The Japanese language is flat, without intonation changes. If you talk like a robot, you will have more natural pronunciation. When you first heard this, you probably gave a puzzled and disbelieving look. You’ve watched TV and movies, and the pitch, intonation, and levels of Japanese are all over the place. All you are trying to do is match what the Japanese do, yet you constantly get told that to sound more natural, you should do something different from everything you’ve seen or heard.
Compared to English, Japanese is a flatter language. However, this is only a base concept. In reality it is often not flat, but the intonation and levels build off of the flatness in ways very different than English.
I wish I could fully explain the proper ways to speak with proper intonation in one neatly packaged blog post. While this is beyond my means, I can help you focus on a big problem area that most native English speakers have. There is a tendency to raise the second syllable of a word.
This is a common mistake that taints the Japanese of many foreigners of all levels. The problem is worsened when what is spoken involves foreign loan words.
Here are a few examples of how many foreigners mispronounce the following words. The bold part is where the intonation is improperly raised:
These should all be flat.
What confuses you when you are watching TV is that native speakers stray from flatness in native ways. You can’t stray from flatness in non-native ways if you want to sound native. This will be a challenge that you will have to work with throughout your studies, but trust me, it will continually be important.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.