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I don't even remember which topics I've already covered and which I haven't but... screw it. I'm bringing back Japanese lessons for the first time in what... 20,000 years?
Let's get to it.
Here's the Japanese Hiragana chart for reference. Creds to this website.
Ok. Now first, read this sentence out loud with me.
"Both the letters 'R' and 'L' are pronounced the same way in Japanese."
Said it? Good. And it's true- Look at the hiragana chart above; see the red column on the right side? Those are the 5 syllables in Japanese (ignore the smaller box on the bottom for now) that are used as substitutes for both "R" and "L". Here's the catch though: those 5 syllables are pronounced nothing like the English "R" or "L".
So how the hell DO you pronounce ら, り, る, れ, and ろ?
Well guess what? If you speak American English, you already have experience with this pronunciation. In fact, you just said it out loud. (lol)
"Both the leTTers 'R' and 'L'..."
That sound you make that sounds sort of like a rolled r when you say the "tt" in "letters"? That's it. Just add the vowels a, i, u, e, and o to that sound, and there you have it. "らりるれろ".
For all you non-Americans out there, it's basically the same thing as the "r" in "Corazon" said in a Spanish accent. Try it out yourself :D
Now that we've covered the hardest consonants to pronounce in Japanese, you are now able to pronounce all Japanese consonants correctly, and we're left with the 5 vowels- a, i, u, e, and o.
Now if you look at the hiragana chart above, you can see that basically all the syllables except for one (ん - n) contain a vowel in it. That's why we run into single vowel/double vowel/macron troubles so often when we translate Japanese terms. That's also why vowel pronunciation is crucial to speaking Japanese without sounding like a foreigner.
So have you ever noticed how Asian languages tend to sound choppier (harsher, faster, more nasal) than European based languages? Well your brain wasn't just fucking with you, because that's actually the key difference in western vs eastern vowel pronunciation. Think of it this way: westerners tend to "sigh" their vowels by using more air when they talk and often even add extra length to their vowels, while easterners use much less air when saying their vowels.
In English, we also tend to slur a lot of our consonants together, while in Japanese, you should take care to say each syllable in its entirety and with equal length.
Take "こんにちは” - "konnichiwa", the way of saying "hello" in Japanese, for instance.
[The は(ha) in こんにちは is pronnounced like わ(wa) in this case- I might cover that in a future blog, who knows. Don't think too hard about it for now.]
With an English accent, you would say the word just as the romanization looks like- slurred together. You'd also use a lot of air when you said the word- sounding sort of like "kohneechihwah" (the "sigh" represented by the extra "h"s).
But if you want to sound like a native Japanese, it's better to look at the Japanese word- こんにちは. In written Japanese, each existing syllable is it's own letter, so it's easier to emphasize every syllable when reading it out loud. In English, it's harder to tell where the syllables break since English words are strings of letters that stand for each "sound" rather than each "syllable".
So instead of reading the word as "konnichiwa", read it as こ(ko) ん(n) に(ni) ち(chi) は(wa).
"Ko n ni chi wa". You're already starting to sound closer to native Japanese. Remember the "use less air" rule too.
At first, it'll sound like your speech is broken and strange, but as you get used to emphasizing every single syllable, gradually shorten the spacing between each syllable without forgetting to keep each syllable the same length (no slurring!). When you get really good, you can even start emphasizing every other syllable instead of every syllable- like so: Kon Nichi Wa. You'll be sounding pretty dang native in no time.
If you have any questions or requests, make sure to comment below ↓
Hope this helps!