Japanese Pronunciation: A Detailed Guide (With Audio)

A very important (and often underrated) aspect of Japanese that will help you communicate effectively is good pronunciation.

Getting your tongue around a new language can be hard work, but the reality is that proper pronunciation is essential to speaking.

If you can speak clearly, you will be understood - even if your grammar and vocab aren't perfect.

The opposite is not true, however, as perfectly formed sentences mean nothing to a person if they can't understand the sounds coming out of your mouth.

Good pronunciation can also greatly improve your confidence, which means you’ll be more willing to put yourself out there and speak as often as possible.

Like all physical skills, the key to good pronunciation is simple...

Practice!

You can't train your tongue to shape the right sounds by reading about it. The muscles need to be developed, and your ears need to be trained to identify the subtle differences too.

Although this does generally get harder with age (part of the reason immigrant kids usually have much better pronunciation than their parents), with practice, it can still be learnt.

Quite simply, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more natural you will sound.

Below is my detailed guide to Japanese pronunciation. It includes a thorough explanation of all the different sounds in the language, as well as audio for each sound and a few useful words to practice with.

Basic Japanese Grammar Cheat Sheet

Learning Japanese can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it ultimately boils down to a few simple rules.

Remembering and internalising those rules will give you the biggest boost on your path to fluency, because you only need to learn them once and you can then apply them every single time you speak, read, write or listen to Japanese.

It can be hard to bring yourself to study the same things over and over again, so I’ve made a handy little cheat sheet to make it easy.

Well, really, I’ve made two – one with romaji and one with hiragana. Here’s a zoomed-out look at the hiragana version:

Japanese Sentence Structure Cheat Sheet

The best part? I’m giving these cheat sheets away for free.

Just click below to get your copy of these printable PDFs, which are available in both A4 and A3 sizes.

Click here to download the cheat sheet

 

Want more details before you download?

Read on for a quick breakdown of what’s included on the cheat sheet.

Using Adverbs in Japanese

Once you have a solid understanding of Japanese sentence structure, one of the easiest ways to add a bit more description to your sentences is with the use of adverbs.

In case you’re not entirely sure, adverbs are words like “quickly”, “always” and “very” that are used to add further description to verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They are very much like adjectives, except instead of being used to describe things (nouns), they describe actions (verbs), or add greater description to other descriptions (adjectives and other adverbs):

 

In this article, I’ll go over the various aspects of Japanese adverbs, including types of adverbs, how to form them, and perhaps most importantly, how to use them in a sentence. Let’s get to it.

The Difference Between the Particles “wa” and “ga”

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced speaker of Japanese, there is probably one question that keeps coming back to haunt you:

What is the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」?

You’ve probably asked about it, maybe even compared a whole range of sentences trying to figure it out, but with no satisfying conclusion.

And do you know why you can never get a simple, straightforward answer?

Because it’s the wrong question to ask.

It does have an answer, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Of course, there’s no way you could have known this. I certainly didn’t, and for a long time had the same trouble finding an answer that really made sense to me.

One day, however, when I was studying at a university in Japan, one of my teachers started talking about these things called “kaku joshi”かく助詞じょし, or “case-marking particles”. These are a specific subset of particles that, for the most part, are the main particles we use in everyday Japanese – “de”「で」, “wo”「を」, “ni”「に」, and a few others.

But not “wa”「は」.

As she explained more, it became obvious why I could never get a clear answer. The problem was that instead of trying to figure out the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」, I should have been asking…

What is the true purpose of “wa”「は」?

We know it defines the topic, but what exactly is that? And why do we use it in some situations but not others?

Understand this, and the choice between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」 becomes considerably easier, while also giving you a deeper understanding of the mindset behind the Japanese language as a whole.

Hopefully this article will help you see “wa”「は」 for what it really is, and as a result, be better equipped to choose between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」.

A Visual Guide to Japanese Word Order

In Japanese, word order is less important than it is in languages like English thanks to the existence of particles. As I talked about in my guide to Japanese sentence structure, particles, not word order, are what determines how each part of a sentence relates to the verb:

How different roles are defined in Japanese sentences

Particles define the role of each element in relation to the verb

(If you haven’t read my article on Japanese sentence structure, I recommend doing so.)

As a starting point, most basic sentences can be formed using the following pattern:

Basic Japanese sentence order

The pieces of ‘other information’ can generally be expressed in any order without affecting the fundamental meaning of the sentence, as long as they are accompanied by the appropriate particles.

However, for any given sentence, there is usually a particular word order that sounds more natural than others. This is because word order affects where the emphasis in a sentence lies.

In this article, I will show you the thinking behind natural Japanese word order, and give you some basic rules that you can easily apply. I’ll also give you some exercises you can do to help you think like a Japanese speaker so that forming natural-sounding sentences becomes automatic.

Let’s get started.