The first place to start in any language is with the vowels. The reason is because a vowel appears is pretty much every single word, so they are the most common sounds. What are the Japanese vowels?
As it turns out, the Japanese language has a total of five vowel sounds that we will cover in depth throughout this lesson.
The 5 Vowels Of Japanese
The first vowel in Japanese is あ which is like the English [a] sound in words such as “father.”
The second vowel in Japanese is い which is like the English [i] sound in words such as the first “i” in “immediate.” Another way to think about this sound is in words like “see, bee, knee” and so on.
The third vowel in Japanese is う which is like the English [u] sound in words such as “blue.”
The fourth vowel in Japanese is え which is like the English [e] sound in words such as “set.”
The fifth vowel in Japanese is お which is like the English [o] sound in words such as “note.”
However, one of the biggest things about the English [o] sound is that it is a “diphthong” which means that it is “formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable”
Notice how the [o] sound in almost every English word starts out at [o] but then morphs into the [u] sound by the end.
It is subtle, but once you notice it you will hear it all the time. For example, words like “toe, know, and boat.”
The Japanese [o] is not like this. It is a pure vowel, meaning that is stays as the [o] sound the entire time.
Listen To And Repeat The Following
Here are the five vowels of Japanese and the recording:
- あ = a
- い = i
- う = u
- え = e
- お = o
All Japanese Vowels Are “Pure”
I talked a little but about how the English [o] is usually a diphthong that starts on one vowel, but then ends on another.
This actually happens a lot with English vowels and not just with the [o] sound.
I’ve heard it a lot with the [e] sound where it will start with [e] and then ends on more of an [i] sound. Think of the word “hey” for example.
I’ve also heard it with some of the [a] words that will change into something else.
This is a very common and natural thing to do in English, but it never happens in Japanese. All five of the Japanese vowels are “pure” in that the do not change halfway through.
I’ve heard that this is very similar to how Spanish vowels work, and that people who’s native language is Spanish tend to pick up Japanese vowels easily and naturally.
So if you’re like me, and English is your native language, then just be aware of our natural tendency to speak certain vowels as diphthongs and try to keep the Japanese vowels pure when speaking.
How To Spell The Japanese Vowels
The more involved you are in the process of learning, the easier it will be for you to remember the information.
When it comes to learning the hiragana for each section, I recommend taking out a pen and a piece of paper and writing each one out at least five times.
The Japanese language has a correct stroke order for each character, which means that there is only one “right” way to write each character.
This is very similar to how there is a correct way to write each cursive letter in English.
Take a look at these two pictures for example. The first one shows arrows for the correct stroke order and the second one is an animation for the same thing.
あ = a
By practicing the correct stroke order for each hiragana, it will actually becomes easier to remember them.
With repeated practice, this process will actually begin to feel quite normal and natural for you.
Here is the correct way to write each of the five kana that you’ve learned in this lesson:
あ = a
い = i
う = u
え = e
お = o
You don’t have limit yourself to just writing these out during this course. If you would like to practice them during your free time then be sure to do so!
If you would like some full charts that cover all the kana, then check out my complete walk-through on how to learn hiragana.
Some Words That Use These Sounds
I want you to start listening to actual Japanese words right away. But I want them to only be words that are comprised of the sounds that you’ve learned so far in this course.
So at the end of each section, I’ll have several Japanese words for you to listen to and try repeating out loud.
There is no need to memorize these words. I just want you to get some real life examples of how the sounds you’re learning are used.
It’s going to be pretty basic at first, but as you progress through the lessons they will become longer and more complex.
あお = Blue
いえ = House
あう = To meet (someone)
うえ = Above
Action Exercises For This Lesson
This course is designed to be intensely practical.
In order to accomplish this, I’ve combined the information that you will need to learn in the lesson sections, along with tasks for you to complete in order to integrate the information on a deeper level.
Here is the complete checklist of tasks for you to accomplish before moving on to the next lesson:
- Listen to and repeat each of the five Japanese vowels at least three times.
- On a piece of paper, write out each of this lesson’s hiragana at least five times.
- Listen to and repeat each of the Japanese example words at least three times.
Once you’ve completed all of the above, it’s time to continue on to the next lesson!
Got any questions about the course? Let me know down below!
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Further Resources for Learning Japanese: