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Assessment: 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 completely completely 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, resembling a textbook.

Fortunately for Japanese learners, there’s something you are able to do. Dōgen, who you may know from his YouTube comedy sketches about life in Japan, additionally presents an in depth 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 sources for native-English-speaking college students of the Japanese language, and fortunately additionally probably the greatest. Dōgen has managed to gather a wealth of knowledge 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 useful useful resource for any Japanese learner who desires to enhance their talking skill. On this article I am going to speak concerning the construction and philosophy behind the course, and the way nicely among the sensible recommendation works.

What Is Phonetics and Why Ought to You Research It?

Phonetics is a part of normal linguistics research that covers the manufacturing and notion of speech in any given language. This issues objects just like the sounds a language has, pitch accent, intonation, and lots of extra related subjects. Basically, it may be tough to convey phonetic info in writing, which is without doubt one of the causes Dōgen’s Japanese Phonetics is a video course.

So why examine Japanese phonetics? Effectively for one, in a normal Japanese studying atmosphere like a classroom, you may in all probability solely cowl the basics of pronunciation, resembling the proper pronunciation of kana. Nevertheless, this can solely get you to date. With out understanding a bit about phonetics usually, and creating what Dōgen calls “phonetic consciousness,” improperly spoken Japanese can result in misunderstandings, or at the very least lead to your Japanese sounding a bit odd.

Learning Japanese phonetics will make you simpler to know and enhance your comprehension of spoken Japanese.

One cause is that Japanese has quite a lot of 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 completely different phonetic programs, so this comparability is not one-to-one, however take into consideration somebody saying “lodge” with the emphasis on the primary syllable as a substitute of the second, as in “HO-tel” reasonably than the accepted “ho-TEL.” Whereas this instance is reasonably benign, related conditions may nonetheless impede communication, or in additional excessive circumstances, forestall understanding completely.

Total, learning Japanese phonetics in-depth alongside normal Japanese language examine is not going to solely make your spoken Japanese sound extra pure, however may also make you simpler to know and enhance 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 necessary to check Japanese phonetics, let’s discuss what makes Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen so particular. Dōgen prefaces the course by explaining that he created it after he realized how few phonetic sources 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 30 days subscription price. Over these 80 classes, Dōgen covers the whole lot from the reasoning behind learning phonetics, the pitch accents that exist in Japanese, specifics resembling the usual Japanese talking type 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 a substitute continues to develop 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?

Virtually the entire Japanese spoken within the course comes by way of native recordings.

Dōgen, the nom de plume of Kevin O’Donnell, is an American now dwelling in Beppu, Japan. You may instantly recoil to listen to {that a} course centered on bettering your Japanese pronunciation is taught by a non-native speaker, however virtually the entire Japanese spoken within the course comes by way of native recordings — significantly 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 sources he’s collected in a complete, easy-to-understand format. Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen is extraordinarily thorough, balancing each sensible and theoretical information about phonetics, and laying a superb 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 related to a school course, with an introduction, completely different sections specializing in completely 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 leap straight to a subject that pursuits you. As I’ll discuss a bit of later, sure subjects construct on each other, however there’s additionally numerous standalone classes, or completely different sections that work unbiased of each other. There’s additionally a bibliography, the place Dōgen lists all of his sources so you’ll be able to check with the unique supply materials when you so select (notice 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 components. 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 particular to pitch-accent, Half Three (classes 32–57) covers normal pronunciation, from particular sounds to subjects resembling lengthy vowels or devoicing, and Half 4 (classes 58–80) covers extra particular subjects, resembling 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 necessary and sometimes missed 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 bettering his pronunciation. He then lays the groundwork for among the strategies you’ll be able to apply instantly to start “constructing phonetic consciousness” as he places it, that means the power to precisely decide appropriate pitch-accent in spoken Japanese, and to establish and handle the errors in your personal 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 thought of building a examine define for a scholar to progress alongside and reference, a couple of 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 completely on phonetics. Whereas phonetics is definitely an necessary part of studying the language, this method may trigger numerous frustration and may even hinder your general progress. To me, it appears 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 feel a normal examine plan specializing in grammar, vocabulary, and dealing towards a purpose 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 is no single finest method to examine. My private advice could be to work on phonetics alongside extra customary examine strategies. Virtually everybody has some type of an accent in a second language; no must unduly stress about it. That’s to not say it’s not price 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 personal Japanese pronunciation is tough with out the requisite phonetic information. Consider it like the inspiration of grammar and vocabulary you’ve got out of your first language; with that, not solely are you able to skip the arduous work of explaining fundamental ideas like “automotive” or “baseball,” however having a knowledge-base to reference and perceive practical grammatical ideas resembling “clause” or “adjective,” will help velocity 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 information is Dōgen’s first order of enterprise. The course focuses rather more on giving the rules and patterns to assist empower learners to determine pronunciation, reasonably than merely operating by means of 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, resembling the concept 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. Mainly, this part is about placing a scholar in the correct mindset to check Japanese phonetics, and emphasizes why that is such an necessary follow.


After the roughly 45-minute introduction (and two-hour examine plan video), the course actually will get getting in Episode 5. On this episode, Dōgen defines among the key terminology used within the course which is an enormous 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 info for Japanese learners. The accent distinguishing phrases is conveyed by means of two tones in Japanese, high and low. This can be a distinction between English, a stress-accent language, during which one syllable in a phrase usually is emphasised relative to the opposite syllables, and as such is pronounced with extra power and an extended length than the opposite syllables (this tends to barely enhance the pitch, too).

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

This could be a revelation for native-English-speaking college students of Japanese, and it definitely was for me. As English and Japanese function on completely completely different programs of pronunciation, you’ll be able to’t simply map the pronunciation type you are used to as an English speaker and count on it to sound pure. By studying a couple of key ideas and guidelines of Japanese phonetics, you’ll be able to drastically enhance your pronunciation.

Dōgen goes on to outline quite a lot of phrases. These embrace:

Stress An emphasis positioned on a syllable, usually introduced as extra power, longer length, and barely increased pitch than the encompassing syllables
Accent Each the final talking type 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 pressured 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 ideas that will help you internalize this type of info. For the fundamental pitch accent patterns, for instance, he additionally outlines two guidelines: the pitch of the primary and second mora in any remoted phrase are at all times completely 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 inside the identical 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 info conveyed so precisely or concisely.

Much like studying the kana syllabaries, studying the 4 fundamental pitch-accent patterns and these accompanying guidelines and phrases represents step one in understanding and bettering your personal Japanese pronunciation. Earlier than Dōgen’s course I had by no means seen this info conveyed so precisely or concisely. With out this framework to use to your understanding, you’d in all probability must follow merely mimicking native Japanese pronunciation. Mimicry continues to be necessary, however this construction offers you a concrete foothold you would not have in any other case.

In fact, all this theoretical information is barely half of the equation. Dōgen additionally presents quite a lot of strategies on practising to help your phonetic consciousness past merely gaining an understanding of the underlying ideas.

Dōgen additionally presents quite a lot of strategies on practising to help your phonetic consciousness.

At the beginning, he recommends recording your self talking Japanese. It isn’t unusual for there to be a niche between the best way you suppose you are saying one thing, and the best way you are truly saying it. One cause for that is that habits could be tough to interrupt — when you’ve internalized one pronunciation of a phrase, it may be tough to vary that behavior until you are conscious that you simply’re making a mistake.

He additionally recommends watching a single film or TV present on repeat, till you’ve got almost memorized the entire dialogue. Via this course of, Dōgen suggests you may create a type of inner financial institution saved in your long-term reminiscence, you can examine in opposition to when looking for a reference. I am undecided how nicely this may work in follow, however internalizing phonetics by means of memorization of native speech is nice follow.

I usually find yourself shadowing most native Japanese movies I watch, virtually habitually repeating traces that stick out to me. Nevertheless, Dōgen notes that with this method, you may shortly neglect the knowledge as quickly as you progress on to the subsequent 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 workout routines actually make Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen a way more full course.

Past these advisable practices outdoors the course, a number of movies within the Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen course act as follow or a take a look at. In Episode 6.1, Dōgen offers a follow 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 faux Japanese phrases. At first, these are proven with pitch-accent graphics, after which with out, after which randomized so you’ll be able to take a look at your listening skill. Episodes 11, 24, and 32 are additionally assessments, with listening drills that take a look at your skill to discern pitch-accent on phrases, although this time they are not made-up.

These assessments and workout routines actually make Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen a way more full course. Whereas I would nonetheless advocate shadowing follow, recording your self, and testing your comprehension in different places like with コツ’s Minimal Pairs take a look at, having some follow workout routines 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 an extra episode (obtainable free of charge right here!), Dōgen relays some additional sources he recommends to assist examine pitch-accent. This can be a nice instance of how the course isn’t restricted to the knowledge he conveys immediately, but additionally presents methods and sources so that you can proceed studying by yourself.

Top-of-the-line sources he recommends is a web site referred to 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 practising shadowing from there needs to be an efficient technique to extend your personal 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, it is a large assist.

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

Past his advisable sources, one among my private suggestions is a Chrome Browser Extension referred to as jisho-pitcher. This extension provides pitch-accent graphs to most entries on Jisho.org, one of many premier on-line Japanese-to-English dictionaries. With this, if you search for a phrase, you may as well see the pitch-accent sample, just like the pitch-accent info that is included on all Apple computer systems, however accessible to anybody no matter your working system.

Mixed, these sources 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 partaking 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 referred to as Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen, not Japanese Pitch-Accent by Dōgen.

The following portion of the course offers with pronunciation in a extra particular sense, resembling vowel mixtures 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, crucial episode on this part, and maybe the complete collection, is Episode 33 which covers devoicing. Dōgen even says to start with he thinks the knowledge contained on this episode may have the best sensible impact on somebody’s spoken Japanese.

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

Nevertheless, the majority of this part is devoted to episodes masking 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 related 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 follow that goes hand-in-hand with studying kana. This can be a good first step, however the degree of element Dōgen offers on this course reveals what we have been lacking all alongside.

The following part, Episode 58 by means of 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 advanced quantity compounds, resembling 2426. These classes are actually area of interest, and positively lean in direction of the 20% reasonably than the 80% of the 80-20 rule.

Whereas these will not have fairly the rapid, noticeable affect in your spoken Japanese of the episode on devoicing or on standard-Japanese talking type, I feel they’re very nice additions, and present Dōgen’s dedication to the subject at hand. In any case, a language is constructed of many components, from nouns, verbs, and adjectives, to names, counter phrases, adverbs, and extra. By giving consideration to so many points reasonably 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 Effectively Does it Work?

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

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

In fact, not each lesson is equally as useful to everybody, so which components of the course you give attention to will seemingly 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 while to settle in. Personally, I actually favored the primary half of the course, each to hit the bottom operating with pitch-accent consciousness, and to start out changing into extra conversant in the final guidelines, however among the extra area of interest classes within the second half weren’t fairly as relevant to me proper now.

Past the principles of Japanese phonetics, Dōgen presents ideas that anybody can put into follow to enhance their pronunciation instantly. His recommendation is each sensible and theoretical, so you can’t solely enhance your phonetic consciousness for fixed and continuous enchancment, but additionally make rapid changes to sound extra pure instantly. That mentioned, a couple of 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 on account of Dōgen’s private stance.

Pitch-accent, pronunciation, and normal phonetics are all necessary points of a language, significantly for the talking and listening domains, however I feel it is necessary to remember that it is a part of language studying reasonably than the massive 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 means of the course, that is one thing you’ll be able to work on and enhance, however I would not recommend putting 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 easy to advocate Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen.

Nevertheless, for the scholars seeking to go above and past, it is easy to advocate Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen. It is a particularly thorough, considerate, and reasonably priced course, with a strong foundational method, interactive follow workout routines, and sensible and theoretical recommendation to level-up your Japanese pronunciation instantly. I’ve by no means seen such a complete useful resource on Japanese phonetics wherever else, and having this wealth of data so available is nice information for Japanese learners in all places.

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