Akemi's Anime World

Accent and Tricky Sounds Japanese Lesson

Now that you've completely mastered how to pronounce all those syllables (actually, don't worry if you haven't--it can take a while to get the hang of them), it's time to learn how to put some of them together and pronounce some words.


The Japanese accent is easy to learn, because there isn't one.

Once you've got all the sounds floating around in your head, putting them together into words is easy. Just remember: all syllables are created equal. There isn't an accent on the beginning, middle, or end of a word--just nice and even. Every syllable in a word also gets exactly the same amount of time (including short-looking ones like "i" or long-looking ones like "kyo").

This isn't too hard to pick up listening to anime, but just remember: It's "he-n-ta-i" (listen carefully: ), not "hen tai" or "hen tai".

Long Vowels

The only time this gets tricky at all is with (cue evil music) "long vowels." All that really means is that you put two of the same vowel sound together, so it takes twice as long in the word. You (or rather I) will be writing these with (surprise, surprise) two of the same letter.

For example:


If you listen very carefully, that "oo" in there sounds like a long "oh" sound in the middle, about twice as long as a regular "o" sound. It's not an "ooh" (as in "dude") sound, so don't get confused when you see it spelled out. Another example: "ookii" ("big"). That would be two "o" sounds plus a "ki" plus one more "i" sound. The result is a long "o" and a long "i" with a "k" in the middle.

Two more notes: One, "oo" is also sometimes written "oh" or "ou" or even as an o with a hat on it (ô) or a line over it. They're all correct, but I'll just stick to "oo". And just in case you were wondering how important this is, check out these two words (at slightly more natural speeds):


The first one is the name of a friendly space pirate, while the second one means "trip".


Now you know that words are pronounced with a nice, even, non-accent. How about sentences? Even easier, because it's close enough to English to not worry about too much. Sentences that are questions go up at the end, sentences that are statements go down a little bit at the end, sarcasm sounds pretty much like English (that may be a universal language, in fact), and that's about all you need to know for now.

Double... Not Vowels?

There's just one more thing to learn about pronunciation, and then we're ready to roll: "bikkuri" ("surprise"). The extra "k" in there basically shows you where you should insert a little pause (the length of one syllable) into the word, right between "bi" and "ku". To do it right, say "bi", then get your mouth all ready to make the "ku" sound, but hold that position without making any sound for a beat, and then say the "kuri".

These little pauses can appear before any type of non-vowel sound. Some more examples: "Happoosai" (that creepy old dude from Ranma 1/2--say it like "hap... poe-sigh"), "rittaa" ("liter"), and "acchi" ("that way") . The "cchi" sound is also sometimes written "tchi" since it sounds sort of like that--kinda like "achoo".

In Closing...

Whee! We're done with all the important background stuff, and it's just about time to get rolling with some grammar. If you're interested, there are a couple more things to cover--writing and politeness levels--that are good to know, but not necessary. If you're feeling brave, continue onward...