This Japanese Guide page was written by me.
Though Japanese may seem like an intimidating language to learn at first, there are actually many ways in which it is easier to learn than English. One way is in its pronunciation.
There are only five vowel sounds in Japanese:
a as in "father"
i as in "machine"
u as in "recuperate"
e as in "set"
o as in "coal"
All words in the Japanese language are made up of syllables that consist of these vowels by themselves, or follwing a consonant. The only one exception is the lone consonant "n." Also, certain consanants can be doubled to put an emphasis on their pronunciation in the word(example: massugu = straight, kekkon = wedding) But other than that, all Japanese words are made up of different combinations of the following syllables:
A I U E O
KA KI KU KE KO
GA GI GU GE GO
SA SHI SU SE SO
ZA JI ZU ZE ZO
TA CHI TSU TE TO
DA JI ZU DE DO
NA NI NU NE NO
HA HI FU HE HO
BA BI BU BE BO
PA PI PU PE PO
MA MI MU ME MO
YA YU YO
RA RI RU RE RO
WA WO, and N
Combinations of some consonants with "ya," "yu," or "yo" are also used:
KYA KYU KYO, GYA GYU GYO
SHA SHU SHO, CHA CHU CHO
JA JU JO, RYA RYU RYO
NYA NYU NYO, MYA MYU MYO
HYA HYU HYO, BYA BYU BYO
PYA PYU PYO
While English letters have different pronunciations depending on the letters around them and the word they're in, like the "e" in "elephant" pronounced different than the "e" in "screen," and the silent "e" at the end of a lot of words, Japanese syllables always sound the same. Once you know how to pronounce all the syllables listed above, you'll be able to say any Japanese word correctly. Unlike certain groups of English letters that don't follow a set of rules and can only be pronounced correctly through memorization, such as the "-ough" pronounced differently in the words "rough," "through," and "bough," Japanese syllables stay the same, such as the syllable "ne" always being pronounced as in the word "net" and never like in "knee" or "new." Also, whereas English has many kinds of silent letters, such as a silent "e" as in "huge" or silent "p" in "psychic," the Japanese vowels "a," "e," and "o" are never silent. The Japanese "i" and "u" are only silent if they occur between two unvoiced consonants(k, s, sh, t, ch, h, f, p) or at the end of a few certain words. So unlike English, you very rarely have to guess how Japanese words are pronounced.
The process of writing Japanese words into English is called romanization(the written words are called roumaji.) Certain letters in the English language, such as "l," "x," and "v," do not exist in Japanese. When English words with these letters are written, they are often replaced by similar sounding syllables. "l" is usually replaced with "r," "x" is usually replaced with "z" or a combination like "ekusu," and "v" is usually replaced with "b." For example, the name "Lina" would be written as "Rina" and the name "Vash" would be written as "Bashu."
I've already discussed how Japanese vowels are pronounced. Most Japanese consonants are pronounced like in English, but there are a few that are kind of tricky:
ts = always followed by a "u" and pronounced as in the word "tsunami"
f = not as in the word "food," but more like the "wh" in "who." It's sort of in between the Japanese "f" and "h"
g = always as in "go," never as in "age"
r = this one's probably the trickiest. It's sort of in between the English "l" and "r." But it's not as hard as the "r" in "right" and it's not like the "l" in "light" either. It's more similar to a Spanish "r" but not trilled
s = always as in "sew," never as in "his"
n = softer when by itself. When occuring before "b,"p," or "m," it is pronounced more like an "m"
There are certain Japanese words pronounced with a long vowel sound, such as "shuumatsu," "kouen," and "bataa." It is important to take note of which vowels have a long pronunciation and which do not because some words may seem to be exactly the same without this distinction. For example, "shuujin" means "prisoner" while "shujin" means "husband;" "oba" means "aunt" while "obaa" means "grandmother;" "biru" means "building" while "biiru" means "beer." Correct romanization of these words is important to clarify meaning, but sometimes they are disregarded when written in English. For example, the correct romanization of "Tokyo" is "Toukyou." But "Tokyo" is considered the correct spelling of the word in English. Since long vowel sounds aren't as essential in English as they are in Japanese, they're sometimes omitted. This is probably due to the fact that English speakers don't pronounce long vowels with as much emphasis as Japanese speakers do, so they're most likely taken away as a means of simplifying the word for English speakers. However, they're extremely important when writing correctly in Japanese because the kanji charaters used in words are different depending on whether the vowel is long or not. The way I see it, "Tokyo" is English while "Toukyou" is roumaji.
Onto Part 2: The Japanese Writing System
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