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Evaluate: Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen

For Japanese learners, one of many greatest hindrances will be pronunciation, pitch-accent, and general phonetics. For one, English and Japanese function on totally 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 primary pronunciation isn’t taught in-depth in a conventional Japanese language classroom setting, and doing so is tough to convey in written format, reminiscent of 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 gives an intensive course on Japanese phonetics delivered through movies on his Patreon. Oh, and he additionally wrote an article for Tofugu on what he makes use of to review).

Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen is likely one of the solely such sources for native-English-speaking college students of the Japanese language, and fortuitously additionally the most effective. 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 priceless useful resource for any Japanese learner who needs to enhance their talking means. On this article I will discuss concerning the construction and philosophy behind the course, and the way properly a number of the sensible recommendation works.

What Is Phonetics and Why Ought to You Research It?

Phonetics is a element of basic 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. Normally, it may be tough to convey phonetic info in writing, which is likely 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 setting like a classroom, you will most likely solely cowl the basics of pronunciation, reminiscent of the proper pronunciation of kana. Nonetheless, this may solely get you up to now. With out understanding 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.

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

One purpose is that Japanese has a variety 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. Alternatively, 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 techniques, so this comparability is not one-to-one, however take into consideration somebody announcing “resort” with the emphasis on the primary syllable as a substitute of the second, as in “HO-tel” slightly than the accepted “ho-TEL.” Whereas this instance is slightly benign, related conditions would possibly nonetheless impede communication, or in additional excessive instances, forestall understanding totally.

Total, learning Japanese phonetics in-depth alongside basic Japanese language examine won’t 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 coated a bit about why it is vital to review 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 payment. Over these 80 classes, Dōgen covers the whole lot from the reasoning behind learning phonetics, the pitch accents that exist in Japanese, specifics reminiscent of 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?

Nearly all the Japanese spoken within the course comes through 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 through native recordings — notably the Japanese meant as a reference. What’s taught right here is “commonplace”, 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 data 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, totally different sections specializing in totally different subjects, and at last some particular subjects to shut out the course. There is a hyperlinked digital index of every lesson so that you can comply with alongside so as or soar 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 loads 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 sources so you’ll be able to discuss with the unique supply materials in case 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 screen.

Within the subsequent part I will 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 basic pronunciation, from particular sounds to subjects reminiscent of lengthy vowels or devoicing, and Half 4 (classes 58–80) covers extra particular subjects, reminiscent of 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 trainer. First, Dōgen describes what phonetics is, and why it is an vital and infrequently 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 enhancing his pronunciation. He then lays the groundwork for a number of the strategies you’ll be able to apply straight away to start “constructing phonetic consciousness” as he places it, which means the flexibility to precisely decide appropriate pitch-accent in spoken Japanese, and to establish and tackle the errors in your personal speech.

Dogen lays the groundwork for a number of 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 primary 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 facet of Japanese examine on maintain for as much as a yr when you focus totally on phonetics. Whereas phonetics is definitely an vital element of studying the language, this strategy may trigger loads of frustration and would possibly 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 believe a normal examine plan specializing in grammar, vocabulary, and dealing towards a aim 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 greatest solution to examine. My private advice could be to work on phonetics alongside extra commonplace 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 primary 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 data. Consider it like the muse 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 primary ideas like “automotive” or “baseball,” however having a knowledge-base to reference and perceive practical grammatical ideas reminiscent of “clause” or “adjective,” may 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 data 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, slightly 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, reminiscent of 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 of “correct” pronunciation. Principally, this part is about placing a scholar in the proper mindset to review Japanese phonetics, and emphasizes why that is such an vital follow.


After the roughly 45-minute introduction (and two-hour examine plan video), the course actually will get entering into Episode 5. On this episode, Dōgen defines a number of 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 info 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, by 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 period 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 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 totally totally different techniques 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 a variety of phrases. These embody:

Stress An emphasis positioned on a syllable, usually offered as extra power, longer period, and barely increased pitch than the encircling 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 confused or emphasised syllable
Intonation The modifications in pitch primarily based on a speaker’s feelings or intent — take into consideration the way you increase pitch to point you are asking a query, for instance

Then ranging from lesson 8, he outlines the 4 primary 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 in some unspecified time in the future a downstep happens earlier than the particle attaches low. Sound intimidating? Do not fret, Dōgen offers further suggestions that can assist 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 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 info conveyed so precisely or concisely.

Just like studying the kana syllabaries, studying the 4 primary pitch-accent patterns and these accompanying guidelines and phrases represents step one in understanding and enhancing 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 most likely must follow merely mimicking native Japanese pronunciation. Mimicry remains to be vital, however this construction offers you a concrete foothold you would not have in any other case.

After all, all this theoretical data is simply half of the equation. Dōgen additionally gives a variety of strategies on training to assist your phonetic consciousness past merely gaining an understanding of the underlying ideas.

Dōgen additionally gives a variety of strategies on training to assist your phonetic consciousness.

Initially, he recommends recording your self talking Japanese. It isn’t unusual for there to be a niche between the best way you assume you are announcing one thing, and the best way you are truly announcing it. One purpose for that is that habits will be tough to interrupt — in case you’ve internalized one pronunciation of a phrase, it may be tough to vary 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 means of this course of, Dōgen suggests you will create a type of inside financial institution saved in your long-term reminiscence, which you could examine towards when searching for a reference. I am unsure how properly this may work in follow, however internalizing phonetics by 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. Nonetheless, Dōgen notes that with this strategy, you will shortly neglect the knowledge as quickly as you progress on to the following half. By repeating the identical video many times — say, a particular episode or two of a TV sequence, or a film — you will internalize not solely the road itself, however the pronunciation and accent significantly better.

The exams and workout routines actually make Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen a way more full course.

Past these really useful practices outdoors the course, a number of movies within the Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen course act as follow or a check. 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 sequence 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 means. Episodes 11, 24, and 32 are additionally exams, with listening drills that check your means to discern pitch-accent on phrases, although this time they are not made-up.

These exams 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 elsewhere like with コツ’s Minimal Pairs check, having some follow workout routines and exams 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 without spending a dime right here!), Dōgen relays some additional sources he recommends to assist examine pitch-accent. It is a nice instance of how the course isn’t restricted to the knowledge he conveys straight, but in addition gives methods and sources so that you can proceed studying by yourself.

Among the best sources he recommends is an internet 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 training shadowing from there needs to be an efficient technique to extend your personal phonetic consciousness.

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

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

Past his really useful sources, one in every of 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 lookup a phrase, you can too 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 give 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 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, reminiscent of 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. Nonetheless, crucial episode on this part, and maybe your entire sequence, 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.

Crucial episode in maybe your entire sequence, is Episode 33 which covers devoicing.

Nonetheless, 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 pinnacle to point out tongue placement and related bodily parameters. In my expertise, Japanese classroom examine tends to rely closely on mimicking the trainer when studying the sounds current in Japanese, as a follow that goes hand-in-hand with studying kana. It is a good first step, however the stage of element Dōgen offers on this course exhibits what we have been lacking all alongside.

The following 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 advanced quantity compounds, reminiscent of 2426. These classes are actually area of interest, and undoubtedly lean in direction of the 20% slightly than the 80% of the 80-20 rule.

Whereas these will not have fairly the speedy, noticeable impression in your spoken Japanese of the episode on devoicing or on standard-Japanese talking type, I believe they’re very nice additions, and present Dōgen’s dedication to the subject at hand. In spite of everything, 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 points slightly 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 area. Dōgen does an incredible job balancing the knowledge conveyed and discovering a center floor between what it’s essential 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 all the time cited).

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

After all, not each lesson is equally as priceless to everybody, so which elements of the course you concentrate on 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 a number of the extra in-depth guidelines, will take a short while 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 begin turning into extra accustomed to the final guidelines, however a number of 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 gives suggestions that anybody can put into follow to enhance their pronunciation straight away. His recommendation is each sensible and theoretical, so you cannot solely enhance your phonetic consciousness for fixed and continuous enchancment, but in addition make speedy changes to sound extra pure straight away. That stated, 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 attributable to Dōgen’s private stance.

Pitch-accent, pronunciation, and basic phonetics are all vital points of a language, notably for the talking and listening domains, however I believe it is vital to remember that it is a element of language studying slightly than the massive image. Even these with superb pronunciation like Dōgen himself usually have some type of accent, and I hate to see different college students get hung up on the problem in distinguishing on which mora a downstep happens. As Dōgen exhibits 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 possibly can nonetheless study Japanese to a really excessive diploma with solely a primary understanding of Japanese phonetics.

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

Nonetheless, for the scholars trying to go above and past, it is simple to advocate Japanese Phonetics by Dōgen. It is a particularly thorough, considerate, and reasonably priced course, with a stable foundational strategy, interactive follow workout routines, and sensible and theoretical recommendation to level-up your Japanese pronunciation straight away. I’ve by no means seen such a complete useful resource on Japanese phonetics anyplace else, and having this wealth of data so available is nice information for Japanese learners in every single place.

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