June 1, 2008

Bad pronunciation is no excuse! EVER!

When I hear badly pronounced Japanese, it’s like hearing fingernails scraping against a chalkboard. I have been known to turn red in embarrassment for the person committing the foul pronunciation. Why is pronunciation such a big deal? There are many reasons why language learners should practice pronouncing their words correctly. In this article I I’ll touch on a few topics I feel are important concerning learning, studying and practicing pronunciation in Japanese.

In speaking another language, the main goal is to try to get your message across, unless you are looking for some chit chat. You need to understand how important it is to be understood quickly, and, clearly. When your pronunciation isn’t very good, then that means it isn’t very legible, audible, excusable nor is it understandable. The time wasted correcting badly pronounced communication doensn’t outweigh the benefits of learning first to pronounce correctly before ever learning any of the tango. Even if the sentences had perfect grammar and style. What are the words by beginners who feel the topic of ‘pronunciation’ shouldn’t be treated as a ritual. If we are to be understood, we must use correct pronunciation. There is no way other way for communication to take place efficiently with more words understood per /1000 than can otherwise be had.

If you want to be a well liked and a well respected speaker of Japanese then put pronunciation practice at the top of your priority list for things you need to study. Bad pronunciation is not cool. It is simply irresponsible for a beginning Japanese language learner to continue learning Japanese without making attempts to improve upon their own particular pronunciation situation. A good steward of SLA makes sure that he/she is pronouncing the words they use in conversation correctly. A learner of the Japanese language must never neglect pronunciation in their studies. The art or skill of the lips the teeth and the tip of the tongue can spell the difference between effective communication, or, utter confusion. A tongue defines the soul and character from which tribes are made. How words are communicated amongst individuals also shows clearly to foreign outsiders trying to take a peek through the Japanese window, to find themselves in an onsen at Unzen. And it defines the type of people they represent; The Japanese have a very long heritage and lineage of traditions, festivals, and ceremonies that have been passed down through the generations. I mean Santa Claus is one thing but, carrying the big butsudan all through town in a thong, at those types of butsuri.
Giving a little extra effort in your practice of correct pronunciation displays a sincere desire to understand the people and culture through the words of their mouth. Words of a language were not just some accident. Or were they?
Japanese pronunciation is probably one of the easier aspects of the language to learn yet it is often put aside due to the seemingly lack of similarities between the two languages.

Japanese vs. English.

I use to think that if I just copied the way native speakers spoke then I should be ok, right? Well, in retrospect I do believe it is a good thing to copy speak when it comes to simple pronunciation of words, but be careful not to copy speak grammar or sentence structure because that can turn out to give you trouble later on. Mimicking native speakers is good as long as you aren’t copying their bad habits also. Men should never copy the speech of women.
Copy pronunciation, but stay very far from women’s nuances, sentence endings, and their use of certain words if done in like manner could portray an overzealous Japanese SL male learner as an okama or gay. If you don't want to be considered an OKAMA, you must pay attention to the way men use the words for you and I. And be careful of sentence ending particles like na no, no da, or sa, or za, or ze, or soi, zoi, kusa, unaccompanied particles can be quite rude in the mouth of a Gaijin. That’s harsh and if you don't know what okama is, look it up in the Sanseido Wa-Ei and if you don't have one go to my lens http://squidoo.com/japponics wherein is a link to the Sanseido publishing company. It is so important to have a dictionary as an aid for studying Japanese it goes without saying. So get one if you don't already have one.
If you are going to learn to speak Japanese please try to speak with correct pronunciation. It shows bad manners, and lack of commitment. It also sends a message of disgrace for your native country. It is important also while in Japan to show that you love your country. They are quite accepting of many gaijins in this respect. Especially since you'll usually be the only gaijin within a couple of hundred miles so make your pronunciation count.

One cool thing about Japanese pronunciation is that vowels do not vary as they do in English. They stay straight. English uses the 5 letters a e i o u to make around 20 vowel sounds. In English you find words that elide ( and do other crazy things. Dipthongs are a thing which should be carefully studied. Take a note to discuss dipthongs in Japanese, just on Sake Talkie. The are many English vowel sounds that Japanese just doesn't have. It is for this reason I find it easier to find the pronunciation of any foreign difficult word like words in the Bible Deuteronomy that you'll never figure out or philosophical names and the like, if you read those foreign difficult name type words in Japanese it comes out closer than attempts I have made in English. Actually using both your native tongue and Japanese together you can come up with the pronunciation of any difficult biblical term. Let me give you one example: In Japanese, there are 5 vowels, and 5 vowel sounds. Learning languages couldn’t be easier.
The order is a little different so that might be the first thing to look at. The first 5 syllables in the Japanese syllabary are a i u e and o. It has to be said that if you were to gather a Japanese ensemble and make a choir out of them, oh how satisfied the director would be. Because they only use 5 vowels and they are pure. International phonetics could straightway use Japanese for these vowels written in Romaji as a i u e o. Or Hiragana as あ,い,う,えand お.

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