Pronunciation in Japanese
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Pronunciation
Sounding Japanese when you speak

Remember...

You are not a bad person if you have an accent when you speak Japanese.

Seriously, have you got this? (It took me a few years and a thesis to get this I can tell you.) Okay, now let's get down to business.

Is Perfect Pronunciation a Must?

How important is native like pronunciation?  It depends who you speak to.  Some people believe that as long as your gaijin accent doesn’t hinder your communication, that it can be quite endearing. Other people think that native like pronunciation is the be all and end all.  To tell you the truth, I flit between the two.

Advantages of good pronunciation

Firstly, I think good pronunciation is important for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the more Japanese you sound, the more likely Japanese people will treat you as a Japanese person.  This has the advantage of making it more likely that Japanese people will speak to you in natural language as opposed to what they call foreigner-talk (E.g. “You want eat?) meaning that you won’t be picking up any bad habits from your Japanese friends.

Second, the more Japanese you make your pronunciation, the easier it will be to understand the pronunciation of Japanese people. This is not as logical as it sounds – why should speaking better necessarily improve your listening comprehension? That said, I’ve found that it does no end.  Interestingly too, in my interpreting classes at Interschool, our interpreting teacher would get us to shadow a speech when we couldn't understand something which is further evidence that it works.

[For the psycholinguistics geeks out there, the idea that the quality of your pronunciation affects your listening comprehension is developed by Liberman and Mattingly in their Motor Theory of Speech Perception (2.91MB pdf). Also check out the section on Listening here at doogooroo.com for more.]

Disadvantages of good pronunciation 

Perfect pronunciation is not without its disadvantages. For instance, people will think you speak more Japanese than you actually do. Also, if you accidentally say something rude or insulting, you’ll really offend people. If you don't believe me, think about the reverse situation. Compare being called a "fucking arsehole" to a "fakkingu aasuhooru". I think you get my point.

Now, there’s no reason to get your knickers in a knot if you find that you trip up on all those rarirurero’s every now and then. Remember, the aim of the game is to get your message across and to understand what other people want to say.  And to keep climbing that mountain.