Japanese pronunciation is comparatively easy to master. There are hardly any sounds in Japanese that don’t exist in English. Also, Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai.
The simplest way to describe the pronunciation is to use English pronunciation for the consonants and Italian for the vowels with a few exceptions. Find examples for all the basic kana below. These are approximations to the correct pronunciation.
The "h" in ひ (hi) is a little more throaty, and the "h" of ふ (fu/hu) is pronounced more like an "f".
あ(a) as in America - - い(i) as in image - - う(u) as in put - - え(e) as in ever - - お(o) as in ork - - か(ka) as in car さ(sa) as in son き(ki) as in keep し(shi) as in she く(ku) as in Kubrick す(su) as in super け(ke) as in kelp せ(se) as in set こ(ko) as in corn そ(so) as in Sony た(ta) as in tar な(na) as in gnarl ち(chi) as in cheap に(ni) as in niece つ(tsu) as in tsunami ぬ(nu) as in numerous て(te) as in temp ね(ne) as in net と(to) as in torn の(no) as in norm は(ha) as in hard ま(ma) as in market ひ(hi) as in he み(mi) as in me ふ(fu) as in who む(mu) as in mousse へ(he) as in heavy め(me) as in met ほ(ho) as in horn も(mo) as in more や(ya) as in yard ら(ra) as in large - - り(ri) as in leak ゆ(yu) as in universe る(ru) as in loose - - れ(re) as in left よ(yo) as in York ろ(ro) as in lord わ(wa) as in what ん(n) as in kin を (wo) as in ork - -
The "r" sound lies somewhere between an "l" and a "d". The tip of the tongue touches the palate briefly.
The "w" sound is different from the English "w". The correct way of pronouncing it is by putting your lower lip against your upper teeth and releasing it at the beginning of the sound.
The n’ is pronounced as "ny" when it’s followed by the hiragana え (e):
If the "n" is followed by a "k"-, or "g"-syllable, the "ng" and "nk" sounds are pronounced as in English:
きんえん 禁煙 kin'en = kinyen no smoking せんえん 千円 sen'en = senyen one thousand yen かんおん 漢音 kan'on a reading of a kanji げんいん 原因 gen'in a cause
If the "n" is followed by a "b"-, "p"-, or "m"-syllable, the "n" is pronounced as an "m":
まんが 漫画 manga a comic strip いんかん 印鑑 inkan a seal げんご 言語 gengo language
さんぽ 散歩 sanpo = sampo a walk / a stroll はんばい 販売 hanbai = hambai sale / marketing よんまい 四枚 yonmai = yommai 4 sheets
The small tsu (っ) and long consonants:
The small "tsu" (っ) is pronounced as a small pause or an extended consonant in the case of s-syllable:
The "n"- and "m"-syllables are extended by placing the hiragana ん (n) in front of it:
すっきり - sukkiri = su_kiri refreshed feeling むっつ 六つ muttsu = mu_tsu six けっする 決する kessuru to decide
こんな - konna like this さんまい 三枚 sanmai = sammai 3 sheets
The "w" in を (wo) is silent, and when used as particles, は (ha) is pronounced as "wa", and へ (he) as "e".
In the following hiragana the "i" and "u" are silent when followed by a voiceless consonant:
し (shi), す (su), ち (chi), つ (tsu), ひ (hi), and ふ (fu)
This includes occasions where a word ends on one of the above syllables, and the next word starts with a voiceless consonant.
した 下 shita = shta below すてき 素敵 suteki = steki cool ちから 力 chikara = chkara power ふとん 布団 futon = fton a futon
In です (desu) and …ます (-masu) the "u" is silent.
To speak (言う)
The verb 言う (iu), meaning to speak or to say, is pronounced as "yuu". Also in contractions with the ren’youkei 言 is pronounced as "yu": 言って (yutte), 言った (yutta), 言ったり (yuttari) and 言ったら (yuttara). In all other cases, the normal "i" pronunciation is kept.
言う いう iu = yuu to speak / to say / to tell 言って いって itte = yutte (please) tell me. 言った いった itta = yutta I told him. 言ったり いったり ittari = yuttari to speak (and such) 言ったら いったら ittara = yuttara if you say it 言います いいます iimasu to speak / to say / to tell 言える いえる ieru I can speak. 言えば いえば ieba if you say it 言わない いわない iwanai he doesn't speak