How to Learn Japanese HTML version

Simon Reynolds
Perfecting pronunciation
Vowel sounds
Japanese has only five vowel sounds which do not change. Listen to them here.
A – Cat, attack. Not father
I – See. Not I.
U – Who, you. Not umbrella.
E – Egg.
O – Hot, con. Not open.
Here are all the Japanese syllables (go juu on – 50 sounds). It’s worth printing this table out and sticking it on
your wall somewhere where you can see it.
Just to note, both hiragana and katakana represent the same sounds; hiragana are used for Japanese words
and katakana are used for foreign loan words (gairaigo). For more insight into the kana, check out Wikipedia
. There are five columns based on the five vowel sounds of Japanese. Most rows will contain
five sounds. Japanese is generally “alphabetised” according to the kana table layout.
Thinking in syllables
Understanding the kana table will also get you thinking in syllables which will help your Japanese greatly. It’s
quite an easy concept to understand when you start using kana as usually one character represents one
syllable, however, for those who write Japanese in romaji this may not be immediately clear.
Thinking in syllables helps to keep your pronunciation even and flat and also makes conjugating Japanese
verbs and adjectives much easier.
You may notice that there aren’t really all that many different sounds. English speakers should be able to
pronounce all of them without too much difficulty.
One sound that may require practice is the tsu. Make sure that you can differentiate it from the su sound.
The Japanese r sound should be fine pronounced as an r but it is actually a blend of l and r which explains
the difficulty some Japanese people have with those sounds.
The chi, shi and fu sounds are also worthy of note because they don’t quite fit the usual pattern (you would
expect them to be ti, si and hu).
The nn sound is the only non-vowel sound. You may see it romanized as n or m.
Small tsu
One point that needs explaining is the small tsu character. The small tsu has the effect of doubling up the
following consonant which results in words like atta.
Dots and circles
You will see two dots in the top right hand corner of some of the characters looking much like an English
apostrophe. This mark is usually called a ten ten, literally dot dot, and it changes the pronunciation of the
characters as follows:
Syllable from the k row + ten ten = equivalent syllable from the g row.
Syllable from the s row + ten ten = equivalent syllable from the z row (note there is no zi, just a ji).
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It is important to familiarise yourself with the layout and order of the kana table even if you do not intend to
learn the