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The top 10 hardest Japanese words to pronounce

35 Comments
By Evie Lund, RocketNews24

In terms of pronunciation Japanese is surprisingly easy to get to grips with, but some words can be real tongue-tanglers! Here are 10 of the worst.

Since it’s a phonetic language, Japanese tends to be pretty straightforward when it comes to pronouncing its sounds. But some words do change in tone and inflection, and this can sometimes trip Japanese learners up. One of the first exceptions to the “say it how it’s written” rule that foreigners learn is “suki“, meaning “like”. While the word often sounds like “soo kee”, especially when sung, it’s much more common to dispense with the “u” and pronounce it like “ski” in spoken Japanese. Sometimes, even words which seem straightforward when written down have the ability to twist your tongue in knots when you actually try to use them in conversation.

Below is an informative video from the “Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101” YouTube channel. In it, video presenter Risa introduces 10 words that foreign learners of Japanese often find difficult to pronounce. Naturally, she also includes the correct pronunciation to help you practice.

Here’s the full list of the 10 difficult-to-pronounce words:

Tsuittaa (Twitter) Tsutaerarenakatta (couldn’t tell) Shinnryaku (invasion) Benri (convenient) Shutsuryoku (output power) Tennin (shop assistant) Ryokou (travel) Atatakakunakatta (wasn’t warm) Chuushajou (car park/parking lot) Occhokochoi (clumsy)

It seems also that a person’s native language can have an effect on how difficult they might find some words in Japanese. Spanish speakers, for example, often say that they find Japanese “r” sounds really easy. Some Japanese language learners have a better ear for proper pronunciation than others do, while some people tend to hold on to the pronunciation quirks of their native tongue, even when speaking other languages. It’s totally possible to be great at Japanese and still pronounce certain words a bit differently due to maintaining your own accent — it doesn’t mean you’re not still great at expressing yourself in Japanese.

What Japanese words do you have trouble pronouncing?

Source: YouTube/JapanesePod101

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Everyday Japanese names that make English speakers chuckle -- The science behind why English speakers can’t pronounce the Japanese “fu” -- Nose songs, bug teeth and dirt sticks: 10 Japanese words translated way too literally

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35 Comments
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Very interesting article !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have a problem with remembering which Japanese word means "beauty shop" and "hospital".

6 ( +7 / -1 )

"What Japanese words do you have trouble pronouncing?"

I can think of TWO English gairaigo that are hard to say in Japanese... Foreign Office!! ;-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have given up trying to say 'atatakakunakatta.' My mouth and tongue t won't cooperate.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If these are the hardest, then I got worried for nothing.

Sometimes I confuse two similar sounding words. Chikan and Jikan for example, or Jikoku and Jigoku. I tend to get tripped up by longer vowel sounds as well. That can also cause issues in conversations. "Kuusou" I believe means "Fantasy", but shortening the vowels turns the word into profanity.

The hardest part is with loan words (actually, the Japanese term for that is hard for me to pronounce. I can't remember exactly what it was off-hand. Gairaigo, or something), especially reading them, since the Japanese language uses some very different syllables at times. I mean, I can understand "sank you" is supposed to mean "thank you", but sometimes (mainly while reading) it can take me a while to figure out what's being said. The first time I saw "asphalt" written in Katakana... I was so confused I ended up using Google Translate.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I always confuse pimple and nipple. chikubi/nikubi, and byoin/byouin are impossible to differentiate for me.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

byoin/byouin

It's actually byouin/biyouin (unless you meant different words than hospital/salon)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've always had difficulty with "enryo." The "nry" combination is a killer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

ウィークエンド is hard for me. Also getting 消失 (disappearance) and 喪失 (loss) not mixed up. One slip and you've just said "The loss of virginity of Suzumiya Haruhi" instead of the "Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi."

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

for some time I had problems with 皮肉 and ひき肉.. Also 自己資本規制比率 (often used in my workplace) But seriously, the list in this article is what foreigners cannot pronounce. Here are more interesting words that even Japanese themselves can fail pronouncing : 消費者少子化担当大臣 (Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate) 低所得者層(Teishotokushasou : low-income group) 摘出手術 (TekishutsuShujutsu : extirpation) 旅客機 (Ryokakuki : passenger plane) 赤坂サカス (Akasaka Sakasu) 過失致死 (KashitsuChishi : accidental homicide) check out at http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2126518555503371701

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I resent words like "kyappu" (cap) and "gyamburu" (gamble).

Japanese itself has the sounds "ka" and "ga", so why the change?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I wonder if gamburu sounds to much like gambaru

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Nice language

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Travel and trouble

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I resent words like "kyappu" (cap) and "gyamburu" (gamble). Japanese itself has the sounds "ka" and "ga", so why the change?

Yeah, same thing with cash (キャッシュ).

It's actually byouin/biyouin...

I used to mix them up, now to help me remember which is which: bijin goes to biyouin

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

I used to mix them up, now to help me remember which is which: bijin goes to biyouin

That's a good way to remember, particularly since they are the same character (美 - beautiful)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hard for English speakers, I suppose... At least for me and my Brazilian friends it's easy-medium, I think. :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I first came, I used to forget how to ask if someone was nervous. Instead of 緊張した? I would ask 浣腸した? Got some funny looks until one kind woman just burst out laughing and explained my mistake.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Tonari no kyaku yoku kaki kuu kyaku da (The guest next door often eats oysters) Is quite difficult to say with a straight face.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Another one that I still cant say without messing up is those irritating commercials that you see time to time. Tokyo Kōkyō kōkoku kikō...those Ad Campaign CMs used to irritate me,especially after the Tohoku earthquake

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Instead of 緊張した? I would ask 浣腸した?

Hehe that's a good one!

Tonari no kyaku yoku kaki kuu kyaku da

Toukyou tokkyo kyokakyoku!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

社団法人日本音楽著作権協会 Shadanhōjin Nihon Ongaku Chosakuken Kyōkai is another oneI have trouble with. I couldn't say it while spelling it so I had to copy-paste it LOL! I usually just say JASRAC though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had troubles with gyouseishoshi (I think that's a 'notary' in English) until recently, when I saw it written in Japanese (行政書士), which made it easier for me to remember.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Strangerland-good one!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kyoryoku is a hard one. ALL THE TIME

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are only a couple of words on that list I would consider hard. In general, Japanese pronunciation isn't too hard. At least not for an English speaker, since we have all of the sounds that Japanese contains. It's not as hard as the reverse, where English contains a lot of sounds that don't exist in Japanese.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Reality

Can't agree that English has all the sounds Japanese has. There's no true equivalent to the first sound of "らくだ", or to the first sound in "ふな".

"l" or "r" and "f" or "h" are close, but not quite right. It's an easy way to tell a native speaker from a non-native.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I was trying to break down a dialog at a konbini (coincidentally from JapanesePod101.com) and was completely tripped up because I mis-heard a Japlish word which totally changed the context of the dialog. What I HEARD was ベッド but what was SAID was ぺット. The dialog concerned the girl's pet and how it ate enough for two pets. My interpretation was the speaker had been eating in bed "for two" (ie she was pregnant). DOH!

I'll never get fluent in Japanese if I can't even hear basic words like this correctly. :-/

3 ( +3 / -0 )

byouin/biyouin

At normal conversational speed, impossible, so I look at their hair or complexion to figure it out.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Interesting how she says that atatakakunatatta actually comes out locally as attakakunakata. Not just locally either

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing to see the minus votes on such harmless opinions - must be some frustrated and sad people out there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The hardest ones for me to say are りゃ、りゅ、りょ. The 'ry' combination would trip my tongue up because it's not a phoneme we have in English. "ry" in English typically comes at the end of a word and usually sounds like り. I'm better at it now, but I still have to think about making the sound before saying it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

for me ,the hardest is Atatakakunakatta , especially when there are too many "ta"or "ke""te"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I always confuse pimple and nipple. chikubi/nikubi, and byoin/byouin are impossible to differentiate for me.

You mean "nikibi"

For me the hardest to pronounce are

benri konyaku (the food, not engagement)
0 ( +0 / -0 )

If these are the hardest words in Japanese than I'll have no problem fitting in when it comes to pronunciation :P . Good thing my natal language pronounces words similarly to them , that might be the chase why I had an easy time :3

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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