Pitch accent

When you learn new words, it is important to know the pronunciation as well as spelling. English uses so-called stress accent to distinguish each word. For example, the location of stress in the verb ‘present’ is different from the noun ‘present’.
Japanese language uses another accent system, which is called pitch accent.

In pitch accent, one sound is pronounced higher than others. To pronounce Japanese words accurately and naturally, recognising the pitch is a key. It is not the strength but the height of the sound.

For example, the word with two sounds ‘a me’ can make two different words depending on the pitch. When you make the first sound higher than the second sound, you will get rain, ‘A-me’. When you make the second sound higher, you will get candies, ‘a-ME’.

It is worth noting that Japanese uses a different accent system than English. When it is your first time to listen to such words, they may sound the same. It is simply because your ears are not familiar with the pitch accent. However, once you recognise at least the existence of the accent system, you will start to hear the distinctions. This will make a huge difference in your Japanese study.

It does not mean you have to strictly follow the rule because the wrong pitch does not always convey the wrong meaning. The meaning of a word is also defined in a sentence and phrase. In fact, some words vary the pitch depending on the following word. Furthermore, the pitch also varies in dialects.

Nevertheless, if you want to strive for accuracy, mastering the pitch accent is essential. The best way to learn the correct pronunciation is to listen, to speak and to be evaluated by professionals. Some Japanese online dictionaries provide sounds of words for you to play. Most of Japanese dictionaries for learners have pitches written along with the meaning of words. They will help you to know the correct pronunciation and practice can make it perfect.

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