Tools

Japanese Pitch Accent Resources

Many of you are working on improving your spoken Japanese by studying the four pitch accent patterns. But do you have a good way of looking up the correct one for each new word you learn? If not, then don’t worry as I will be sharing several Japanese pitch accent resources.

Some of these are websites that are completely free to access and use, while others require you to invest some money to acquire and utilize.

Regardless of which direction you decide to take, there are many options open to you. Let’s check them out now!

Websites for Looking up Pitch Pattern

There are a few different websites that you can use for looking up the correct pitch pattern of Japanese words. Here are the two that I like the most and find myself using quite a bit.


1. Prosody Tutor Suzuki-kun (website: Click Here)

This site is a nice tool that you can use to both see and hear the pitch pattern of a Japanese word. All you have to do is enter the Japanese word that you are investigating, and then hit the [Analyze] button at the bottom of the settings.

Once you’ve done that, you can scroll down a little to see the graph it generated that shows the pitch. For this example, I’ve entered 挨拶 (greetings):


This gives you a nice way to visualize the pattern in your head.

If you want to then listen to the word and match what you are seeing with how it sounds, click on the 「作成」 button to generate the audio, and then the 「再生」 button to listen to it.

This tool has been compared to Google Translate when it comes to looking things up: Great at individual words, but it starts to fall apart at the sentence level.

Keep that in mind as you utilize this first tool.


2. Wadoku (website: Click Here)

This website is really interesting for one reason in particular… It’s all in German!

As it turns out, Wadoku is a Japanese-German online dictionary that is free for anyone to use.

But what if you don’t speak German? That’s no problem since it’s not the definitions that I recommend you use it for, but the pitch accent pattern illustrations.

So to see what that looks, like all you have to do is enter a Japanese word into the search field and then hit the blue button titled [Suche] and look at the results.

If we want to see the pattern for 自己紹介 (self-introduction) we get the below result:

As you can see on the hiragana, the line maps out the pitch pattern. Here is starts low on じ and then goes high immediately on こ, staying that way for しょ before then dropping back to low on う and remaining there for both か and い.

This is a fantastic way to quickly see the highs and lows of a Japanese word!

I’ve run into a few words where there was no line, as I assume that the owners of the site just haven’t gotten to them yet. If that happens to you as well, then you can simply use one of the alternative resources listed in this article.

Japanese Dictionaries

Most people who are learning Japanese use an English-Japanese dictionary. These are great when you’re a beginner, since they tell you the English equivalent word.

Unfortunately, they don’t do much more than that. One of the things that they miss is providing you with the pitch-pattern of the word in question.

However, once you start using a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, not only do you get a more detailed explanation on the word you’re researching, but you also get to see its pitch-pattern.

There are a lot of 国語辞典 (Japanese only dictionaries) out there, but the two that I like for the purpose of this post are the following:


1. The macOS dictionary (free for mac users)

If you own a Mac, then you have access to a powerful resource that you may not have known about. If you don’t own a Mac, then you may have to pass on this one as they can be kind of expensive to purchase.

The dictionary included for free on the macOS is set to English when you launch it for the first time, but you can activate both an English-Japanese dictionary and, more importantly, a Japanese-Japanese dictionary.

Once you do, you can enter any Japanese word into it and see the Japanese definition for the word. In addition to this definition is a number (sometimes several) that will tell you which accent pattern the word belongs to.

Let’s take a look at 目的 (goal) to see which pattern it uses:

As we can see, the number listed next to it is [0]. All you have to do at this point is click on the number and you will be brought to the page that lists all the pitch accent patterns.

The two things you need to know at this point are:

  1. The pitch number provided earlier.
  2. How many mora are used in the word.

You can then cross-check those two pieces of information and arrive at the correct pattern.

So with 目的 we can see that it had [0] and uses a total of four mora (もくてき) which means that it uses the Heibon Pitch Pattern, which starts low on も and then goes high on く and stays high for both て and き.

I have circled it in red below:

FYI in case you are wondering, the white circle at the end of the pattern represents the particle when/if one is attached to the word.

This tool is pretty cool, and one that I never knew I had access to until several years after I had gotten my Macbook Air.


2. Shin Meikai Nihongo Akusento Jiten (See It On Amazon.com)

If you want to detach from the digital scene for a while, the good news is that you don’t have to give up learning Japanese pitch patterns while you do so.

Instead, you can pick up a copy of the Shinmeikei Japanese Accent Dictionary and use it like you would any other physical dictionary. Although on the plus side, the latest version of it comes with a CD so that you can use it on your computer as well.

It’s got over 70,000 words, so you’re sure to stay busy using it!

It includes diagrams on words, the difference between older versions and newer versions of the same word, some pronunciation tips like devoicing, how the pitch changes in word combinations, and a lot more that I won’t go into here for time reasons.

The only thing that you should be aware of is that it is entirely in Japanese (it’s intended for natives after all) so if you aren’t comfortable with your reading and comprehension skills at this point in time, then it may be best to skip this one for now and come back to it at a later date.

Forvo.com

If you want to change it up from seeing the pitch accent pattern, and instead try hearing it, then this next resource is the one for you.

Click Here to Visit Forvo.com

The slogan for Forvo is “All the words in the world. Pronounced.” and even though I encounter the rare Japanese word that Forvo does not have, with over 173,000 words as of this writing, you’re highly likely to find the one you want.

Essentially all you have to do is visit the site and type the word (in Japanese) that you want to look up. You will then be taken to the page with all available recordings for that word.

Sometimes you will want to listen to several recordings in order to get a really good feel for the new word’s pitch.

This is also a good way to test your listening comprehension when it comes to pitch accents. Try listening to words and writing down which pattern you think it is, and then verify it with one of the other resources mentioned today.

This ought to help you improve to the point where you can figure it out on your own, just by listening to natives speaking.

Japanese Phonetics by Dogen

So far all of the resources that I’ve talked about have been useful as a reference. But what if you want to actually learn about the different pitch patterns that exist and any tips / tricks to figuring out a word’s pattern without hearing it or looking it up?

If that’s the case, then you’ll want to take a course on Japanese pitch accent patterns that will take you from a complete beginner to at least an intermediate level.

There’s actually not that many courses out there available to someone who is interested in this topic, but luckily there’s Dogen’s class.

Japanese Phonetics by Dogen is a video course that is available on Patreon for a little as $10 a month, and is taught by Dogen (real name: Kevin), an American guy who has been studying Japanese and living in Japan for a decade now.

Even though you have to pay to access the course, the first three lessons are completely free on YouTube as an introduction to the topic and a way for people to see if they are interested in learning more.

Here is the first lesson, in case you’d like to watch it now:

I’ve taken his course myself and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to improve their spoken Japanese to a near native like level.

You can find out more about Dogen and his course On Patreon.

Mastering This Part of the Language

Even though there’s not a lot of courses or books that focus on teaching you correct Japanese pitch accent, it is actually a very important part of the language.

At a high level, it is one of the few things that will make you sound just like a native Japanese speaker.

But even at a lower level, if you try to talk to someone in Japanese, but you completely butcher the pitch pattern, or accidentally use the wrong one, it can actually hinder comprehension and prevent the listener from understanding what you’re trying to say.

In other words, it’s important to learn no matter where you’re at with the language.

Most people who are learning Japanese primarily through aural methods tend to pick up on the patterns at an unconscious level given enough exposure and repetition to the language.

But if you learn Japanese mostly from books or websites without any accompanying audio, then chances are high that you are weak in this area.

There’s no need to leave this part of the Japanese language up to chance. With the resources I’ve shared with you today, you should be able to “get behind the steering wheel” of your spoken Japanese and take it in the direction that you want to go.

With the above list of resources at your disposal, you should have everything you need to learn and master Japanese pitch accent.

Have any other useful resources? Want to share your experience with one of the above mentioned ones? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

2 Comments

  • Daniel

    Pitch accent seems to be getting more and more attention these days. Why do you think that is, despite the fact that it always existed?

    • Nick Hoyt

      If I had two guess I would say that it’s due to the fact that there are a lot more people with a strong command of the language teaching Japanese, and they feel that pitch accent is one area that is under taught to new students.

      I mean, if you go back as little as 20 years ago, you see that most of the beginner materials focused on teaching though Rōmaji and never really advanced to the actual Japanese writing system.

      I expect that as time goes on, there will appear even more advanced resources for Japanese learners to help them get their skills to near-native level.

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