I recorded myself speaking Japanese for the first time over the weekend, and got the nice folks at Ask native speakers anything to give me some feedback on my speaking. Thanks to them, I learned some things about myself and also about speaking the Japanese language in general.
- Japanese uses a pitch accent system, which is similar but not identical to the Chinese tone system. Pitch accent is relative, whereas tones are absolute. This means you have to pay attention where you stress and where you let go in a sentence. I have to admit, I’ve not paid much attention to the pitch system at all until after I recorded my voice. I just blindly copied what I have heard. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad technique since I seem to be understood by native speakers.
- Japanese language is tiring to speak. I’m not sure if I’m making any sense but American English is spoken in the throat, so I could get away with eating my words. But Japanese is spoken almost entirely in the mouth, so there is no way to mumble my way out. Every word requires precise enunciation. If you’re lazy, the only way to cheat is to shorten the words. Now I see why Japanese have a penchant of shortening words like ‘sandwich’ to sando or ‘convenience store’ to conbini.
- I do have an English accent when I speak Japanese. I used to take pride in the fact that I could emulate most accents with very little exposure but I guess these skills have an expiry date. According to some native speakers, my accent was not obvious but still audible. It’s especially obvious when I said ndesu. I guess you can’t ever let your guard down when it comes to learning.
- I still speak much slower than a native speaker. I don’t think much can be done about this for now. As I spread my attention thin with reading the kanji, producing the right sounds and learning where to stress, I don’t really have the bandwidth left to increase my speed. It’ll probably come once I have some familiarity with the language.
That’s all for today. For those of you who are interested in learning about Japanese pitch system, check out this awesome video below: