Having trouble remembering U-sound!

I can’t know your subjective experience. But it would be interesting to do blinded tests and see if it’s right, or if, for instance, knowledge of the spelling was affecting how you interpreted the sounds. Like there’s that lip-flap experiment where people hear a word differently based on what lip-flaps they are seeing synced up to it even if the sound doesn’t change.

Going back to something else you said (which I didn’t really touch on because, whether or not you think おお and おう are identical or not, they are obviously not silent)

Were you thinking about, or have you considered, reduced / devoiced vowels with regard to that? For instance, how the “u” in です can be like a regular す or be reduced to basically sounding like the word is just “des”.


Yes, but it’s not completely silent. It’s more like it’s very subdued. The lingering s-sound of desu/des could not be mistaken for being a se or sa, which we didn’t hear fully pronounced. It’s a near silent u-sound to my ears.

This is a bit like the hen and the egg. But, listening comprehension is different from visual comprehension, in that we need conscious training to understand what we hear and learn how to both perceive and interpret sounds. So, it that way, what may seem intuitive, is just an accumulation of experience.

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I was under the impression that it’s just an unvoiced /u/?

I think you might be getting tricked by the pitch accent. Compare strawberrybrown’s pronunciation of these two. They’re both /o:/, the only difference is the falling vs rising PA.


It’s exactly the same for me.

I am absolutely sure this is true and that it’s the correct way to talk about them linguistically. But…

I also heard the difference when listening to Japanese before learning the spellings of things, and my background is both music and an ear for accents.

I think it’s like this. The audio part is almost identical. And it’s close enough for the IPA, of course, but I feel like the difference is that the lips are pursed slightly more towards the end of the sound in ‘ou’. Not pursed to the degree that you can sometimes hear people use with を, but noticeable.

I feel like I hear it more as an idiolect rather than a dialect. It’s more or less pronounced depending on the person.


I personally think that it’s a result of knowing the spelling beforehand. However (as I’ve said on another thread), I’d like to say that historically speaking, pronouncing おお as two separate vowels and おう as one long vowel is the correct approach, the reason being how we ended up with these kana notations:

In essence, when we see おお, it’s usually because it used to be written as おほ or おを. If we see おう, it’s because there was already a う or ふ in place. An explanation I saw many years ago on a site explaining long vowels for beginners said that if you pronounce う after お, the vowel is very naturally lengthened. I’m not so sure about that, but it’s definitely true that the kana that have been replaced by う could more easily ‘blend’ into the sound of the previous vowel than the kana replaced by お. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising if certain dialects of Japanese still retain these old pronunciation differences (even if I can’t confirm it, since the sites that came up when I searched おお おう 違い say that in modern Japanese, the pronunciation is the same).

Honestly, I don’t think pronouncing お twice while saying おお will cause any communication problems: after all, in slow speech, a word ending in お followed by を results in a doubled O sound, though in fast speech, the two sounds tend to blend together. For the sake of remembering spelling more easily, I pronounce おお as O-O (two O’s in quick succession), and おう as Oo (long vowel). The difference is almost impossible to hear, but I can feel my mouth moving as it tries to make that second O, and that makes the spelling stick.

@Cans101 To answer your original question… honestly, I don’t know. I tend to keep the single O’s very short, while lengthening the OU’s or OO’s in order to ensure it’s clear that I’m pronouncing a long vowel. Honestly though, maybe the reason I rarely have trouble is because I know how kanji are pronounced in Mandarin, and there are patterns of conversion between the two languages, even if the pseudo-rules are more reliable in the Mandarin-to-Japanese direction. I think the other thing that helps me is learning kanji as parts of common phrases? I think having another syllable or two helps you remember how long you need to hold the vowel. I’ll give you examples by telling you how I remember the pronunciation for each of the kanji you mentioned:
古 – this is part of 古代(こだい), meaning ‘ancient times’
公 – uh… I know this is part of 公式(こうしき), meaning ‘(mathematical) formula’, but honestly, I just know it’s gōng in Mandarin, so it has to be a long vowel (this character is a component of the kanji in my Chinese surname, so I can’t forget its pronunciation)
号 – 電話番号(でんわばんごう) is ‘telephone number’. We need to remember to lengthen that O, or we won’t get any important telephone numbers, for work or otherwise.
午 – simple: it’s part of 午後(ごご), meaning ‘afternoon’ (extremely literally, I might add). Very friendly double ‘go’ combination. Can’t go wrong with that.

I know some people will say that they’re already struggling with one kanji’s pronunciation, so it’s a horrible idea to try to cram more in, but I find that this approach provides context and makes the readings more memorable and usable. However, as always, your mileage may vary. Hope this helps though. :slight_smile:


I’m not an expert on the exact linguistic meaning of “pitch accent” [or any terminology used within the discipline], but I did listen to those examples.

I tried the sound stamples and for me the “kou” that was best was mi8NatsuKi. the “ou” that was best was Ichiro, strawberrybrown, and kaoring - all the same basic pronunciation, while skent sounded a bit off, too short, too much oo, not enough u. At the same time, I recognize it as the same meaning. No problem understanding, just different (?).

For the OU, I felt that shigeki and mi8NatsuKi felt most natural (they being shorter of tone-length). It’s perhaps because it reminds me of situations when you’re “like this?” “kou” - “this way” (when showing something).

But, that’s trying to be specific. The others both shared the same pronunciation (skent and strawberrybrown), having a slightly longer tone that felt more searching, which felt like: “perhaps this way?”, kou?

I’m mostly self-taught listening to Japanese for an extended period of time (15 years+). Don’t take my word for any of this - being more humble is a new skill I’ve learnt from WK forums. :wink:


Strawberrybrown pronounces them the same. But…

Exactly this.

This is what I meant above by an idiolect. Strawberrybrown doesn’t do it but mi8NatsuKi does. And he sounds like Kenichi with a male Tokyo accent although it’s hard to tell from one word.


For me it’s as simple as having separate mnemonics for single and long vowels. I decided that こ is coal (because its a small piece of coal) and こう is Korea (because its whole country). It doesn’t have to be totally logical as long as it’s personally memorable. I keep a document with my personal mnemonics, and I try to stay consistent with their uses.

古 is こ, こ is coal, and coal is very old
公 is こう, こう is Korea, and Korea has many public programs (don’t know if its true, but that’s how I originally remembered it)

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I did a little more research on the difference between おお and おう. While I (very unfortunately) can’t seem to find any specialist Japanese source on the different pronunciations, I did find (thanks to a discussion on Duolingo, of all places) a book by a (non-Japanese) specialist discussing how the two might be pronounced – or at least interpreted – differently:

https://books.google.fr/books?id=ix9r6CbEl6IC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=The+Phonology+of+Japanese tookereba&source=bl&ots=tCGbUilaGk&sig=ACfU3U1C8uK6d1iZ3AwBCgtw5vkuZGHTdg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjpiq-qmv3pAhUs8-AKHTp0CWUQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=The%20Phonology%20of%20Japanese tookereba&f=false

@alo It seems that the author shares your ‘idiolect’ assessment, since she says that some speakers may treat おお as a double vowel instead of as a long vowel. In addition, since she mentions that the second お can be the accented syllable in a word, while the う in おう cannot, it’s quite reasonable to assume that there is potentially a difference since the two おお effectively function as separate syllables (or morae, for those who prefer technical terms), while おう is just one unit of sound. When pronouncing おう, one is simply lengthening a sound before cutting it off, whereas for おお, one is pronouncing two vowels of equal importance, either of which could carry the accent of the word.


@ekg @alo it’s definitely the pitch accent you’re picking up on then.

mi8NatsuKi is alone in pronouncing こう with a pitch drop. shigeki pronounces it with no drop. The other two also pronounce with no drop, but exaggerate the rising intonation for clarity (if there’s no drop on the first mora, pitch rises slightly instead). Both are listed as acceptable in my dictionary, dunno which is more popular.

The reason why I said to listen to strawberrybrown is that she’s very precise, and very clear (and the recording is good). There is also an element of being affected by the next consonant as well. Compare these two:

り is more open than し so the /o:/ comes out “purer” since you have to close your mouth for the し

Anyway, if you aim for /o:/, once you factor in pitch accent/normal talking speed in those little variations come naturally.


A brilliant observation for sure. Way beyond my own observation of sound (and understanding of how accents come to be). Thanks for bringing something new to light in this discussion. Very interesting!

Personally, I really like accents, and have already learned to recognize several Japanese ones (from voice actors talking about dialectal habits), and I find it absolutely fascinating! I wish I knew more. ^>^


Tomorrow, I’ll give it a try. But for now, I have something else going on - but love this discussion! It’s great stuff that I feel needs further exploration. ^>^


I think you might be jumping the gun on the idiolects thing here. She just says there are likely to be speakers who distinguish, but in general both cases become a long vowel. The ones that do distinguish could well be due to dialectic variation.

I feel like it’s related to pitch but the pitch may be a consequence of the mechanism.

If you try to do a long “o” sound and then go into the long “u” sound you’ll find that the sound moves from your throat to the front of your mouth, at least for most English accents. Some English dialects will pronounce the long “o” sound in the front of the mouth, which complicates matters so I’m going to conveniently ignore it. :wink:

When I hear it, I can hear the pitch change but it’s coming from the back of the throat. Like, the lips will slightly move towards the position for the long “u” but the sound continues from the back of the throat and the lips don’t move enough for the sound to actually change. It’s hard to explain. lol

I will note that I didn’t hear it with just audio recordings. In those cases it sounded just like pitch accent differences. I only started hearing it when watching people talk.

Thanks! I love accents and I study them a lot, but as an interested amateur rather than a true linguist.

The sound reminds me of teaching someone to say the French “du” where you say “dee” and purse your lips.

That’s why I think it’s an unconscious mechanism and it’s confined to specific people rather than groups. At least in my experience.

But, like you, I’m hesitant to do speculate more because I’m also still working through Japanese as a language. Who knows how I’ll feel about it in a year? :wink:


For words that are ko, I use the knock’em out/KO type imagery for the mnemonic. And when it’s Kou, I use the Kouichi image that was recommended to be used, and I imagine the wild and crazy kouchi with those words.

For me it helps to use different images for my mnemonics that make it clear how it is spelled. Often when there isn’t an added u sound, I make the mnemonic represent something that happens fast, to help me remember that it’s a short/quick vowel sound.

OR, when the u is added to the end, imagine the mnemonic being louder. Like with the kanji Go, which is Kou. I imagine someone(Kouichi) shouting GO very loudly in the street.

If you can find me an example I’d like to hear it…I can’t say I’ve noticed it outside of PA and normal prosody (once you put other words into the mix things get really messy).

It sounds quite pronounced to me in the 要する here, but I think it’s the transition into the す.

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I’ll grant that she refers to both cases as ‘long vowels’, and perhaps I’m putting words in her mouth, but I believe ‘idiolect’ means ‘an individual’s speech habits’. She refers to ‘certain speakers’ and possible variations depending on words and ‘individual speakers’. I think that fits the definition of ‘idiolect’ perfectly. Perhaps my definition is simply wrong. However, admittedly, she does not specify examples in which differences in pronunciation or mental representation have been observed, nor does she mention how these differences might come about. Unless I’m quite mistaken, she also does not mention dialects or any other specific cause as a factor in creating such differences, even though dialects could indeed be a reason for any observable differences.

All I’m saying is that I think you’re reading into her words a bit too much. Besides I don’t get the feeling she even knows of any examples - that section appears to be conjecture about what’s happening at a deeper level than actual phonetic realisation.


…is how I feel every year, still. You make incremental accomplishments and then suddenly you’re on a new plateau of understanding - without input on the issue.

At the same time: (working hard make a difference using WK). I had Japanese listening experiences EVERY day for at least 10 of those 15 years, because I became hocked on anime and drama CDs - the latter really bringing on the game. Then came the games, that I translated as I played - S L O W L Y. All fun if you can keep yourself not frustrated by the slow pace of EVERYTHING due to YOU. But, it’s fond memories by now these first attempts. :grin:

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