Making your Japanese Voice Sound More Natural
Ever wonder how you sound in Japanese to Japanese people? Unfortunately, this is something that you will never know the answer to. If you ask a Japanese person, if they are being nice (99% of the time), they will give you a vague compliment like “you sound great” or ” you sound natural.” If they are being honest, the best they will probably say is you sound good, but not native. It’s quite a task to convey how someone sounds. However, just because you don’t know how you sound to them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care.
Your Japanese voice defines your Japanese.
Speaking in Japanese is your chance to take on a whole new personality. Most people do this whether they do so with effort or subconsciously. If your Japanese is natural, when you speak Japanese, you will act differently. Why? Because the way to express yourself is different, the body language is different, and things you can and can’t say in Japanese are different.
Since you will be defining your new Japanese voice, the one thing you absolutely don’t want to do is speak in the same Japanese voice as your English voice. This includes a wide variety of areas that make up your voice such as pitch, depth, intonation, speed, and variation. I’ve met foreigners who sound exactly the same in both their native language and Japanese and I must say it is not a pretty sight. This is the worst thing you could possibly do. Regardless of how good your Japanese gets, if you make this error, you will sound bad. Old school chalk-board screeching bad.
Take this challenging opportunity to develop your Japanese personality. The best Japanese speakers I’ve met sound very different depending on whether they are speaking to me in Japanese or English.
What do you do? You already know the answer.
Stop. Don’t go run and try to record your own voice and see how it sounds in comparison to your English voice. Analyzing your own voice is unpleasant, demotivating, and the benefits are questionable. You probably don’t even like how your own voice sounds in English, so how do you think it is going to sound to you in Japanese.
The real solution is to just keep immersing. Immerse yourself long enough and to the point that you can’t help but develop your new Japanese voice. It will come. It just will. Have faith. As I’ve discussed with speaking being the hardest skill to develop, your natural Japanese voice will take time.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
It feels amazing when somebody tells you you sound like a native speaker and they mean it. At work, I’ve only gotten the compliment once, after a casual ありがとう to a coworker. I must say that word hundreds of times every work day, but after that one instance she immediately stopped what she was doing, turned to me and said “You sounded exactly like a Japanese person right there! Your accent was absolutely perfect.” It was at a moment when I was very relaxed and not thinking about my tone of voice at all. If you try and force it, you’ll definitely sound awkward.
But being relaxed and not forcing it doesn’t mean not even bothering to notice Japanese tones and sounds at all. I’ve met a few middle-aged people who had spent 20+ years in this country and can speak with good vocabulary and grammar, but their accents were atrocious. It sounded exactly like their English-speaking voice, including using English vowels and consonants in place of Japanese ones. Listening to it was actually more stressful than listening to complicated native Japanese.
Although I agree with trying to sound as native as possible, I dislike hearing people I know who speak English do a complete 180 in Japanese. Like their pitch is extra high and sounds fake. Tones and pronunciation is important but at least let it match your natural pitch.
I’m not even sure how I really sound but my coworker says my pronunciation is pretty good and that is probably because of how much I listen. Especially in the beginning of my journey I listened and sang along to many songs. She also loves how my words are more Kansai even though I study with standard Japanese (for example my ありがとうintonation is def not like Tokyo’s intonation).
OK, what do you mean by “sound the same” in Japanese and English? Accent, lexicon, grammatical syntax, slang? You need to be a little more specific in the post.
To me, sounding the same in Japanese and English is actually a good thing, but then my definition of “same” may be different. To me, “same” means it sounds like the same person is talking regardless of in what language. A lot of native bilinguals to me “sound the same” in both Japanese and English.
However, I do not think I sound the “same” in Japanese and English, and I’m not talking about accents or anything; I mean my pitch, tone, cadence, etc. I think even someone who didn’t know either English or Japanese would tell me that I don’t sound the same in either language.
In japanese, my pitch is higher, but I made sure it was like that on purpose. For some reason higher pitch turns out to having a more realistic accent for me. I started by just imitating satoshi from pokemon or shirobon from bomberman jetterz
Aaron, I think a good example is Risa Stegmayer (the co-host of the show “Cool Japan”. She is a perfect, native speaker of both English and Japanese and when watching Cool Japan, she seamlessly crosses back and forth between Japanese and English. She doesn’t completely change into a new person or sound like a completely different voice- it is simply her voice speaking both languages perfectly. Pronunciation and inflection, of course, change dramatically and I think that is more the intended purpose of this article.
If Japanese people like the way you sound, I think they will tell you so. I almost always get compliments from the people I meet here in Japan. even before I was living in Japan my Japanese instructor and my classmates kept telling me how natural I sounded. Can’t really give any good advice that hasn’t already been spoken here, but I can say, having an ear for sound is a big help. I was working in that field of work before I graduated college and left the US to teach English. Now my boss keeps telling me that I sound like one of those recordings on the native English CDs. Ha ha. By no means am I calling myself perfect though. Even I have cringe moments when I hear myself say a word in a bad accent. But the difference is, I can tell which words I’m saying sound off and which ones I’m saying sound natural.
I know people often talk about becoming more formal with Japanese, but I seem to be the opposite. While my general use of English isn’t very formal to begin with, I very much speak like those my age in casual situations throwing around the オレs and じゃねぇs. I’d say I’m less formal in Japanese than in English, but I’m not sure if that’s a subconscious choice to justify my present level. It is just how I natural talk and I don’t want to use words I wouldn’t normally.
I’m the same way, when speaking to my Japanese friends, or even just writing stuff in Japanese to myself I tend to be quite colloquial… far more so than I am in English even. Yet at the same time, if I get upset with someone I’ll start speaking more formally. If I’m speaking to someone who is always speaking formally, I’ll do the same. If I speak to someone for the first time, I’ll start off a little more formal as well.
I see a lot of animes, then I began speaking as a character of an anime. Ohayoooo… Moshimoshhhh… All anime characters are “genki”, specially cute girls. If a japanese hearing to me, woul’d be funny.
Well you don’t have to mimic the high pitch voices.