How do you guys hear and learn pitch accent

Lots of listening practice. Like lots and lots.
I think it’s okay to just pronounce things-okayish.

My personal recommendation would be first to devoid your speaking pattern of all of the ups/downs common to other languages so you start from flat. Then, focus on short and long vowels, because that’s super important. Then, pay extra attention to pitch, but after listening a lot you might already get it :slight_smile:


I really like this video! It’s easy to follow, and I like the approach of treating pitch accent patterns as melodies rather than patterns of rises and falls, that feels a lot more intuitive and (in theory) allows you to “feel out” pitch accent rather than having to reason about which rises and falls you hear. Extending the analogy into music when it comes to full sentences really helps the concept “click” for me too.

Thanks! That’s gonna help a bunch, I think.


Sorry for being lazy, but I’m watching something else at the moment (a stream, actually), and I was wondering if you’d mind summarising the ‘reason’ someone can’t hear pitch accent according to that video. I did try skimming it, but I couldn’t find any reasons in the bits I looked at, though the differences between pitch and stress accents did seem like a good starting point. I’m not really interested in the question of ‘how’ to hear it because I can (tonal language + some experience with the piano), but I’m curious about the reason given.

I feel kinda bad for not mentioning this on the forums the last time I participated in a pitch accent discussion, because uh… I actually do see the highs and lows as musical notes? I mean, I can’t hear exactly which ones, but I do see each word as a set of sounds that flow up and down, as if I have to sing it. What I’m wondering is though… how does the idea of ‘melody’ feel more intuitive than ‘rises and falls’? Is it because melodies connect more smoothly, whereas with lows and highs, you’re trying to identify which level each mora is on? (Maybe I’m just confused because some part of my brain treats them as the same thing…)

I’ll just say one more thing, though I don’t know if it’ll help anyone: I always try to sound words out when I’m learning them for the first time, and I do that with the pitch accent as well. Now, I know not everyone has a dictionary with pitch accents in it, but there are some online tools that allow you to check, visualise and hear how the pitch changes, like this one from the University of Tokyo:

(Just paste the word or phrase into the box and hit 実行 to see a diagram of pitch changes along with the sentence as you input it and in hiragana. 作成 followed by 再生 will allow you to generate and hear the audio.)

If you like to sing and are vaguely aware that some sounds need to be higher and some lower, well, it’s the same thing, and you can use the height of the line above the sentence as a guide. I personally think that sounding things out helps because it gives you a physiological point of reference for pitch (and honestly, even though I speak a tonal language and can roughly hear notes for instruments, I sometimes mess up and think I’m going higher when I’m actually going lower): when we sing higher notes, our throats tend to tighten up, and we relax when we go lower, our muscles loosen up. It’s the same when we’re sounding out pitch accents. That way, I know if I’m doing things wrong because I can feel myself tensing up or relaxing when I should be doing it the other way around. Also, I tend to think that it’s easier to hear a sound or vocal change when you can make it yourself. (I’m saying this in general, including for pronouncing sounds in new languages.)


I guess I can easily hear it because I have a musically trained ear with regards to rhythm as well as harmony and recognizing there’s pitch accent in japanese came quite natural to me. Actually, I think I even noticed before I really started learning just by watching anime and picking up words. After all in huge part it was the melody of the language that drew me in.

Pitch accent has never been in my focus, although I do practice proper intonation by reading everything out loud. Wanikani and Bunpro are especially great, because there’s the review prompt, I read it out loud on my own, check for answer, audio plays and if my pronunciation was off - which it usually is - i say it again, hopefully better.


I can’t quite find it in the video right now, but in essense (as I remember), coming from a stress accented language, your brain isn’t used to processing pitch in that way (or even processing pitch in isolation - stress accent varies more than just pitch, and a pitch-only variation is not really parsed as something “relevant” in the language, that’s just… pitch). It’s not that you don’t hear the pitch variations, it’s that your brain just doesn’t know how to parse them as pitch accents until you’ve trained yourself to listen for it, especially because the “underlying” pitch varies in natural speech across a sentence - people don’t talk like robots varying their pitch accent around a single, unwavering baseline pitch.


I asked this question a little while back – honestly it’s an issue I’m still struggling with, but I’ve not really given it the full attention it needs, still. Pushing it off while I keep focusing on reading.

Anyway, perhaps some of the responses I got might be helpful to you: Before the Basics -- Advice for Distinguishing Pitch?

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The “notes” in pitch accent remind me more of playing drums than guitar or vocals, though. Drums are tuned as well and even though it’d be hard to sing the melody of a drum beat you can certainly distinguish between higher and lower notes. Example:


You don’t, because pitch accent is a lie. That’s why it’s different in every regional dialect. Just say the words any way you want and if natives look confused or uncomprehending, it’s just because they’re flabbergasted by how well you speak as a non-Japanese.

(trust me, this is definitely the right answer)


OK, I did feel like that was at least being implied. Thanks. So I guess that in one sentence, it’s that people who speak stress-accented languages aren’t used to assigning meaning to pitch? That definitely seems true in my experience when I talk to other native speakers of such languages.

However, for me… I wonder if it’s a result of being raised bilingual or of being exposed to music when I was younger, but I think I pay attention to pitch even in English? I mean, I don’t dissociate it from stress, but some sorts of intonation definitely feel weird, and I often feel that’s a matter of pitch and rhythm. Pitch variations are important to me in English (and French) too, even if they don’t carry meaning.

Yeah, I know what you mean, but I think that’s only true at the word level. Once you look at a phrase or a sentence, you can hear a melody when people speak fluidly, especially because…

Exactly. I can’t remember where I read this, but the average pitch drops across a Japanese sentence. You can see it on the OJAD page I posted just now: people gradually speak lower, and pitch variations shrink as well.

I think another way is to hear it is to think about the variations in specific, very common sentences? I mean, そうですね has a specific musicality to it, and it’s not quite as choppy as drums might be. It’s like waves: there’s a huge drop starting from そ, then it comes back up on で, just a little less, and ね is just a tiny extra blip. It’s probably even easier to hear if you’re listening to… maybe an anime character with a sing-song voice? (PS: I really mean that in the sense of ‘singing a song’. I have no clue why ‘monotonous’ is listed as a possible synonym for ‘sing-song’ in Oxford.) Or a crazily exaggerated manner of speaking like… Aqua from Konosuba, maybe?


Pitch accent is not a lie. If you spoke a language that uses pitch accent you’d know the importance of it.


I think that post was tongue-in-cheek. In any case, fun fact about pitch accents in general: Ancient Greek was a pitch-accented language. Modern Greek isn’t though, if I remember correctly. So it’s really not something confined to Japanese or Asian languages, even if there seem to be a lot more tonal languages in Asia.


I could give it a more serious answer though…

I don’t buy that just because English isn’t pitch accented that native English speakers can’t hear pitch or whatever. There’s a difference between not knowing to pay attention to pitch, and actually being unable to hear or process it.

I watched anime for years and knew nothing about pitch accent, but I could have easily told you that there’s a bit of a sing-song quality to Japanese speech, and I can hear it pretty easily even in normal speech if I listen for it (unless the speaker is just, like… super flat. Which some are). So, uh, there you go: if you’re having trouble hearing pitch, listen to way more Japanese I guess.

Of course, if you’re on WK at all, why are you worrying about your accent? Maybe a tiny percentage already speak Japanese due to their upbringing but want to learn kanji, but the rest are ordinary students who struggle to speak or understand anything past elementary Japanese as it is. If you’ve got a 4000-word vocabulary, I don’t think that’s the time to worry about how foreign you might sound. Frankly just being able to be communicate at all is the major breakthrough at this point. And I think it would be much easier to pick up pitch accent after you reach the point where you can consume large amounts of spoken Japanese easily - it’s much harder to successfully mimic speech you can’t even parse.


How the hell does Japanese attract so many students who are completely humorless pedants? My god.


Probably because the joke wasn’t all that good. And sarcastic comments don’t do very well with people with autism I guess. Didn’t mean to offend you.


My native language is Swedish which is a pitch-accent language. Even though there are homonyms in the Swedish language where the pitch-accent determine the meaning there’s no problem understanding foreigners. It just sound like they have a particularly noticeable accent. Japanese probably have more homonyms due to using less phonemes but I’m sure Japanese people are quite good at distinguishing what you’re trying to say none-the-less.

About studying it I can hear the differences in pitch accent but It’s still a lot of work and practice to remember the correct pronunciation of words, especially when they modify the pitch of the next particle :joy: During reviews I’m actively listening for it and trying to repeat the correct pronunciation. Still I’ve been told a lot that my pitch-accent is funny, japanese is truly humbling.


I have a Swedish friend, but because I never asked him much about Swedish, I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this fact. That’s really interesting. :slight_smile:


Perhaps UNABLE as a hard claim that they can never do it is untrue for most people, certainly, but the OP and myself are plenty of evidence that there are numerous English speakers who, at the least, cannot properly identify/replicate pitch accent without real, focused training. I mean, if people are publishing studies on training English speakers in identifying pitch accent, maybe those struggles are actually real?


After learning about pitch accent at about a weak N4 level I was puzzled why that was even a thing. It just seemed a natural part of the language and its intonation to me, and I’ve always been told my Japanese accent was good.
It seems I’m able to hear pitch and tone and can replicate them really easily, which confuses me as to why since I don’t play music as a hobby (although my parents used to make me take piano and cello lessons), I don’t speak a tonal language (though I’ve been spoken to in a mixture of Chinese and English since young and can understand basic Mandarin) and can’t sing.

I’ve never done anything for pitch accent — I only make sure my intonation is right when learning new words.

That’s why I’m curious to know what the factors to being able to recognise and replicate pitch accent and tones are. Knowing a tonal language? I can’t speak one though, and barely know Mandarin as it is. Music? I’ve had experience, but it’s never been a hobby nor a big part of my life. I can’t sing, either. Perhaps it also depends on the individual, and their perception :thinking:


I studied Japanese at uni for three years, and during the entire time, the only mention of pitch accent was a bit in the second or third week of classes, when they went “oh hey, pitch accent is a thing, remember it” - after which, it was literally never brought up again. We weren’t even told the pitch pattern for new words we were being taught.

Bad xplo. Back in your box.

You don’t insult people who don’t get your jokes, especially when it’s in a text-based medium.


The person in the thumbnail is having their face torn open, so that’s distracting to their Japanese listening. Strange to generalize that though.