Japanese from Scratch 1.1.4 – t/n sounds

If you’re new to this series, check out my previous posts under the “Japanese from Scratch” category.

In this lesson, we learn how to write the /t/ and /n/ consonant sounds in Hiragana.

The best way to practice writing is to use plain old-fashion pen and paper. You can download the Hiragana practice writing sheet here:

Sounds to watch for

Japanese doesn’t necessarily follow how we would normally expect consonant and vowel combinations to sound like. While most are pronounced how you would expect, 「ち」 is actually pronounced “chi” (instead of “tee”). Another very tricky sound for English speaker is 「つ」 which is a sound that really has no equivalent in English. To pronounce 「つ」 (“tsu”), try forming an “o” with your mouth as if you’re pronouncing “sue” and add a hard “t” sound at the start of the sound by touching your tongue to the back of your teeth.

It is often difficult at first to distinguish between 「す」 and 「つ」. The word for “moon” and the adjective for liking something is often used as an example. I got the sample audio files below from forvo.com. Can you notice the hard “t” sound that’s only in the first clip?

Reading Practice

Admittedly, learning random vocabulary is not very useful but it is good reading practice so do read over the list below but don’t worry about memorizing the definitions.

  1. いち – one
  2. て – hand
  3. たつ – to stand
  4. たこ – octopus
  5. かつ – to win
  6. に – two
  7. なに – what
  8. ぬの – fabric
  9. すな – sand
  10. おかね – money
  11. しぬ – to die
  12. ぬく – to extract, to pull out

8 thoughts on “Japanese from Scratch 1.1.4 – t/n sounds

  1. Good article!
    Though I’ve already learned the kana I think you make a very good explanation.
    If you want to get some audio samples try to take them from http://www.forvo.com
    Users post pronuntiations on their native tongue and therefore its a good start.

  2. Being German, I never had any problems with the proper pronounciation of「つ」. I didn’t even realize that the sound doesn’t exist in English.
    However many Germans cannot pronounce 「ざ,ず,ぜ,ぞ」properly, because in Romaji, those syllables are transcribed as ‘za,zu,ze,zo’, and ‘z’ is the letter for the voiceless alveolar affricate in German. Makes perfect sense, right? Anyway, every German who doesn’t know Japanese (including me, before I started learning two years ago), pronounces 風 as ‘katse’…

    • Most study books for Japanese in Finnish, and most likely many other minor languages, closely follow the style and focus that is common in English books. This is of course because the author has ofter learned Japanese through English books, or uses those as a model because they are the easiest to find and/or most popular.

      But this is often hardly efficient, as there are, like we’ve just found with German, certain pronunciations and grammar concepts that are already very familiar to speakers of that language, yet need more thorough explanation for English speakers. And vice versa, concepts that should be explained more carefully, because they exist in English but not in the minor language.

      This is why I often recommend the Guide to Japanese to people, because it appreaches grammar in a very neutral way, and should work well for both English and Finnish speakers.

  3. i have been studying japanese for 2 years. you feel it’s hard maybe you only have the english background, but for me, i have chinese background, so that , it’s pretty easy to me.

    • Since you have a background in Chinese I guess the Kanji is nothing for you, eh? Great lesson by the way. I will be coming back frequently!

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