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Evaluate: Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen

For Japanese learners, one of many greatest hindrances could be pronunciation, pitch-accent, and general phonetics. For one, English and Japanese function on solely totally different phonetic schemes, as English is taken into account a “stress-accent” language, in contrast with Japanese, which is a “pitch-accent” language (extra on this later!). Phonetics past fundamental pronunciation is never taught in-depth in a standard Japanese language classroom setting, and doing so is tough to convey in written format, comparable to a textbook.

Fortunately for Japanese learners, there’s something you are able to do. Dōgen, who you would possibly know from his YouTube comedy sketches about life in Japan, additionally presents an intensive course on Japanese phonetics delivered by way of movies on his Patreon. (Oh, and he additionally wrote an article for Tofugu on what he makes use of to check.)

Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen is without doubt one of the solely such assets for native-English-speaking college students of the Japanese language, and fortunately additionally among the finest. Dōgen has managed to gather a wealth of data that won’t solely instantly enhance your pronunciation, however provide the instruments to proceed to make strides by yourself. Just a few of Dōgen’s ideas on learning Japanese early within the course are a bit excessive, however general Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen is a priceless useful resource for any Japanese learner who needs to enhance their talking capacity. On this article I am going to discuss concerning the construction and philosophy behind the course, and the way properly among the sensible recommendation works.

What Is Phonetics and Why Ought to You Examine It?

Phonetics is a element of common linguistics research that covers the manufacturing and notion of speech in any given language. This considerations gadgets just like the sounds a language has, pitch accent, intonation, and lots of extra comparable subjects. Generally, it may be tough to convey phonetic data in writing, which is without doubt one of the causes Dōgen’s Japanese Phonetics is a video course.

So why examine Japanese phonetics? Nicely for one, in an ordinary Japanese studying setting like a classroom, you may most likely solely cowl the basics of pronunciation, comparable to the proper pronunciation of kana. Nevertheless, it will solely get you to this point. With out realizing a bit about phonetics typically, and creating what Dōgen calls “phonetic consciousness,” improperly spoken Japanese can result in misunderstandings, or a minimum of end in your Japanese sounding a bit odd.

Learning Japanese phonetics will make you simpler to grasp and improve your comprehension of spoken Japanese.

One purpose is that Japanese has numerous homophone phrases, like 雨 ame (rain) and 飴 ame (sweet) whose spoken distinction lies of their pitch: for 雨, the あ a is pronounced with a excessive tone, and the め me is pronounced with a low tone. However, あ a in 飴 is pronounced with a low tone and め me is pronounced with a excessive tone. Japanese and English use totally different phonetic methods, so this comparability is not one-to-one, however take into consideration somebody announcing “resort” with the emphasis on the primary syllable as an alternative of the second, as in “HO-tel” moderately than the accepted “ho-TEL.” Whereas this instance is moderately benign, comparable conditions would possibly nonetheless impede communication, or in additional excessive circumstances, forestall understanding solely.

Total, learning Japanese phonetics in-depth alongside common Japanese language examine is not going to solely make your spoken Japanese sound extra pure, however can even make you simpler to grasp and improve your comprehension of spoken Japanese.

Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen

a photo of Dogen with a pitch accent diagram

Now that I’ve lined a bit about why it is essential to check Japanese phonetics, let’s speak about what makes Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen so particular. Dōgen prefaces the course by explaining that he created it after he realized how few phonetic assets can be found for native English-speakers who’re studying Japanese.

The course is expansive, consisting of over 80 classes, all obtainable for a $10 per thirty days subscription price. Over these 80 classes, Dōgen covers all the things from the reasoning behind learning phonetics, the pitch accents that exist in Japanese, specifics comparable to the usual Japanese talking model and voice, and much more area of interest subjects like pitch-accent patterns in names, numbers, and titles.

Since launching the course in 2016, Dōgen hasn’t rested on his laurels regardless of “finishing” all of the content material, and as an alternative continues to increase the course with supplementary classes (these are denoted by decimals as in, lesson 5.1 nestled between classes 5 and 6), livestream Q&As, and up to date variations of his authentic classes with native-Japanese speech recordings.

Who’s Dōgen?

So, who’s Dōgen, and why did he create this course on Japanese phonetics, you ask?

Nearly all the Japanese spoken within the course comes by way of native recordings.

Dōgen, the nom de plume of Kevin O’Donnell, is an American now residing in Beppu, Japan. You would possibly instantly recoil to listen to {that a} course centered on enhancing your Japanese pronunciation is taught by a non-native speaker, however virtually all the Japanese spoken within the course comes by way of native recordings — notably the Japanese meant as a reference. What’s taught right here is “customary”, Tokyo-dialect Japanese, which you’ll discover in virtually any textbook or course.

Dōgen’s curiosity in phonetics, which he centered on whereas learning overseas at Keio College in Tokyo, cached right into a deep understanding of its significance in language-learning. Now, we will all profit from his years of examine and the assets he’s collected in a complete, easy-to-understand format. Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen is extraordinarily thorough, balancing each sensible and theoretical data about phonetics, and laying basis to construct on earlier than delving into extra area of interest subjects like pitch-accent in honorifics.

Course Construction

a screenshot of the japanese phonetics index page

Dōgen’s course is organized comparable to a school course, with an introduction, totally different sections specializing in totally different subjects, and eventually some particular subjects to shut out the course. There is a hyperlinked digital index of every lesson so that you can observe alongside so as or soar straight to a subject that pursuits you. As I’ll speak about a little bit later, sure subjects construct on each other, however there’s additionally a number of standalone classes, or totally different sections that work impartial of each other. There’s additionally a bibliography, the place Dōgen lists all of his assets so you’ll be able to confer with the unique supply materials should you so select (be aware that many of those are in Japanese). Along with the written bibliography, he additionally tends to point out citations on display.

Within the subsequent part I am going to break down the detailed construction of the course into roughly 4 elements. Half one consists of classes 1–4, the place Dōgen outlines the what and why of the course and talks about his private language-learning background. Half Two (classes 5–32) is restricted to pitch-accent, Half Three (classes 32–57) covers common pronunciation, from particular sounds to subjects comparable to lengthy vowels or devoicing, and Half 4 (classes 58–80) covers extra particular subjects, comparable to pitch accents in names and titles, or in counter phrases.

Elements 1 & 2: Course Abstract & Pitch Accent

As I discussed, the primary few episodes of the course are laid out like a video syllabus, introducing the course and his background as a instructor. First, Dōgen describes what phonetics is, and why it is an essential and infrequently neglected a part of Japanese language examine. He particulars a little bit of his personal examine background and why he locations such significance on the phonetic examine in spoken language and the steps he took to work on enhancing his pronunciation. He then lays the groundwork for among the strategies you’ll be able to apply immediately to start “constructing phonetic consciousness” as he places it, that means the flexibility to precisely decide appropriate pitch-accent in spoken Japanese, and to determine and deal with the errors in your individual speech.

Dogen lays the groundwork for among the strategies to start constructing phonetic consciousness.

Lastly, he has a video that’s virtually two hours in size with Matt from the Matt vs Japan YouTube channel the place they try to stipulate a long-term examine plan for Japanese, giving recommendation on the multi-year course of to go from fundamental to superior. Whereas I like the concept of building a examine define for a scholar to progress alongside and reference, just a few of the positions espoused close to the beginning of the course are a bit excessive for me. Dōgen appears to melt on this a bit because the course progresses, however within the early classes particularly, he goes as far as to recommend placing each different side of Japanese examine on maintain for as much as a yr when you focus solely on phonetics. Whereas phonetics is definitely an essential element of studying the language, this strategy might trigger a number of frustration and would possibly even hinder your general progress. To me, it seems like a fast-track to burnout.

Whereas I agree that reaching a high-level of Japanese is a years-long course of, for most individuals, I believe an ordinary examine plan specializing in grammar, vocabulary, and dealing towards a objective of accessing native materials as quickly as doable is a extra environment friendly technique. I do not essentially disagree with all of the factors they make, however there isn’t any single greatest solution to examine. My private advice could be to work on phonetics alongside extra customary examine strategies. Nearly everybody has some type of an accent in a second language; no have to unduly stress about it. That’s to not say it’s not value learning, however I’d put it in perspective.


To correctly examine phonetics, it helps to have a fundamental understanding of key ideas and phrases earlier than beginning out in earnest. Moreover, Dōgen notes early on that correcting errors in your individual Japanese pronunciation is tough with out the requisite phonetic data. Consider it like the inspiration of grammar and vocabulary you have got out of your first language; with that, not solely are you able to skip the arduous work of explaining fundamental ideas like “automobile” or “baseball,” however having a knowledge-base to reference and perceive useful grammatical ideas comparable to “clause” or “adjective,” may also help pace up the language-learning course of.

The course focuses on giving the rules and patterns to assist empower learners to determine pronunciation.

Fortunately, establishing this data is Dōgen’s first order of enterprise. The course focuses far more on giving the rules and patterns to assist empower learners to determine pronunciation, moderately than merely operating by widespread errors or particular person phrases. The primary few classes define these philosophies and set expectations for the course.

Dōgen additionally covers some widespread misconceptions about Japanese phonetics, comparable to the concept that Japanese is a “flat” or non-inflected language, or that learning phonetics is pointless since there’s regional variance in what’s thought-about “correct” pronunciation. Principally, this part is about placing a scholar in the fitting mindset to check Japanese phonetics, and emphasizes why that is such an essential apply.


After the roughly 45-minute introduction (and two-hour examine plan video), the course actually will get getting into Episode 5. On this episode, Dōgen defines among the key terminology used within the course which is a giant assist for learners who have not studied phonetics beforehand. For instance, Dōgen defines “pitch” as purely the tones utilized in a language. As a pitch-accent language, that is important data for Japanese learners. The accent distinguishing phrases is conveyed by way of two tones in Japanese, high and low. It is a distinction between English, a stress-accent language, through which one syllable in a phrase sometimes is emphasised relative to the opposite syllables, and as such is pronounced with extra power and an extended period than the opposite syllables (this tends to barely improve the pitch, too).

By studying just a few key ideas and guidelines of Japanese phonetics, you’ll be able to drastically enhance your pronunciation.

This is likely to be a revelation for native-English-speaking college students of Japanese, and it definitely was for me. As English and Japanese function on solely totally different methods of pronunciation, you’ll be able to’t simply map the pronunciation model you are used to as an English speaker and count on it to sound pure. By studying just a few key ideas and guidelines of Japanese phonetics, you’ll be able to drastically enhance your pronunciation.

Dōgen goes on to outline numerous phrases. These embrace:

Stress An emphasis positioned on a syllable, usually introduced as extra power, longer period, and barely greater pitch than the encompassing syllables
Accent Each the overall talking model somebody possesses in addition to an emphasis utilized to a part of a phrase
Downstep A drop in pitch which constitutes the “accent” in Japanese phrases, versus a harassed or emphasised syllable
Intonation The modifications in pitch primarily based on a speaker’s feelings or intent — take into consideration the way you elevate pitch to point you are asking a query, for instance

Then ranging from lesson 8, he outlines the 4 fundamental pitch-accent patterns. For instance, within the “atamadaka” sample, the primary mora is excessive, and each different mora and the particle are low, whereas with “nakadaka” the primary mora is low, second mora excessive, and sooner or later a downstep happens earlier than the particle attaches low. Sound intimidating? Do not fret, Dōgen offers further suggestions that will help you internalize this type of data. For the essential pitch accent patterns, for instance, he additionally outlines two guidelines: the pitch of the primary and second mora in any remoted phrase are all the time totally different (both low-high or high-low, however by no means high-high, for instance), and any phrase that has a downstep will not ever return to a excessive pitch throughout the similar phrase — as soon as a drop happens, a phrase’s pitch stays low.

Earlier than Dōgen’s course I had by no means seen this data conveyed so precisely or concisely.

Just like studying the kana syllabaries, studying the 4 fundamental pitch-accent patterns and these accompanying guidelines and phrases represents step one in understanding and enhancing your individual Japanese pronunciation. Earlier than Dōgen’s course I had by no means seen this data conveyed so precisely or concisely. With out this framework to use to your understanding, you’d most likely should apply merely mimicking native Japanese pronunciation. Mimicry continues to be essential, however this construction gives you a concrete foothold you would not have in any other case.

In fact, all this theoretical data is barely half of the equation. Dōgen additionally presents numerous solutions on training to assist your phonetic consciousness past merely gaining an understanding of the underlying ideas.

Dōgen additionally presents numerous solutions on training to assist your phonetic consciousness.

Initially, he recommends recording your self talking Japanese. It is not unusual for there to be a spot between the way in which you suppose you are announcing one thing, and the way in which you are truly announcing it. One purpose for that is that habits could be tough to interrupt — should you’ve internalized one pronunciation of a phrase, it may be tough to alter that behavior except you are conscious that you just’re making a mistake.

He additionally recommends watching a single film or TV present on repeat, till you’ve got practically memorized all the dialogue. By this course of, Dōgen suggests you may create a type of inside financial institution saved in your long-term reminiscence, that you may evaluate towards when looking for a reference. I am unsure how properly this could work in apply, however internalizing phonetics by memorization of native speech is nice apply.

I usually find yourself shadowing most native Japanese movies I watch, virtually habitually repeating strains that stick out to me. Nevertheless, Dōgen notes that with this strategy, you may shortly neglect the knowledge as quickly as you progress on to the following half. By repeating the identical video repeatedly — say, a particular episode or two of a TV collection, or a film — you may internalize not solely the road itself, however the pronunciation and accent a lot better.

The assessments and workouts actually make Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen a way more full course.

Past these really useful practices exterior the course, a number of movies within the Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen course act as apply or a check. In Episode 6.1, Dōgen offers a apply train the place you modify the pitch however do not add stress on a mora, serving to to transition you from a stress-accent perspective right into a pitch-accent one. Episode 6.2 has a collection of listening drills, with the 4 pitch-accent patterns utilized to pretend Japanese phrases. At first, these are proven with pitch-accent graphics, after which with out, after which randomized so you’ll be able to check your listening capacity. Episodes 11, 24, and 32 are additionally assessments, with listening drills that check your capacity to discern pitch-accent on phrases, although this time they don’t seem to be made-up.

These assessments and workouts actually make Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen a way more full course. Whereas I would nonetheless suggest shadowing apply, recording your self, and testing your comprehension in different places like with コツ’s Minimal Pairs check, having some apply workouts and assessments included within the course actually highlights what a one-stop-shop it’s.

a screenshot of a lesson discussing free japanese phonetic resources

In a further episode (obtainable at no cost right here!), Dōgen relays some additional assets he recommends to assist examine pitch-accent. It is a nice instance of how the course isn’t restricted to the knowledge he conveys instantly, but additionally presents methods and assets so that you can proceed studying by yourself.

The most effective assets he recommends is an internet site known as Prosody Tutor Suzuki Kun. He describes this web site as virtually like Google Translate for pitch-accent. The web site has a big textual content subject, and pasting in Japanese textual content and clicking a button labeled “Analyze” will generate a pattern spectrograph and pitch-accent chart that present each the general pitch of a phrase or phrase, in addition to the place the drops in pitch happen. There’s additionally an choice to generate an audio pattern, although that is machine-generated. Nonetheless, it is particularly useful to have the ability to pair each the graphs with a recording, even one which’s machine-generated. Utilizing that as a base, and training shadowing from there ought to be an efficient technique to extend your individual phonetic consciousness.

Lastly, Dōgen offers two Anki decks for memorizing pitch-accents, with native recordings on every card. For college kids who swear by Anki, this can be a huge assist.

Mixed, these assets ought to make learning Japanese phonetics a lot simpler.

Past his really useful assets, one in every of my private suggestions is a Chrome Browser Extension known as jisho-pitcher. This extension provides pitch-accent graphs to most entries on, one of many premier on-line Japanese-to-English dictionaries. With this, if you search for a phrase, you can too see the pitch-accent sample, just like the pitch-accent data that is included on all Apple computer systems, however accessible to anybody no matter your working system.

Mixed, these assets ought to make learning Japanese phonetics a lot simpler, as they offer you the instruments to find out the pitch accent of phrases or phrases with out having to rely solely on sourcing examples from native audio system whereas participating with native materials.

A Deeper Dive: Elements 3 & 4

a photo of Dogen talking into a mic

As thorough because the part on pitch-accent is, that is solely about half the course. That is solely pure, because it’s known as Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen, not Japanese Pitch-Accent by Dōgen.

The subsequent portion of the course offers with pronunciation in a extra particular sense, comparable to vowel combos like あい ai in Episode 37, nasalized ん n in Episode 55, and slurring in spoken Japanese in 56, adopted by a Q&A in Episode 57. Nevertheless, a very powerful episode on this part, and maybe the whole collection, is Episode 33 which covers devoicing. Dōgen even says to start with he thinks the knowledge contained on this episode might have the best sensible impact on somebody’s spoken Japanese.

An important episode in maybe the whole collection, is Episode 33 which covers devoicing.

Nevertheless, the majority of this part is devoted to episodes overlaying the pronunciation of Japanese sounds. For instance, Episode 42 covers the consonant “s,” as in さ sa, す su, せ se, そ so, and し shi. These episodes are extraordinarily detailed, with native recordings, comparisons to English sounds, in addition to diagrams of the top to point out tongue placement and comparable bodily parameters. In my expertise, Japanese classroom examine tends to rely closely on mimicking the instructor when studying the sounds current in Japanese, as a apply that goes hand-in-hand with studying kana. It is a good first step, however the degree of element Dōgen offers on this course reveals what we have been lacking all alongside.

The subsequent part, Episode 58 by the ultimate Episode 80, covers extra specialised subjects. For instance, Episode 62 covers pitch-accents patterns and pointers in widespread Japanese first names, and Episode 67 covers pitch-accent pointers in complicated quantity compounds, comparable to 2426. These classes are actually area of interest, and undoubtedly lean in the direction of the 20% moderately than the 80% of the 80-20 rule.

Whereas these will not have fairly the speedy, noticeable affect in your spoken Japanese of the episode on devoicing or on standard-Japanese talking model, I believe they’re very nice additions, and present Dōgen’s dedication to the subject at hand. In any case, a language is constructed of many elements, from nouns, verbs, and adjectives, to names, counter phrases, adverbs, and extra. By giving consideration to so many features moderately than simply sticking to the broad guidelines, Dōgen has set a scholar up for the best quantity of enchancment in their very own Japanese pronunciation.

So, How Nicely Does it Work?

Total, Dōgen’s phonetics course is one thing virtually wholly distinctive within the Japanese language-learning area. Dōgen does an ideal job balancing the knowledge conveyed and discovering a center floor between what you might want to know to enhance your pronunciation and avoiding what may not be helpful, whereas nonetheless supplying you with the assets to take a deeper dive on something that pursuits you (there is a very thorough bibliography, and sources are all the time cited).

Dōgen’s phonetics course is one thing virtually wholly distinctive within the Japanese language-learning area.

In fact, not each lesson is equally as priceless to everybody, so which elements of the course you give attention to will probably rely in your particular targets. Some, just like the episodes on pitch-accent guidelines and devoicing, are instantly relevant to your pronunciation, whereas others, like among the extra in-depth guidelines, will take a short time to settle in. Personally, I actually preferred the primary half of the course, each to hit the bottom operating with pitch-accent consciousness, and to start out turning into extra acquainted with the overall guidelines, however among the extra area of interest classes within the second half weren’t fairly as relevant to me proper now.

Past the foundations of Japanese phonetics, Dōgen presents suggestions that anybody can put into apply to enhance their pronunciation immediately. His recommendation is each sensible and theoretical, so you cannot solely improve your phonetic consciousness for fixed and continuous enchancment, but additionally make speedy changes to sound extra pure immediately. That mentioned, just a few pretty excessive positions on learning given early within the course mixed with the size could give rise to a barely inflated notion of its significance, although to be truthful that is solely partially because of Dōgen’s private stance.

Pitch-accent, pronunciation, and common phonetics are all essential features of a language, notably for the talking and listening domains, however I believe it is essential to take into account that it is a element of language studying moderately than the large image. Even these with excellent pronunciation like Dōgen himself usually have some type of accent, and I hate to see different college students get hung up on the issue in distinguishing on which mora a downstep happens. As Dōgen reveals by the course, that is one thing you’ll be able to work on and enhance, however I would not recommend inserting an excessive amount of emphasis on it. You’ll be able to nonetheless be taught Japanese to a really excessive diploma with solely a fundamental understanding of Japanese phonetics.

For the scholars seeking to go above and past, it is simple to suggest Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen.

Nevertheless, for the scholars seeking to go above and past, it is simple to suggest Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen. It is an especially thorough, considerate, and inexpensive course, with a strong foundational strategy, interactive apply workouts, and sensible and theoretical recommendation to level-up your Japanese pronunciation immediately. I’ve by no means seen such a complete useful resource on Japanese phonetics anyplace else, and having this wealth of information so available is nice information for Japanese learners all over the place.

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