Pronunciation problems in Japanese

Readers who have met me in person would be surprised to discover I don’t speak Japanese fluently.1 My daughter on the other hand is a native speaker of Japanese thanks to her mother. I “know” more Japanese than my daughter, but in reality she speaks much better than I do.

Lately, my daughter and wife like to tease me for my accent.

I have a strong “American” accent, which as Khatzumoto describes on AJATT:

If you intone in Japanese like you do in English it will sound AWFUL. “KerNEEchewa! NiHON toTEmo DAIsuki deSUUU”. No. Cut that crap out. Today. It grates on the ear. Every time you do it, a clown dies.

This is one problem I have been trying to fix for a while by speaking flat, even Japanese more. However, my other problem is that I can’t pronounce some Japanese right. My daughter and wife like to tease me by asking me to repeat certain words because it sounds funny when I say them. For example, it sounds really funny2 when I say the name Momotaro (the famous hero) because:
1) the intonation is wrong
2) I can’t pronounce “ro”
3) I pronounce it too short “ro”, not “rō” like it should be.

In particular, I cannot pronounce る (ru) and ろ (ro) correctly. Sounds too much like English “r”, though for some reason I can pronounce ら (ra), り (ri) and れ (re) better.

Recently I found a helpful video by fellow at Tofugu about how to pronounce “r” in Japanese:

The position of the tongue is literally between English “l” and English “r”. To me, it feels like it is right behind your top teeth, right where the gums meet the teeth. If I pay attention and do that, my wife says my pronunciation is better. But how do I train myself to do it automatically? That takes lots and lots of practice until “muscle memory” works.

I still have trouble with つ (tsu) though. If it is at the beginning of a word, I pronounce it like ちゅ (chu). So when I tsumetai (cold to the touch), it sounds like chumetai which is how children pronounce it. This helpful page suggests practice saying the words “eight suits” carefully until you can do the “tsu” right.

In any case, apologies to all the clowns I’ve killed over the years. 😉

P.S. Problem #3: long and short sounds in Japanese. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes not.

P.P.S. Speaking of teasing, the Korean waitresses at our restaurant tease me a bit about my Korean accent too. My daughter somehow pronounces it much better. 🙂

1 That was sarcasm. ;p

2 If you think that’s funny, you should hear me sing the Ikkyu-san theme song. I’m also really tone-deaf and can’t sing. ;p


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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