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Japanese Grammar – Pronouncing Vowels and Consonants

Pronunciation of JapaneseIn this lesson, we will learn how to pronounce Japanese vowels and consonants.  Japanese pronunciation is incredibly easy to learn compared to other languages.  It is strongly advised to learn some Hiragana and Katakana first, although it’s not required yet.  Go check out our “Reading and Writing” section to learn the basic Japanese writing system, or continue below to practice your pronunciation.


How to Pronounce Japanese Vowels

       
Japanese Hiragana あ - a

 

The vowel あ (a) sounds like “ah” as in “father”.

  a  
       
Japanese Hiragana い - i

 

The vowel い (i) sounds like “e” as in “seat”.

  i  
       
Japanese Hiragana う - u

 

The vowel う (u) sounds like “oo” as in “spoon”.

  u  
       
Japanese Hiragana え - e

 

The vowel え (e) sounds like “e” as in “bed”.

  e  
       
Japanese Hiragana お - o

 

The vowel お (o) sounds like “oh” as in “rope”.

  o  
       

I think your biggest challenge here as an English speaker is the vowel い (i) and maybe う (u).    The bright side is that all of these sounds will never change as they do in English.  For example, think of how the “a” in “hat” sounds much different than the “a” in “hate”.  In Japanese, this simply doesn’t happen.

 




Pronounce two similar vowels next to each other by holding the sound.

Ex 1:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: お母さん

Double Vowel (AA)
sounds like “ahh!
かあさん
okaasan
(mother)
  okaasan  
 

Ex 2:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: お爺さん

Double Vowel (II)
sounds like the “ee” from “seed”
じいさん
ojiisan
(grandpa)
  ojiisan  
 

Ex 3:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: 数学

Double Vowel (UU)
sounds like the “oo” from “food”
すうがく
suugaku
(math)
  suugaku  
 

Ex 4:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: お姉さん

Double Vowel (EE)
sounds like “ehh
ねえさん
oneesan
(older sister)
  oneesan  
 

Ex 5:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: 多い

Double Vowels (OO)
sounds like “ooh” from “loan”
おお
ooi
(many)
  ooi  
 
Often you will see words with the vowels おう (“ou“) instead of おお (“oo“).  Both are the pronounced the same.  For example:
 

Ex 6:

An example of similar consecutive vowels: お父さん

おう (OU)
(sounds like “ooh” as in “loan”)
とうさん
otousan
(father)
     
         


If two different Japanese Vowels are next to each other, blend them together.


Don’t think too hard about this. Pronounce them as if they are separated on their own and they will blend naturally, just as they do in English:
   

Ex 1:An example of two different consecutive vowels: 答え

たえ
kotaeru

(to answer)
  ae  
   

Ex 2:An example of two different consecutive vowels: 習う

らう
narau
(to learn)
  au  
   

Ex 3:An example of two different consecutive vowels: 若い

かい
wakai

(young)
  ai  
   

Ex 4:An example of two different consecutive vowels: 太い

とい
futoi

(fat)
  oi  
   

 


How to Pronounce Japanese Consonants


Showing you all of the consonants won’t be necessary because most of them are similar in English.  There are only four exceptions to remember:

F

G

R

TSU

服 is an example of the consonant FU 元気 is an example of the consonant G 空 is an example of the consonant R 津波 is an example of the consonant TSU
eg. FUKU
(clothes)
eg. GENKI
(health, well-being)
eg. SORA
(sky)
eg. TSUNAMI
(tsunami)
fuku genki sora tsunami
This vowel is pronounced as a sharp “who”. Same as a hard “g” in “get”.  It will never be soft like “gentle”. Think of this as a “hard L” with only the tip of your tongue. Just take the middle of “eat soup” and you’ve got it!


How to Pronounce Japanese Double Consonants

When you see two Japanese consonants together, pause for a small moment before completing the sound.  Listen below:  

Ex 1:

Ex 2:

Ex 3:

Ex 4:

An example of Double Consonants: 楽器 An example of Double Consonants: 一分 An example of Double Consonants: 雑誌 An example of Double Consonants: ちょっと

gakki
(instrument)
ぷん
ippun
(one minute)

zasshi
(magazine)
ちょ
chotto
(a little)
gakki ippun zasshi chotto
       

 

Japanese Grammar Index Next Step: How to use the Japanese WA DESU construction.
Japanese Grammar Index   How to build a basic sentence with WA and DESU
   
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