The Consonants of Japanese: Part 4

In this lesson we will go over the three [y] sounds, which are pretty easy for a native English speaker to hear and make.

Then we will go over the Japanese [r] sound, which is nothing like the one we grew up with!

There is only a total of 8 new sounds and hiragana to learn in this lesson, but that doesn’t mean that today will be short!

There’s a lot of information to learn today, so let’s get started.

The [y] and [r] Consonants in Japanese:

Like I mentioned, the [y] sound will be pretty easy for you. It’s nice to get an easy one every now and again! 🙂

On the other hand, the [r] sound in Japanese is perhaps the hardest one for native English speakers to master.

Pay special attention to it while listening in the sections below, and then be sure to go over the special notes on it.

The [y] sound combined with each of the three following vowels creates the following:

や = ya

ゆ = yu

よ = yo

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The [r] sound combined with each of the five vowels creates the following:

ら = ra

り = ri

る = ru

れ = re

ろ = ro

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Special notes on all of the [r] sounds:

In English we create the r-sound by puckering our lips and bunching up our teeth.

Try it now by saying “rrrrrrrrrrrRough”

Here’s what I want you to understand: This R-sound really only exists in English. You will not find it in Japanese!

This is one of the reasons why it’s best to avoid learning Japanese with the English alphabet.

Instead, the “Japanese R-sound” is made by tapping the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue and then producing the vowel sound.

Here’s an exercise to help you. Try saying [da-di-du-de-do] in English. The place where you place the tip of your tongue to make that initial D-sound is pretty close to, but not exactly the same as, the Japanese R-sound.

If you put the tip of your tongue just a bit further towards your teeth, you should be able to find the sweet spot.

Now try listing to the native again when they say ら-り-る-れ-ろ and try to recreate the sound yourself.

Focusing on listening and then figuring out the correct mouth placements is exactly how children learn to do it, and you can learn it that way as well.

Here’s the thing you need to remember: It will probably feel weird to you.

This is perfectly normal. Think about it, you’ve never needed to make this sound before, so of course your mouth is going to be a little uncomfortable with it at first. You just need to keep practicing it until it begins to feel normal and natural.

In addition to listening and repeating, you can also try recording yourself making these sounds and then listen to your recording alongside the native to see how close (or far) you are from the correct sound.

This R-sound is incredible important in Japanese, so you are going to have to master it.

You can do it. Just keep working at it!

Time to Practice the hiragana

や = ya

ゆ = yu

よ = yo

ら = ra

り = ri

る = ru

れ = re

ろ = ro

Time to Hear the [r] sound in Action:

I figured I would chalk this list full of the [r] sound so that you can get a lot of exposure to it. Check them out:

かみなり = lightning

からて = Karate (the martial art)

みる = To look

はなれる = To leave

そろそろ = Any time now

ゆみ = Bow (and arrow)

やわらかい = Soft

よる = Evening

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To Be the Best, You Have to Practice Like the Best.

You know the drill by now:

  • Practice all of the [r] sounds 6+ times.
  • Practice all of the [y] sounds 3+ times.
  • Practice each of today’s hiragana 5+ times.
  • Practice the word list 3+ times.

Oh, what’s that?

You’re all done?

Well then it’s time to move on my friend!

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Questions? Comments? Let me know down below!


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