This page was last updated on March 27th, 2019(UTC) and it is currently February 26th, 2024(UTC).
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NOTE: This page assumes you're a native speaker of English, and english references are based on standard american pronunciation. Also note that I wrote this in a hurry so some details may be missing. If you're aware of something important that I've missed, feel free to contact me about it and I'll update the page.

In Japanese, there are three major writing systems still in use today. The, arguably, most important of these three is 平仮名(ひらがな). The other systems can be learned by daisy chaining with 平仮名, and you'll certainly see more 平仮名 than anything else. 平仮名 is phonetic, so the letters (with exceptions you will see below, which are incredibly predictable) have consistent pronunciation, unlike English where any particular letter can have 3 or 4 pronunciations based on what word it's even in.

Due to the nature of 平仮名 having vowels and consonants coupled together, one should probably learn the basic vowels first. In this recording the vowels will be unnaturally elongated. Normally, one would only say these vowels for a split second, since the writing system is time dependent. The second and fourth sounds are the ones most people have trouble with. The second one, is more like a "y" than "long e" sound, which is most noticeable because it causes palatalization of the consonant. The forth sound occurs in english, but only as a diphtong (two sounds thought of as one): the "long a" sound is actually a diphtong of the fourth vowel followed by the second vowel. Keep in mind that the length of the vowel matters: there's a huge differen between こり and こおり.

Consonants were written as well to assist in realizing the consonant part of the pair. It's important, however, to try to keep from getting tied to the english pronunciation of the letters too much, because of how english changes sounds much differently from Japanese. Sounds paired with い are corrupted by it (palatalized) creating a "hissing sound," which is can be heard with every letter, which allow the letter to be recognized even if you speak so fast that the vowel itself disappears (which it frequently does). The う noticably corrupts the "t sound" as well as the "h sound." Together, these changes cause people who speak english to have minor mispronunciations of し (don't clench your teeth like with english), ち(don't clench your teeth like with english), and ふ(you use both your lips, rather than your upper teeth and bottom lip). Keep in mind that the "r" is an alveolar tap, like the "tt" of "butter," which we sometimes call a "soft D," in contrast to the "D" of "dog" which is a "hard D."

The basic 平仮名 (the only ones you actually have to memorize)

In the wild, ゐ and ゑ are never actually used in modern times. In japanese, there are special suffices known as "particles" which serve a grammatical purpose. Explaining them is outside of the scope of this page, but be aware that as particles, は is pronounced わ, へ is pronounced え, and を (which is always a particle) is pronounced お. "ん" can basically be either an "ng sound," an "n sound," or an "m" sound depending on your preferences at the time. It is the only sound that doesn't naturally get paired with a vowel. You will find certain combinations come naturally, such as with まfollowing the ん, you'll be inclined to use it as an "m." With vowels, to prevent confusion, you'll prefer "ng" as well, like with "きんえん" (first ends with ng, second with n).

Now, the general rule for writing the letters is horizontal first, then vertical, then "sweeps." The "stroke order" doesn't seem important at first, but as you get experience, especially with the blocky chinese letters, the stroke order ends up being very, very important. I recommend memorizing it through application via tracing and actually using it in your notes. Keep in mind that there is a short hand for "repeat previous letter" which is ゝ, but I've never actually seen it in the wild, and only in instructional materials. I'm sure it's out there, somewhere, but I haven't seen it (I have seen "々" but that's a separate beast, and not related to 平仮名).

Sometimes you will see a small vowel, which effectively replaces the vowel of the previous letter, but retains the corruption of the consonant by the original vowel. In some cases it means minor elongation, as well, if it's the same vowel. If you see a small つ, it represents a small pause. ー is used to elongate a vowel, usually only stylistically, and ~ is double elongation.

Japanese also has two diacritics. The first being ゙, which takes a sound and "voices it." For example, an "s sound" is an unvoiced sound, but if you vibrate your vocal cords, you make a "z sound," which is the "voiced form." This is commonly applied to the k, s, t, and h groups, where "h" becomes "b." Keep in mind that when applied to "t," this never creates the "soft D" sound. The first diacritic also seems to be used in conjunction with the vowels that are not paired with consonants to "growl the vowel" in certain fictional media. The second diacritic is ゚, which is usually used to convert the h group into a "p" sound, however can be used with other consonants as well (most notably the k group, which then have an "ng" sound paired with their vowels instead).

Lastly, Japanese pronunciation uses a "pitch accent system," where as in most european languages we use a "stress accent system." With stress accent, we make one syllable louder than another, and also higher pitch, while slacking on both pitch, loudness, and general pronunciation on the unaccented syllables, while subaccents merely lack the pitch, as seen in this exaggerated example (bold is accented, with main accent being underlined): international Space station. (Yes, it was a bit ridiculous, but some people can't easily hear that otherwise.) In Standard Japanese (not everyone speaks it, beware, even though everyone will tell you otherwise), the first かな is low, unless it is where the accent falls (箸-), and the rest are high, with a slight rise in pitch where the accent falls (晴れ女-はれんな), followed by a drop in pitch, except where there is "no accent," where the pitch drops slightly in the end (友達-ともだち). The particle is considered part of the word. And I haven't really had a chance to speak Japanese with a native in over a year, and you can hear that in this tongue twister: 箸の橋で端から端まで走った橋本さん-はしのはしではしからはしまではしったはしもとさん. Normally, in Japanese-Japsnese dictionaries (国語辞典), the location of the acceted letter is usually marked by a number where either "0" or omission means "flat" or "no accent." Keep in mind that 箸 should be marked with a 1 for standard japanese, if you wish to check a given dictionary.

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