference is the use of the characters.
When you are writing a compound word (two words put together) the second part of the sound will often change. If the second part of the word begins with Chi or Tsu and the sound changes to JI or ZU, the second part will be written as ぢ or づ.
Hana (nose) + Chi (blood) = Hanaji はなぢ (nosebleed)
These characters are also used in a word when JI follows the sound CHI, or when ZU follows the sound TSU. If this happens the characters are converted.
To continue - tsuzuku つづく
Similar to the dakuten is a small circle called the han dakuten ( ゜ ) also known as maru. It is only used for sounds that start with the letter P.
Now we will introduce you to another type of sound in Japanese. These types of sounds are called youon.
These sounds are combination sounds that in written Japanese are created by writing a symbol that ends with the sound I, For example; CHI, KI, MI, BI and adding it to a smaller than usual character of either YA, YU or YO.
When these symbols are put together this way, the sound blends together as if the I sound does not exist and they are pronounced as one syllable. This is better explained in an example.
Ni + small Yu = Nyu. (ニ+ュ = ニュ)
Again remember that the sounds that start with SH and CH have a similar odd rule.
Sounds that start with the J sound do not follow the same pattern as the rest of them.
Just like the sound Ji (ヂ) there are two ways to write these sounds as well and are used in the same way as the sound Ji (ヂ).
It is important that you do not mix up a smaller than normal Katakana or Hiragana symbol with a regular sized one. If a regular sized kana that starts with Y is beside a kana that ends in I the sound does not change and its pronounced regularly as two different sounds.
Ni + Yu = Niyu. (ニ+ユ= ニユ)
Sometimes reading Romaji can be confusing in cases like the example below;
This word written in romaji could either be MAN EN (まんえん) or MA NEN (まねん) in Japanese. However due to it being written in romaji you cannot tell which one it is.
Romaji is only supposed to be used in the beginning stages of learning Japanese if you already do not know how to read Hiragana and Katakana. In real Japanese society, they do not use Romaji other than for company names, city or station names so that people who do not speak Japanese can understand them.
Vowels that are seen in pairs of two are called long vowels or double vowels. It is important to pronounce them twice as long as you usually would.
In written Japanese, long o's are sometimes written as ou (おう). Sometimes they are written as oo (おお). This can often be confusing in Romaji. This is why on our website all Romaji is writen exactly how it is spelled out in Japanese writing.
In katakana long vowels are not usually written. Instead they are replaced by the symbol (ー) which is called Chouon pu. This symbol will replace the second vowel to show that the sound is extended. This symbol is also often used in hiragana.
The small Tsu
In Romaji you will often notice double consonants, For example. BB, KK, GG. In Japanese writing this sound is shown by a small tsu (っ/ッ). Example: rokku (ロック). This character indicates an extended consonant which actually sounds like a very short pause in between the two sounds.
In some pleases in Romaji when a letter starting with C is a double consonant, instead of writing CC you will see the C represented by the letter T instead (matcha/maccha - green tea powder). Even though some websites and learning books do this, on our website we will represent this sound with a double C.
Modern kana additions
Japanese has adopted many foreign words and have also added different sounds. Since these new sounds have been in place new kana were added to represent these sounds.
In Japanese some syllables are whispered. Most often the sounds SHI and SU in certain words will be silent. This rule depends on the word it is used in. You will understand these pronunciation rules as we introduce you to more words.
In all the free lessons we will have each example in both Romaji and Kana to assist you. However we recommend strongly that you head to the Kanji and Kana section and learn to read and write Hiragana and Katakana.