How do Japanese read?


Actually, I did ask my wife what she does when she encounters words that she is unsure how to read. She said she makes a few guesses in her head. (And I’m sure that like you, she looks it up later).


I think this experience is not uncommon for native English speakers either - especially for older kids or other people who read a lot, but don’t listen to or engage in verbal discussions on technical topics. There are just so many words that are used a lot more in print than in casual conversation.


That’s reassuring! When I grow old(er) I might be able to pass for a native. :wink:

Also, can someone explain why through, trough, though, rough all have different pronunciations for the same 4 letter combination at the end of the word? (5 letters if we exclude) There’s more I could add if it wasn’t unnecessary, I’m sure we’re all aware of this phenomenon.

If there’s an actual rule for this though, please do let me know. :eyes:


That’s just english for you.

If I read a word in German, I usually know how to pronounce it, but might not know what it means. If I read a word in Japanese, I might guess the meaning from the Kanji but have no idea how to pronounce it. And in English, you have neither ;^)

Yes I know. I still find that summary funny



Good thing we’re learning Japanese, not English.


:joy: fair

As a native English speaker, I can actually guess the pronunciation of unknown English words 90% of the time based on other words I’ve seen with similar patterns. I can also usually guess the spelling of unknown English words when I hear them for the first time, based on the same thing…it’s like when I hear English words, I can visualize them typed out on a blank white sheet if I want. Like sub-vocalization in reverse, maybe. I think I’m an outlier on that, though.

This whole conversation has been super interesting! I’m definitely in the sub-vocalization camp, and sometimes if I’m getting bored because I have to read something super long, I’ll change the voice in my head to a British or Scottish accent (I’m American) to keep myself interested. If I speed up my reading, the voice gets faster like a recording on fast-forward. I can sort of read without sub-vocalizing, but it makes my brain feel tingly (it’s a weird, almost ASMR sort of feeling) and my eyes get tired.

I always have been a fast reader, though, so…maybe I do some of both? (Sometimes when I’m reading novels if I get bored I’ll accidentally miss important information, often about what a character looks like, so maybe there’s a part of my brain making subconscious un-vocalized opinions about what information is important.)

When it comes to Japanese, since my comprehension level is still very low, I definitely recognize the kanji as images first, since much of the time I won’t remember the correct reading on sight (especially in conjunction with other kanji). In that case it’s hardly ever vocalized.

Now that I think about it, it does seem interesting that even though I’m very sub-vocalized in English, I’m not at all in Japanese. I also speak Spanish as a second language, and although most of the time that’s vocalized too (probably because it uses the roman alphabet), occasionally when I come across a word I don’t know it’ll kinda just sound like static in my brain as I realize I don’t understand how the phonetics work out in this unknown word. (Which again is weird…how do I understand English phonetics so thoroughly when Spanish phonetics are so much more consistent?? The difference between first languages and second languages are weird…)


I found this:


Color me surprised.

Only read the first part of the long article detailing evolution of language/writing/pronunciation, but it seems well researched and put together. Will read tomorrow after sleep and work, thank you!


But that often happens in practice for me when doing reviews! I know what the word means but sometimes forget the reading for the Kanji so get mixed up and say/write the word incorrectly. An example is battlefield. I had…well a battle…remembering it was senjou and not senba.


Oh, 場 is terrible. I always seem to pick the wrong reading from じょう or ば. And of course then there is 所 (じょ, しょ), which gets confused with the former…


Yes English is anything but phonetic. I had a friend (fellow native English speaker) who thought the word misled (learned from reading) was the past tense of the verb misle and so she pronounced it accordingly (MAI-zld). Mind you she was also aware of the word misled (pronounced mis-LED, and learned from conversation), but she never made the connection until someone asked her what she meant by misling.


:grin: oh my
actually yesterday it misled is spelt the same as I misled you, although I’d sooner spell it yesterday it mizzled and it’s been mizzling


What is this??? I have never heard this word??? :open_mouth:

EDIT: apparently it can also be spelled as mizzle so we are all saved


Not sure what you’re trying to say here.


Can’t speak for native-speakers, but since we’ve also gotten into our own experiences as readers here:

I’ll just say that I always sub-vocalize in English, and do so in Japanese as well unless there are unknown kanji, or kanji I maybe half-know (meaning; a reading), but not well enough to immediately peg the reading, in which case, yeah, the general meaning will be absorbed without the sub-vocalization.

But that’s also a sign that I don’t really known the kanji well enough yet, even if it’s a WK one, for example. When I think about the number of kanji I really know, I try to only include ones I think or know I’d sub-vocalize during reading. (Which I think is true for most items on WK by the time they hit the enlightened or burned queues, but not always.)

Re: English spellings: They’re all kinds of messed up because before you even get into the many arbitrary exceptions, the spelling is usually dependent on its etymology: Latin origin, German origin, French origin, others, etc. But hey, this does let us have fun things like spelling bees, where contestants can use linguistic context clues to guess the spellings of unknown, difficult words. (The Japanese equivalent of which would be “guess the meaning and readings of this obscure, difficult kanji.”)


Yes! I do this too, but haven’t been able to articulate it well to anybody yet.

It’s hard to describe, like, when reading a paragraph, my thoughts follow along with the lines and the writing, but my eyes roam the entire paragraph digesting the words. And I sort do hear the voice in my head, but it’s a voice that is unencumbered by the speed of articulation and sound and probably would sound like a really sped up recording to anyone else.


Wow, that’s really interesting to read. I honestly can’t imagine what that would be like.


Yeah, I read a lot and have read a lot over the last 30+ years. It’s like any skill that you consistently do often: you get much better at it over time. I’ve always thought challenges like “read x books a year/month” were silly because I have the opposite problem; I have to force myself not to read in order to spend my free time on other things.

That’s really my goal with Wanikani: to get proficient enough to be able to start reading Japanese literature.


Me too, friend. Me too.

I also have aphantasia. I’ve been hooked on reading since first grade with the Narnia books. My dad was a reading teacher, and did a test that evaluated my reading level to be at college level in the 4rd grade. I’m pretty sure I was better at visualizing when I was a kid - I remember that my childhood dreams, nightmares, and memories were more vivid and visual. I wonder if there’s a correlation between aphantasia and reading speed and/or quantity.


What are these “other things” you speak of?