Japanese pronunciation is comparatively easy to master. There are hardly any sounds in Japanese that don’t exist in English. Also, Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai.

The simplest way to describe the pronunciation is to use English pronunciation for the consonants and Italian for the vowels with a few exceptions. Find examples for all the basic kana below. These are approximations to the correct pronunciation.

あ(a)as in America--
い(i)as in image--
う(u)as in put--
え(e)as in ever--
お(o)as in ork--
か(ka)as in carさ(sa)as in son
き(ki)as in keepし(shi)as in she
く(ku)as in Kubrickす(su)as in super
け(ke)as in kelpせ(se)as in set
こ(ko)as in cornそ(so)as in Sony
た(ta)as in tarな(na)as in gnarl
ち(chi)as in cheapに(ni)as in niece
つ(tsu)as in tsunamiぬ(nu)as in numerous
て(te)as in tempね(ne)as in net
と(to)as in tornの(no)as in norm
は(ha)as in hardま(ma)as in market
ひ(hi)as in heみ(mi)as in me
ふ(fu)as in whoむ(mu)as in mousse
へ(he)as in heavyめ(me)as in met
ほ(ho)as in hornも(mo)as in more
や(ya)as in yardら(ra)as in large
--り(ri)as in leak
ゆ(yu)as in universeる(ru)as in loose
--れ(re)as in left
よ(yo)as in Yorkろ(ro)as in lord
わ(wa)as in what(n)as in kin
を (wo)as in ork--

The "h" in ひ (hi) is a little more throaty, and the "h" of ふ (fu/hu) is pronounced more like an "f".

The "r" sound lies somewhere between an "l" and a "d". The tip of the tongue touches the palate briefly.

The "w" sound is different from the English "w". The correct way of pronouncing it is by putting your lower lip against your upper teeth and releasing it at the beginning of the sound.

The n’ is pronounced as "ny" when it’s followed by the hiragana え (e):

きんえん禁煙kin'en = kinyenno smoking
せんえん千円sen'en = senyenone thousand yen
かんおん漢音kan'ona reading of a kanji
げんいん原因gen'ina cause

If the "n" is followed by a "k"-, or "g"-syllable, the "ng" and "nk" sounds are pronounced as in English:

まんが 漫画mangaa comic strip
いんかん印鑑inkana seal
げんご言語gengolanguage

If the "n" is followed by a "b"-, "p"-, or "m"-syllable, the "n" is pronounced as an "m":

さんぽ 散歩sanpo = sampoa walk / a stroll
はんばい販売hanbai = hambaisale / marketing
よんまい四枚yonmai = yommai4 sheets

The small tsu (っ) and long consonants:



The small "tsu" (っ) is pronounced as a small pause or an extended consonant in the case of s-syllable:

すっきり-sukkiri = su_kirirefreshed feeling
むっつ六つmuttsu = mu_tsusix
けっする決するkessuruto decide

The "n"- and "m"-syllables are extended by placing the hiragana ん in front of it:

こんな-konna like this
さんまい三枚sanmai = sammai3 sheets

Particles:


The "w" in を (wo) is silent, and when used as particles, は (ha) is pronounced as "wa", and へ (he) as "e".

Silent vowels:


In the following hiragana the "i" and "u" are silent when followed by a voiceless consonant:

し (shi), す (su), ち (chi), つ (tsu), ひ (hi), and ふ (fu)

This includes occasions where a word ends on one of the above syllables, and the next word starts with a voiceless consonant.

したshita = shtabelow
すてき素敵suteki = stekicool
ちからchikara = chkarapower
ふとん布団futon = ftona futon

Polite forms:


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In です (desu) and …ます (-masu) the "u" is silent.

To speak (言う)

The verb 言う (iu), meaning to speak or to say, is pronounced as "yuu". Also in contractions with the ren’youkei 言 is pronounced as "yu": 言って (yutte), 言った (yutta), 言ったり (yuttari) and 言ったら (yuttara). In all other cases, the normal "i" pronunciation is kept.

言ういうiu = yuuto speak / to say / to tell
言っていってitte = yutte(please) tell me.
言ったいったitta = yuttaI told him.
言ったりいったりittari = yuttarito speak (and such)
言ったらいったらittara = yuttaraif you say it
言いますいいますiimasu to speak / to say / to tell
言えるいえるieru I can speak.
言えばいえばiebaif you say it
言わないいわないiwanaihe doesn't speak