It is said that Japanese pronunciation is easy for native English speakers, but I think that this can make them complacent. Whilst a lot of sounds in Japanese also exist in English, there are still lots of differences between these sounds. This means that there are still quite a few difficult words to say in Japanese.
After reading this SoraNews24 article on the hardest Japanese words to pronounce, I had a think about the Japanese words that I find difficult with. My list is as follows:
暖かい あたたかい/ atatakai = warm
笑われた わらわれた/ warawareta = was laughed at
現れる あらわれる/ arawareru = to appear
恋愛 れんあい/ ren’ai = love, romance
範囲 はんい/ han’i = extent, scope
全員 ぜんいん/ zen’in = all members
婚約 こんにゃく/ kon’nyaku = engagement
雰囲気 ふんいき/ fun’iki = mood, ambience
遠慮 えんりょ/ en’ryo = hestitation, restraint
旅行 りょこう/ ryokou = travel
料理 りょうり/ ryouri = cooking, cuisine
This was actually a useful exercise for
I then came across the following video by JapanesePod101 which brought up a lot of similar sounding words to my list.
I’m assuming a lot of these words are trickier for those that only speak English. However, I think 暖かい -> 暖かくなかった would be on most people’s lists – I can never remember if I have said enough た’s!
That word aside, I can pretty much
Words which mix w- and r- sounds:
- 笑われた わらわれた was laughed at
- 現れる あらわれる to appear
As a child, I always used to struggle with differentiating w- and r- sounds in English; for instance, I remember pronouncing “rainbow” as “wainbow” by accident quite a lot! This is quite common with young children and you usually grow out of it.
For some reason when it comes to Japanese I get tongue tied when I have to quickly switch between w- and r- sounds!
Words that have ‘n’ as a consonant in the middle
- 恋愛 れんあい love
- 範囲 はんい extent, scope
- 全員 ぜんいん all members
- 婚約 こんやく engagement
- 雰囲気 ふんいき mood, ambience
‘N’ often sounds like its English counterpart, but depending on its position within words it can sound more like a ‘m’ or a ‘ng’.
This difference in sound reflects how the Japanese ‘n’ is more nasalised following certain sounds.
In addition, the other thing that I find difficult is not blending the sounds together when ‘n’ is followed by a vowel. For example, ‘renai’ should be pronounced so that the sounds ‘ren’ and ‘ai’ are separate – unfortunately it often comes out as ‘ren nai’ or ‘re nai’.
Words which have lots of r sounds, especially include ‘rya’/ ‘ryu’/ ‘ryo’
- 旅行 りょこう travel
- 料理 りょうり cooking
My pronunciation of the Japanese R has improved with some practice, but I struggle a lot with the ’rya’ and ‘ryo’ sounds in particular.
Words with ‘n’ followed by ‘r’
- 遠慮 えんりょ reserve, constraint
Further examples – 心理 しんり/ state of mind, 管理 かんり/ management, control
The word 遠慮 combines two of my biggest pronunciation difficulties! Fortunately, Dogen explains how to pronounce this particular sound combination in this clip from his excellent pronunciation course.
Tips for tackling difficult Japanese words
As this is very much a work in progress for me, I am still looking at various methods to improve my pronunciation. There are a couple of things that I think are helping so far.
Train your ears and your mouth
Firstly, I’ve been reading about how I should be making the sounds in terms of mouth shape and tongue movement. When I listen to spoken Japanese now, I pay more attention to how the sounds are made, especially for difficult Japanese words.
I think that this ear training is an important first step in making your pronunciation more accurate. Dogen’s course mentioned above covers this in a lot of detail and is helping me a lot. I’ve also been dedicating some time to shadowing, which I am intending to write about in another post. I’ve been using Japanese tongue twisters as a
Record myself and listen back to it
One thing I might do more often is to record myself speaking – as embarassing as it feels to do this, it is much easier to pick up on your own mistakes this way.
I’ve been learning Japanese for a relatively long time and so these bad pronunciation habits are probably ingrained into how I speak. For this reason, I am not expecting quick results and intend to focus on developing a regular pronunciation practice routine in order to improve how I sound in Japanese.
Remember, just because you find certain words difficult now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to pronounce them more accurately!
I imagine that a lot of these words will be much easier for speakers of other languages. I often hear that Japanese pronunciation is easy for Spanish speakers.
Which words do you find difficult to pronounce? Do you think the languages you already speak help you with Japanese pronunciation? Let me know in the comments!