42

I've been learning Japanese for a short while, and it uses some sounds that aren't in my native language (English). (For example, the "r" sound, which has been described to me as a combination of "d", "l", and the Spanish "r")

I know few native Japanese speakers; how can I make sure I'm pronouncing this sound correctly?

In general, how can one ensure that they are not mispronouncing sounds that aren't in their native tongue without a native speaker present?

  • Do you have access to a native speaker intermittently? Or is this more of a self-learning question? – callyalater Apr 5 '16 at 18:56
  • @callyalater At most, I could access a native speaker about once a week, and yes, I am self-learning. – Hatchet Apr 5 '16 at 18:58
  • @callyalater I'd recommend answering for both cases if you can, otherwise just answer with what you can offer. – SuperBiasedMan Apr 5 '16 at 19:01
  • How are you learning the language? Through an app? Are you taking a class? – Downgoat Apr 5 '16 at 19:03
  • @Vihan Online resources: videos, articles. I'm mainly focusing on Tae Kim's guide. – Hatchet Apr 5 '16 at 19:05
26

Using a voice recorder to record your interaction with a native speaker provides feedback for yourself throughout the week when you do not have him/her with you. If you are proficient in the IPA, make notes as the native speaker corrects your pronunciation.

Audiovisual resources will allow you to compare yourself to where you were the last time you "did a checkup". You may not be perfect, but you will be developing the muscle memory to produce the sounds with less thought. Then, the next time you are will a native speaker, they can correct you and further help morph your accent.

If you do not have access to a native speaker at all, I would recommend finding a friend with a very good ear or linguist that is trained to listen to differing sounds. Ask them to listen to you pronounce words from a recording and give you feedback regarding the similarity of pronunciation, accent, intonation, &c. Involving another person helps eliminate personal bias you may have when listen to yourself speak.

19

For individual words, you could try forvo.com - record yourself saying the word, and compare that with the pronunciation on the site.

Phrases and intonation for whole sentences is much more difficult.

Of course, forvo is only useful if you can actually hear the difference in the sounds...

Also, if you're learning Japanese, keep in mind you also want to focus on correct intonation for individual words. Japanese is easier than Chinese in that regard, but it's still far more complex than what we Westerners are used to.

  • @callyalater My mistake, it's been a while :-) you okay with the correction? – Alicja Z Apr 5 '16 at 19:18
  • Looks good to me. – callyalater Apr 5 '16 at 19:19
  • 2
    Don't forget about rhinospike.com as a supplement for forvo. – Flimzy Apr 6 '16 at 8:39
6

There are various things you can do:

  • Record your voice and listen to it so you become aware of how you sound. There are various software programs and apps that you can use for this, for example Audacity (free and open source; works on GNU Linux, MS Windows and Mac OS) and Recordium (for iPhone and iPad). There are many YouTube videos that can help you get started with Audacity. Recordium is much simpler; see for example the YouTube video How to Improve Your Pronunciation ?! Russian Language.
  • Use the shadowing technique. This technique was made popular by Alexander Arguelles. It involves saying the dialogue or audio you are listening to at the same time as it is spoken. You'll need to use the same dialogue or audio recording several times (some people recommend an entire week); as a beginner you may benefit from having a transcript while you repeat the speech recording. (You don't need to walk around while you do this; Arguelles does this but he is not sure why this would help.) This technique does not involve checking your pronunciation (e.g. by listening to it) but at least it helps you mimic correct pronunciation and intonation. (This video by Mike McKay shows how you record your voice in Audacity while listening to an audio recording. The YouTube video How to Use Audacity to Improve Listening Skills and Practice Shadowing also explains how to use Audacity for shadowing.)
  • Use the mimic method, a method formulated by Idahosa Ness. One of the self-recording techniques described on Luca Lampariello's blog is flow-verlapping: when you speak over a sound recording in unison with that recording, you get a fuller sound, which is a good type of feedback for your pronunciation. Idahosa Ness's YouTube video Pronunciation Self-Analysis through "Flow-verlapping" shows how you can do this with Audacity.
3

I think it's best to learn phonetic letters (consonants, vowels) sounds first by knowing how they sound and how they're written in the dictionary. Then with help of pronouncing dictionary, practise the proper pronunciations.

To verify your pronunciation without a native speaker, you can get some pronouncing dictionary software or some website (e.g. Google Translate) for your computer or smart devices and keep repeating after hearing the phrase.

Further more, record yourself and verify with pre-recorded native speaker pronunciation from the interactive dictionary.

It would be great if you can find some Japanese friends, so you can talk with them and ask. If you don't have one, try meeting them on language courses or talk to somehow on-line (e.g. via Skype, Viber, etc.).

  • 1
    I don't see how verifying with pre-recorded native speaker audio will help when you can't distinguish the prononciation in the first place. It's unlikely that someone starting to learn English will be able to distinguish the pronciation of "teeth" and "teethe" as they don't have the training to hear the difference. – Christian Jun 2 '16 at 8:23
3

If you are an English learner, then the app ELSA is made for this task.

Basically, you speak the word, then it will analyze where you pronounce incorrectly, then gives you direction to correct it. In the home page, the app claims:

20 minutes a week with ELSA can result in 40% pronunciation score over 4 weeks

Note that I don't have any affiliation with this app.

  • This is almost good: 7 days free trial, then $60 per year membership. Would be much better (for many English learners from poor countries) if it was cheaper or free. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Aug 19 at 23:48
0

Google Translate has also audio input. So you can say your best attempt (click on a microphone to activate audio input) for a few words in L2, google tries to understand and translate. You can get 5000 tries every day for free.

It is hard to argue against free, and also the web page is available 24/7, is very patient and does not get upset after multiple failures :-)

I was using it with Thai and few other languages I know, GT has a feature to say what it captured as native speaker would say it, so you can compare native way vs your own attempt.

So you don't need to record anything, zero setup cost, very little startup effort to get going, no learning curve: click and go.

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