July 13, 2008

How to use Japanese to pronounce difficult English Terms like Habukkuk

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 doesn’t outweigh the benefits of learning first to pronounce correctly before ever learning any of the tango (vocabulary). 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, matsuri.

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.

It is a good thing to sound like a Japanese native when speaking, so on is allowed to copy native’s pronunciation, but stay very far from women’s nuances, sentence endings, and their use of certain words if you are male Japanese language learner. If a male Japanese language learner pronounces words or copies the speech, expressions in a like manner to the words and sentence endings he hears because he has copied a Japanese females nuances, this could prove disastrous and could portray an overzealous Japanese SL male learner as an okama (homosexual). 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 as well as sentence ending particles and other nuances. Careful attention should thus be given to sentence ending particles like na no (なの), no da (のだ), or sa (さ), or za (ざ), or ze (ぜ), zo (ぞ) or soi (そい), zoi (ぞい), kusa (くさ).

Unaccompanied particles can be quite rude in the mouth of a gaijin. That’s harsh and if you don't know what an okamaオカマ 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 (foreigner in Japanese) 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, and you are never fooled as to their pronunciation. English combines and distorts the mouth and fashions its shape by using the 5 letters a e i o u to make around 20 vowel sounds. In Japanese 5 vowels sounds make 5 vowel sounds. In English the vowels vary in shades of pronunciation. The wider or thinner the lips are stretched or cheeks are pulled apart, how open the throat is, how nasal you want to get etc. all make for quite a lot of different vowel sounds. That is why if you ask an Englishman from England to pronounce for you , “apple” you will hear it differently than if you were to ask an American to pronounce “apple”.
In English you find words that elide. The same is true in the Japanese language (and do other crazy things). A careful study of dipthongs of a language should be beneficial to its study. In general pronunciation and diction should rank high on your list of things to study habits.

There are many sounds in English that Japanese just doesn't have, and vice versa. In Japanese there are no v type sounds so in order to say the v sound a Japanese person will substitute b in its stead. There really isn’t an L sound in Japanese so they replace it with their r or d sound. There has yet to be a native Japaenese speaker that I could ask to pronounce for me the words world or squirrel or even url. It is impossibly difficult for the Japanese to prounounce these 3 words correctly. Now on the other hand try to get a gaijin to say for you in correct pronouciation words like tan’i or gen’in and you have a similar situation.

I like to cross reference both languages to find the true pronounciation of words that are difficult to pronounce. It is for this reason I find it easier to locate the pronunciation of any foreign word that is difficult to pronounce (i.e. Books or names in the Bible for example Habukkuk or Nebuchanedzar etc.) If you read those foreign names which are difficult to pronounce in English in Japanese, the pronunciation is straight forward and clear and there is no variance. It reads as it reads as to how it is pronounced. In Japanese it comes out closer than attempts I have made in English because the vowels never change when saying a word. Using both your native tongue (whether it be English or otherwise) and Japanese together to help you can come up with a closer approximation as to the true and correct pronunciation of any difficult biblical term.

Let me give you one example: In the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, chapter 13 there is a lot of names that who knows how to pronounce correctly. What I do is cross reference what I see in English with the Japanese pronunciation of each. So in Numbers 13:15 is written “Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.” How does one pronounce the word Geuel? That is 3 vowels in a row in English but I really have no idea of how to pronounce it. So I look in my Japanese Bible at Numbers 13:15 and see what it says. “ガドの部族ではマキの子ギウエル”

To find out how to pronounce the word Geuel then, I just dive into the pronunciation by saying everything ver batim. So we will have in the above Japanese quote, “Gado no buzoku dewa maki no ko Giueru”. Now when a word in Japanese ends in the eru (エル) that is the same as saying the English “el”, so that part is easy. The rest of that word is simply glottal gee ooh then add el. So Geuel’s pronunciation is English can be derived from the Japanese katakana or romaji pronunciation to get at the closer, more true pronunciation of it.

In Japanese, there are five vowels, and five vowel sounds. This makes learning Japanese easier than other languages. The order of the vowels is a little different so that might be the first thing to look at in your study of Japanese. The first five syllables in the Japanese syllabary are a i u e and o. It has to be said that if you were to gather a group of Japanese people and make a choir out of them, oh how satisfied the director would be because of the purity of their vowels. 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. The benefits of knowing another language are limitless. In this instance we found the pronunciation of difficult words easier by using Japanese + English...cool.

As always,
Ganbatte Ne!
Do Your Best!
If you want a list of vocabulary to start your study of the Japanese language then go to http://squidoo.com/japanesevocabularyindex