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Muffin's Quick-And-Dirty Guide To Pronouncing Romaji

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For a more in-depth look at it, go here.

The Japanese language comes in syllables, rather than individual letters; each syllable technically takes the same amount of time to pronounce (or at least it has the same number of beats or "morae"), and can consist of a short vowel, or a consonant followed by a short vowel.1 Ma-ri-sa; Re-i-mu; each syllable should have its own beat, and each beat should take the same amount of time to say. The Japanese doesn't put stress on different syllables: it isn't Ma-ri-sa, or Ma-ri-sa, just Ma-ri-sa.

A complete list of the syllables you're likely to encounter are listed under the previous link, under the syllabary. For more information on the romanization of Japanese, Wikipedia has an article.

Vowels

  • They are pronounced the same way as they are in Spanish.
  • a - ah, pretty much English short-o sound, "father"
  • i (and y) - ee, long-e sound, "bees"
  • u - oo, sort of like in "moon", and sort of like in "book."2
  • e - eh, a cross between short-e (egg) and long-a (pray) sound. It's fine if you pronounce it as just a short-e sound.
  • o - oh, long-o sound, "boat"
  • Do not pronounce "i" or "u" when they occur between voiceless consonants (k, s, sh, t, ch, h, f, b, p) or at the end of a word following a voiceless consonant. They take up a beat, just don't voice them. "Desu" is pronounced "de-s"; "tabemashita" ("ate", as in the past tense of "eat") is pronounced "ta-be-ma-sh-ta"

Long vowels are pronounced the same as short vowels; they just take up multiple beats/morae and you should spend another beat pronouncing them: Ke-i-ka-ku do-o-ri. "Doori" is pronounced the same way as "dori"; it's just that the "o" sound lasts another beat. Long vowels are depicted either by doubling the vowel ("doori"), following it by a "u" in the case of O ("touhou"), or with a line over the vowel ("gensōkyō").

If you get two vowels in conjunction, this has no effect on pronounciation; simply pronounce one after the other. However, the two sounds together might result in something that sounds familiar (i.e. "ei" sounds similar to a long-A sound, as in, well, "eight").

Consonants

Most of them are pronounced the same way they are in English.

  • When y is paired with a, u, or o, treat it as a consonant.
  • tsu - If this gives you trouble, practice it by pronouncing an English word that ends with "t" followed by one that begins with "s" (preferably "su") as one word, i.e. "beetsoup", and narrow it down to the "tsu" part.
  • n - by itself and in particular at the end of a word, it is not a consonant, but rather a "moraic nasal," and it gets a beat all to itself. If it is followed by a vowel, it will have an apostrophe to distinguish it from regular n; Jun'ya = Ju-n-ya.
    • When followed by b or p, pronounce it as "m". "Tenpura" = "tempura."
    • When followed by g, pronounce it as "ng," but also pronounce the g itself; "tengu."
  • p, t, k, and s may be doubled; this means "add another beat." Yu-k-ku-ri.

Slightly More Advanced Shenanigans

Going beyond quick and dirty, and trying too hard to pronounce it like the actual Japanese would be!

  • r (all vowels)- the sound it is meant to represent is a cross between "r", "l", and with a bit of "d" thrown in at the end. Sometimes it even sounds like "n"! For the purposes of quick-and-dirty, it's fine if you just pronounce it as "r," though.
  • si/shi - Pronounced the same way. A mixture of the two sounds, as far as I can tell — sort of like "s" and sort of like "sh." It's simply two different romanizations for the same character. (This and all the ones below are pronounced normally/separately when you use other vowels from the ones given, though.)
  • fu/hu - Pronounced the same way. It sounds more like "fu" to me. Make it more of a "breathy" f-sound, or sort of breathe through your teeth.
  • ji/zi - Pronounced the same way. Sort of like a "zhee" sound (think "rouge"3).
  • ji and zu also have second characters, listed with "da", "de", and "do", but they aren't pronounced like they have a d at the beginning.
  • ti/chi - Pronounced the same way. Put your tongue closer to where you'd make a "t" sound than a "ch" sound, then make a "ch" sound like this. Or just pronounce it a straight-up "chi." Like si/shi, it's two romanizations for the same character.

1This is called a "lie to children" — in the strictest technical sense, it is in fact dead wrong; however, the target audience for this information has no hope of understanding the actual truth right from the start, so instead, I'm saying something they will understand, which fits the observed facts and which will provide a stepping-stone to the real knowledge. You wouldn't try to explain Einstein's curved space and the fact that the Moon has 1/6 Earth's gravity to a toddler who doesn't fully understand "things fall," would you?

2It's actually a close back compressed vowel. If that phrase made your head explode, just pronounce it like in "moon."

3But not "rogue"

4 Comments (auto-closed) (rss feed)

sRc

R's... I swear those will be the death of me... ever since I started studying Japanese (wow, has it really been 10 years now?) I have problems with L's and R's in normal English speech, and it gets worse every day!

CapedLuigisYoshi

That ji sound always makes me think of how my dictionary always listed it: "zh", with the example word being "measure".

Solarn

You know, being a native Hungarian speaker, Japanese pronounciation actually comes pretty naturally to me. Not that it's always the same as Hungarian pronounciation, but it's easier to reach it from there. And the basic idea, that of pronouncing things exactly as they are written down instead of a thousand weird rules and exceptions for how sounds change when mashed together, is the same in both languages.

Lloyd Dunamis

Same goes to Filipinos, since Tagalog is pretty much like Spanish >w<
Thumbs up for this quick guide though :3