Hearing the difference: 最悪 (さいあく) and 災厄 (さいやく)


#1

I recently unlocked and learned 最悪 (さいあく; most + bad -> “the worst”).

That’s when I realized that this entire time (after watching lots of subtitled anime) that I thought that “the worst” was さいく, instead of さいく.

I got curious and had Google Translate pronounce 最悪 (さいあく) and 災厄 (さいやく), and they both sounded the same to me. Uh oh.

When there’s an “i” sound is followed by “ya”/“yu”/“yo” or “a”/“u”/“o”, how do you hear the difference?


#2

There isn’t always a difference, it really depends on who is speaking. Of course there should be one, and with experience you do learn to easier discern the sounds.


#3

Well, first of all, 最悪 is extremely common, and 災厄 is rare. Context could help you as well, since one is a な adjective and the other is a noun, though 最悪 can also be a noun.


#4

Context saves you most times in japanese, as Leebo said. Luckily this goes a lot further than your example and applies to words where you dont know the proper pitch accent or words that are read the same. For example, most people know 公正 and 構成, but you would never mistake one for the other.


#5

There isn’t always a difference in pronunciation? :frowning:

最悪ですね

:wink:

Then, I really will need to rely on context. With so many homonyms and similar sounding words, it does seem like a necessity to master Japanese. It’ll be quite daunting for now, but I look forward to improving over time.


#6

Sometimes homophones do have different pitch accents which are noticeably different (はし) 橋 and 箸, (あめ) 雨 and 飴.

But context really will get you there most of the time. Grammar helps enormously for this too - as similar sounding things become separated into different boxes you’re unlikely to confuse a conjunction with a noun etc.

On a side note, you might be surprised how many words ESL speakers also confuse if they don’t have the context (yesterday my Korean friend was having trouble mishearing “no more” for “normal”).