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How to Learn Japanese

Simon Reynolds
Syllable from the t row + ten ten = equivalent syllable from the d row (note there is no di or du, only a
ji and a zu).
The small circle (maru) in the top right has a similar effect on pronunciation.
Syllable from the h row + circle = equivalent syllable from the p row.
Mnemonic: imagine the circle makes the character “happy” and you should find it easy to remember the h to
p change.
These sounds produced by the dots and circles are known as dakuon and handakuon respectively.
Combined syllables
The characters ya, yu and yo also appear as smaller versions of themselves and combine with other
syllables to form new syllables as follows. You have seen all these characters before in the main chart so
there is no need to panic.
Syllable counting
Now you’ve digested that information see if you can count how many syllables there are in the following
words. Check the answers at the end of this chapter.
Au to meet
Shimasu to do (polite)
Wasurechatta ended up forgetting
Su
The final part of the su syllable is sometimes omitted in speech. This is often applied to common words like
desu, pronounced “dess” and the polite ending -masu, pronounced “mass”.
Ha and he
The topic particle wa is written with the character for ha. Thus the ha character is usually pronounced wa
unless it is part of a word.
The particle e is written with the character he but pronounced e.
Common mistakes
Most of the common mistakes come from not knowing the correct pronunciation of the vowels and not
separating the syllables. English spelling rules do not apply to Japanese. For example, the word made is not
pronounced as the English, but as two separate syllables, “mah-deh”.
One difficulty for English is long and short vowel sounds which can completely alter the meaning of a word.
This is something you are going to have to pay close attention to. Mistakes can be embarrassing, as in the
probably apocryphal story of the American who, whilst trying to introduce himself as Sumisu san no komon
(Mr Smith's adviser), actually introduces himself as Sumisu san no koumon (Mr Smith's anus).
Other easily confused words include (but are by no means limited to) joushi (boss) and joshi (woman), shujin
(husband) and shuujin (prisoner).
Intonation
Intonation is a huge part of making your Japanese understandable. Try to pronounce everything as flatly as
possible and give equal time and weight to each syllable. The best way to develop your intonation is to listen
and repeat real Japanese from a CD or similar. Another good drill, called shadowing, involves speaking the
Japanese words or sentence at the same time as the CD.
Noting where the particles are can make your Japanese pronunciation much better. Think of them as pause
indicators that tell you when you can take a breath while speaking.
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