If vowels are written in combination, each vowel should be pronounced separately. For instance ai sounds like 'eye' to the English speaker and oo is pronounced by stretching out the o sound.
The combination ei is not pronounced ay. Instead, it is usually pronounced as an enlongated version of the e (as in met).
The vowel u is usually
pronounced faintly or dropped entirely when found in the syllable su.
This is especially true at the end of words such as desu or -masu
which tend to sound like des and mas. Another example is suki
which tends to be pronounced as ski.
Most Japanese consonants are pronounced the same way they are in English. There are some important differences, however.
1. The letter g is always pronounced as in 'gone' and never as in 'gin.'
2. The ch combination is always pronounced as in 'chocolate' and never as in 'charade.'
3. The fu syllable is pronounced more like 'who' is in English, except that it is more clipped and is made by bringing the lips close together rather than by bringing the upper teeth close to the lower lip like in English.
4. The Japanese r is nothing like the English 'r.' Rather, it is more like a clipped L sound. It is pronounced something like the 'dd' in the name Eddy. It is made by flicking the tip of the tongue off of the gums behind the top front teeth. This sound is used as a substitute for the 'L' and 'R' sounds in foreign words.
5. The tsu sound has no good examples of use in English. Instead, listen to these examples. The voice sample has the syllable tsu followed by tsunami (tidal wave), tsuki (moon), tsubasa (wings), and tsuri (fishing).
6. The y that is found in some words is never a vowel as it can be in English. Thus, Toyota is not pronounced 'toy-o-ta' as it is in English, but to-yo-ta. The y can also act as a glide. Thus, Tokyo which is often pronounced 'to-ky-o' in English, is actually pronounced to-kyo in Japanese.
7. The n in
Japanese has two pronunciations. The first is at the beginning
of na, ni, nu, ne, and no,
where it is pronounced the same as it is in English. The other
is where n stands by itself. (With no vowel following it within
the same word.) Here, it is pronounced as a nasal 'n.'
When a word contains double
consonants, the double k's in bakkin (a penalty or fine) for
example, they are pronounced separately, with a slight space separating
the two. In this case, the double k's are pronounced something
like the 'kc' in bookcase.
Particles Wo, Ha, and He
When you see the character wo in a sentence, it is actually pronounced more like o. When ha is used as a particle to mark the subject of a sentence, it is pronounced like wa. Ha is also pronounced as wa when used in the words konnichiha and konbanha. When he is used as a particle in a sentence it is pronounced as e.
Sound File Examples
Voice samples courtesy of R. Fujinuma.
Note that all the pronunciations on this page are based on American English. If you speak with a different accent please listen to the sound files.