Q. How do I know which syllables to stress in Japanese words?
A. Japanese has a pitch accent or musical accent. You might think Japanese is a monotone language since it is quite different from the stress accent in English, other European languages and some Asian languages. The Japanese often struggle with putting the accent on the syllables when learning English. This is because they have a different accent system.
A stress accent pronounces the syllable louder and holds it longer. English speakers speed up between accented syllables unconsciously. Pitch accent is based on the two relative pitch levels of high and low. Each syllable is pronounced with equal length. Each word has its own determined pitch and only one accent summit. Japanese sentences are made up like a melody with rising and falling pitches. Unlike English's uneven rhythm, Japanese sounds like a steadily flowing stream.
Japan has many regional dialects (hogen). The different dialects have different accents. However, there are no communication problems among people of different dialects since everybody understands standard Japanese (hyoujungo, a dialect spoken in Tokyo). In most cases, accentuation doesn't make a difference in the meaning of the words.
The pronunciation of Japanese is relatively easy compared with other aspects of the language. However, it requires understanding of Japanese sounds, pitch accent and intonation to sound like a native speaker. It also takes time and patience, but don't get frustrated! It is important to make an effort to listen Japanese as much as you can. When listening, listen very carefully and imitate what you hear. Try not think about the spelling too much, just listen and imitate.
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