Now we begin the second half of part-one of this course on sounds. In order to understand these next few groups of sounds and kana, we first have to go over the concepts of voiced and unvoiced consonants. Then we can answer the question: what is “g” in Japanese?
This will then allow us to see other “voiced” consonants in Japanese and see how they are written in hiragana. Once you see how that’s done below, you will be happy at how easy it is to do.
Let’s get into it in more detail now.
What Are Voiced And Unvoiced Consonants?
As a broad overview, voiced consonants are the ones that engage your vocal cords in order to create the sound.
That of course means that unvoiced consonants are the ones that do not engage your vocal cords.
We’ve gone over some of these sounds already in this course. For example, the consonant “s” in the Japanese sound さ is unvoiced, but the consonant “m” in the Japanese sound ま is voiced.
Try placing the palm of your hand on your throat and then making the following sounds:
You should feel a buzzing in your throat when you make the “mmmm” sound, which is your vocal cords vibrating.
Getting into a little more detail on this topic, there are certain parts of your body that you use when you make sounds. Three of the primary ones are your lips, your tongue, and your vocal cords.
This is why we can say things like the sound that か makes in Japanese is like the sound that “ka” makes in English. Because the way we use our lips, tongue, and vocal cords are pretty much the same for both sounds.
But what’s interesting is that there are certain consonant pairs that are essentially creating by using identical lip and tongue movement. The only different between these consonant pairs is that one engages the vocal cords and the other does not.
Turning Unvoiced Into Voiced
Now we get to the core of this second half of part-one. We are going to be going back through the unvoiced consonants that we have already covered, and turn them into their voiced counterparts.
The good news is that there are only five groups that become voiced, so they are pretty easy to pick up. For today’s lesson, that means we will take every Japanese sound that begins with [k] and turn it into a [g].
This is notated with hiragana by adding two small strokes in the upper right corner (they are called “daku-on”).
Let’s take a look at each transformation and then learn the new group.
- か [ka] becomes が [ga]
- き [ki] becomes ぎ [gi]
- く [ku] becomes ぐ [gu]
- け [ke] becomes げ [ge]
- こ [ko] becomes ご [go]
These new kana are written just like the old ones. You just need to add the two small dashes at the end.
You can see just how easy it is to learn the new kana since they are almost identical to the basic ones. I like to think of those two dashes in the upper right corner as a “vibration” symbol which reminds me to engage my vocal cords and use the voiced consonant version.
All [g] Sounds In Japanese
Below is the recording for these new sounds. They are basically the same ones that we would make in English, so it should be pretty natural to pick up.
Here are the voiced [g] sounds now:
が = ga
ぎ = gi
ぐ = gu
げ = ge
ご = go
You might also try saying each voiced-unvoiced pair together to really get a feel for when you are speaking with your vocal cords engaged or not.
Try saying か and then が, き and then ぎ, and so on throughout the whole list.
There are a lot of Japanese words that actually use this sort of formation, such as たかが for “merely,” so being familiar with switching between pairs like this is actually a practical still to have.
Ear Training For Voiced Consonants
I can remember at first when I was learning the sounds of Japanese and I would kind of struggle with hearing if the speaker used a [k] or a [g] on a particular word.
Doing lots of listening practice, speaking practice, and of course learning new vocabulary helped me to overcome this problem.
I think one of the reasons why it was a little tricky for me was because, as I’ve mentioned before, Japanese people speak consonants a lot softer than Americans like myself do.
At any rate, I’ve selected some example words for you to listen to and repeat yourself so that you can begin to train your ears and your brain for these new sounds.
こくご = National language
げんご = Language (in general)
めがね = Glasses
ぎむ = Duty
ぐあい = Condition (of health)
We’re just about done with this lesson, and I’ve got some good news for you.
You Get To Decide On Practice!
That’s right, from now on I am letting you determine the best way to practice what you’ve learned, and also how much practice you should do each time.
The power is completely in your hands, and you should have a pretty good idea on which types of exercises you find enjoyable and beneficial.
If, on the off chance, you would like a final checklist from me that you can apply to this one and all of the following lessons, I would say that the below recommendation is a pretty good one.
But please know that from now on you can do whatever you would like to. Do the work if you want to, or skip it and continue on if that sounds better to you.
- Practice the new voiced sounds a minimum of three times.
- Practice the new hiragana a minimum of five times.
- Practice the new words a minimum of three times.
Also, there’s one more thing might be a good idea:
- Practice each unvoiced sound and then its voiced counterpart immediately afterwords (example: か [ka] and が [ga]) a minimum of three times.
Be sure you are paying special attention to the way each one feels when you make each sound.
This will really help you to understand, on a physical level, the differences between voiced and unvoiced consonants.
But, again, only if you want to. No more assignments from me. Promise.
Moving on, there are a relatively small number of sounds that have a voiced equivalent like we saw today. That means it won’t take very long to get through this section on consonants.
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Further Resources for Learning Japanese: