Help with hiragana pronunciation?

So, I started WK a few days ago. I know kana pretty well in terms of recognition and basic pronunciation. I just unlocked my first kanji from level one and have run into something that is quite preplexing to me and was wondering if someone could point me in the direction on how to improve.

Here is the phenomenon I ran across.

One of the kanji, 上, (じょう)was given a reading mnemonic of ‘joe’. This sort of confused me because it doesn’t seem to take into account the う sound at the end and seems to be pronounced more as じょ per google translate, which is more in line with the mnemonic.

My question is, pronunciation wise, what is the difference between じょ and じょう? Where can I learn more about this and how do I get better at distinguishing it? Is it something I should worry about now?

The English mnemonics are there to jog your memory and get you on the right track, so they aren’t (or often can’t be) perfect matches. They do try sometimes, with Little Kyoto for きょ, for instance, to differentiate from Kyoto きょう, but most of the time you’re on your own.

For general pronunciation study, this is a good free course.

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‘Joe’ is a there as a mnemonic, not as an exact E => J pronunciation guide.

The second one is longer, and it does make a difference when speaking - there are many homophones in Japanese, so making such distinctions is important. I haven’t looked, but I expect Leebo’s link will help with learning to distinguish them.

Yeah, it covers phonetics, long vowels, rhythm, pitch accent, intonation, etc.

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I gotcha. But irrespective of the mnemonic, it seems like the final う sound is not distinctly pronounced. This is my first bout with hirigana outside of the context of drilling the sounds with flashcards and as I beginner, I would read じょう as more as 'jyoe-oo. because of the sound that I learned. Instead it seems to sound more like ‘jyoh’ which to me is じょ. Is there a pronunciation difference between じょ and じょう? I’m not hearing one. Is it the length of the vowel sound that makes the difference?

Edit: ah gotcha, I see someone clarified the difference. Thanks! :smiley:

Yes - have a look at the link Leebo provided.

It’s just a difference of vowel length. This comes up in the course I linked, as they teach you to clap out individual moras (the word for one character of hiragana) to get a better grasp of how the length of words that are only differentiated by vowel length feel.

上司 (じょうし boss) じょ (clap) う (clap) し (clap)
女子 (じょし girl) じょ (clap) し (clap)

For instance.

Excellent. Thanks a ton to everyone. @Leebo I’ll check that out. I just noticed it and didn’t want to form any bad habits I’d have to unbreak later!


It’s often hard for English speakers to distinguish between short and long vowels in Japanese (yet the difference is completely obvious to Japanese speakers) because English makes no semantic distinction between the two sounds. It may seem like a minor point when learning Japanese, but it makes a huge difference.

Compare with Japanese speakers’ difficulty in distinguishing or clearly reproducing English R and L sounds, or ’uncle’ and ‘ankle’.

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For most words, hiragana u acts as a “lengthener” for both “u” and “o” vowels, and hiragana i for both “i” and “e” vowels. You just have to get used to the fact that “ou” is long o and “ei” is long e. There are exceptions, pretty much when the o is part of one word and u part of another, for instance. And in some Japanese native words, o and e will be lengthened using two o’s or two e’s, like in ookii (big) or too (ten).

EDIT: sorry for the lack of actual hiragana characters in this comment, just couldn’t do it atm.

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I find that I sometimes have to use a different mnemonic than what WaniKani suggests, because the pronunciation of the English word leads me to select the wrong hiragana characters. Other times, I can get around it by just adding some additional bits to the “story” to help remind me if it is a long or short sound.

It does get easier as you go along, in my experience. You get better at registering the proper sounds and, in some cases, I’ll start using a particular mnemonic to remember the long or short version.

For example, if I’m trying to remember しゅ (shu), I think of a shoe. Just one shoe. Not two. Just one shoe. That’s why it is a short sound. There’s only one shoe. Whatever works, right?

Good luck!

This is a good suggestion for mnemonics. If you try to standardize on a particular English word or sound to represent a short vowel and a different one for the long vowel, you can keep them straight (even though there may not be a real difference in the English sounds as long as you can remember the association). As you said shoe/shoot works for しゅ/しゅう.

Other good ones are toe/tow, short/show, two/too, go/goal, coat/coal, rope/row, etc. Unfortunately, the WaniKani-supplied mnemonics are not 100% consistent with these distinctions, like using ‘food’ as a mnemonic for both ふ and ふう if I recall correctly. Also, WK uses ‘row’ for りょう but ‘roe’ for ろう. To be fair, English doesn’t really have a ‘ryo’ phoneme, though you could get closer with something like ‘realLY Oak’

In the end, though, whether the vowels are doubled or not is just one more thing to remember, and however one accomplishes that is up to them. And as you said, it does get easier with practice.

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Words like 消防署 are good to practice as within the word the same sound but at two different lengths exists.

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I don’t know how it is from a native english speaker’s perspective, but apart from a couple of particles, silent U’s and the i from なに often disappearing in speech 何だよ being a perfect example, there really isn’t any special pronounciation, it’s just read as written.

As far as pronounciation goes, just use resources like じょう pronunciation: How to pronounce じょう in Japanese You’ll probably not get the right readings dropping in kanji, as WK teaches an oddly scattergrun approach to readings. 女’s most common reading for instance is おんな, but WK teaches you じょ, which is a far second. 女 pronunciation: How to pronounce 女 in Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Wu Chinese, Toisanese Cantonese, Middle Chinese, Min Dong, Hakka, Min Nan Same for above, its more common reading is うえ.

Tongue twisters are a fun practice too, here you go: すもも桃、桃も桃、すももも桃も桃のうち
“Japanese plums are also peaches. Peaches are also peaches. Japanese plums and peaches are both in the peach family.”

pssst おんな

おんな is the kun’yomi reading (when it’s a stand alone word meaning “woman”) and じょ should be the most common on’yomi reading (when the kanji is used in a compound) and is also pretty common, so it makes sense though. Same goes for うえ (kun’yomi) and じょう (common on’yomi).

You get most or at least most of the important readings once you learn the vocabulary, WK just picks the most common on’yomi for the first lesson for the kanji mostly (or, if it’s rarely used in a compound, the kun’yomi), so that it’s easier to learn. :slight_smile:
Once you get the vocabulary word “woman”, you’ll learn おんな, for example.

Way ahead of you ;^). My keyboard is dying little by little so i constantly have to go back and fix typos and other stuff, i guess 8 years is death toll for a membrane keyboard.

As for the other stuff, i dunno about that, i understand the difficulty for writing some compelling memory blurb for うえ, but it is significantly more common, since 上 is most common seen as an adjective, suffix or a noun, not a compound, e.g. お皿はテーブルの上にあるよ

I don’t think it’s about the difficulty of writing a mnemonic though, it’s a choice.

When there’s a frequently used and common stand alone word that uses the kun’yomi reading then you’re gonna learn that when you get the vocab anyways, you’ll get you’re reading mnemonic then and you’re probably not gonna have much trouble remembering it anyways since it’s frequently used and you’re gonna be seeing it everywhere.

You won’t get any on’yomi reading (normally) as a single word though, so it makes much sense, to use that reading for the kanji and make you learn it early on with a suitable mnemonic, so you know which reading you can most safely assume is gonna get used when you see the kanji in a compound you don’t know.

I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is a standard way WK deals with how they teach you readings: distinct and common “most used” on’yomi reading → taught with the kanji lesson. No distinct and common on’yomi reading and / or mostly used as a stand alone word anyway? ->kun’yomi taught with the kanji. I kinda distinctly remember reading something like this in the guide, too, but I’m not sure about that, it’s been a bit since I’ve read that. ^^;

All in all, what I wanna say is just that for me, it’s just not arbitrary at all, but makes a lot of sense. :man_shrugging: But everybody has different opinions and a different style of learning.

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It’s not that unusual, particularly in the low levels of WK.
本, 点, 天, 王, 文, 円, 台, 用, many more.

Sometimes it’s because they don’t have any kunyomi to teach at all (王), but yeah.

EDIT: It’s also possible for 女 to appear as a suffix that is read as じょ, not that anyone is likely to encounter that early on.

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Dunno, for me i’ve been able to form coherent japanese sentences for a couple of weeks without horrifically messing up the particles(this takes more effort than immediately apparent, reading is so easy), and of the ballpark sentences i’ve made, basically any Kanji you’d see in a simple to slightly advanced textbook have been… not read like the ones taught on WK.

Most of the readings of the level 1 kanji required me to err… add a custom synonym. I’m glad there is the option for that though. Of course i’ll eventually have to learn the other readings, but my brain goes crosswired if i see a kanji i know, by itself, and the reading is pronounced as it were a part of a compound.

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Looking over the kanji list, the way that @BlueberryPear described does seem to be how WK decides which reading to introduce with a kanji. At a quick glance, for example, 川 looks like the only level 1 kanji that is initially taught with its kunyomi since its onyomi is much much less common whereas the rest of the level 1 kanji have a relatively common onyomi to teach.

Also, this is explained in the guide:

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