How do you guys hear and learn pitch accent

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.


No, you’re two anecdotes, which is about as far from “plenty of evidence” about half a billion people as it is possible to be.

Real for an unknown fraction of English speakers, not for all, and not adequately explained by “English has no pitch accent”. For those who are capable of hearing pitch accent, my recommendation stands.

For folks like yourself, I regret that I have no better advice. Perhaps those studies you talked about can offer some. I’m sure you’d be happy to read through them and share your findings - and I suppose OP would appreciate it.


If you want to be incredibly pedantic, I guess I can go there.

Ok? Do you have any data to suggest it’s not a significant fraction? Does that even matter at all? Such people do, demonstrably, exist, therefore it’s a valid topic to discuss in regards to those people. What is the point here?

I don’t think I agree with your suggestion of when to handle it… but this thread is literally for one purpose, someone who cannot hear pitch accent wants advice on how to learn to hear it. What is the point here? You came to a thread where someone was asking for help and a large portion of your response was to cast doubts on their problem even existing.

I have in fact read it, and overall was mostly just disappointed by how hard it would be to replicate. They created a pretty serious setup involving showing soundwaves when words are spoken and having people speak them back when monitoring what happens in their own voice, compared to native patterns.

Edit: There is also this study that found quite low accuracy in pitch accent across all participants in a group of English speakers learning Japanese as their second language when they weren’t trained in pitch accent specifically. This is production and not recognition, but since you’re concerned about numbers, I thought you might like to know. It’s the closest I can find to the info you want :slight_smile:



I think studies on adopted children whose parents speak a different language from the one their birth parents did actually show that they seem to process their birth language the same way as they would their everyday language, even if they can’t speak their birth language at all. Perhaps that has an effect?

However, of course, I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to pick up such things without creating a connection to them when one is growing up. Just as an example, I know someone whose native languages are… French and one of the dialects of Arabic (I say ‘dialect’ because I know there are multiple spoken forms of Arabic in various countries and regions), I think? He started learning Mandarin this year, and I’m honestly impressed by how accurate his tones are. I don’t know what might make them easier or harder to hear though.

Anecdotal as it might be, I’ve definitely met and seen enough speakers of languages that assign no semantic importance to pitch variation to say that people who ‘cannot hear’ pitch variations, or who at least feel they can’t, definitely exist. It may seem strange, since most people can appreciate music even if they’re not musicians and don’t particularly like to sing, but I personally know someone who’s a native Chinese speaker and plays a traditional Chinese instrument, and he can’t sing in tune to save his life. As for those speakers of other languages with no Japanese experience… yeah, I’ve met French speakers who asked, ‘What’s the difference?’ when I demonstrated pitch accent differences or pronounced words in Mandarin with different tones. There’s even a French YouTuber who’s pretty famous within the French Japanese learning community (he’s been trying to make a complete Japanese course on YouTube, and for the last donation drive, he managed to raise… what, half a million euros?) who is aware of the existence of pitch accent and who called himself out for being a poor example and apologised for it, telling his audience that he would not be able to provide helpful instruction on that aspect of Japanese.

What I’m trying to point out is this: I can’t prove that people whose languages don’t assign meaning to pitch variation generally have trouble with acquiring pitch accent sensitivity, though I can say that so far, most of the people I’ve met who’ve spoken to me about Japanese or Mandarin can’t imitate the variations immediately, and many of them are baffled by the idea. (I was part of a presentation on Japanese, Chinese and Korean in front of a class of about 50 French students, so I should know, even if that class might not be a representative sample in any way.) Regardless, it’s quite clear from what I’ve just said that

  1. knowing about pitch accent or tones doesn’t allow one to hear them, and
  2. being able to appreciate or hear variations in one context doesn’t mean one can hear them in another, and even if one can, that doesn’t mean one reproduce them.

Therefore, this problem really exists, though I can’t prove that it is (or isn’t!) widespread. I’d also like to point out that it might not be a matter of not receiving the same auditory information (literally ‘not being able to hear’ the accent), but rather being a problem of not knowing how to listen. A person not trained in music theory won’t be able to identify intervals or chords in a song. That person is indeed hearing them, but without the necessary experience, they might as well be ‘unable’ to hear them. Simply knowing chords exist is insufficient, because you can’t auditorily pick out these things without knowing what they sound like and what to look out for. Similarly, an experienced bird photographer is far more likely to be able to spot a well-camouflaged bird in its natural habitat than the average person, or even an amateur birdwatcher. Throwing a zoomed-out photo of a clump of trees to someone unable to spot a bird in that clump isn’t necessarily going to help that person get better at bird spotting. However, until that person is shown what to look for, or figures that out on their own, they’ll continue to say, ‘I can’t see the bird!’, and it’ll effectively be true, at least from their perspective.


Same here. I have a pretty bad ear for music, but I’ve always been able to hear and reproduce pitch accent just fine. I often guess the pitch accent wrong with words I’ve never heard spoken, but correct it as soon as I hear someone say it. In other words, the same thing I do with unfamiliar words in English. I find it much easier to do by ear than by trying to read a description of a word’s pitch accent and then pronounce it correctly.


I did a couple of Elementary Japanese courses to satisfy a language requirement many years ago. At the time, the textbook we used was Japanese for Everyone. That one explained pitch accent in the introduction of the book and marked every new word with its pitch accent. I never could get it right from those markings, though, so I had to mimic the (native-speaking) teacher.


I tried watching the video, but I found the humming so annoying that I basically had to skip over everything. Does that humming technique actually work for people? I don’t really have any issue hearing pitch accent, so I’m obviously not the target audience. But I’m curious to know if that actually works for people that are struggling to hear the pitch of actual words.


I think it’s less effective for hearing the pitch than it is reproducing it honestly

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Oops misread the thread topic. Here's some advice about accent in general studying

Best advice I had on accent correction

Sit down with a Japanese person and go over the same passage many many times and have them correct anywhere that sounds strange to them.

I have so many bad habits. Yikes. I need to shorten all my particles like は and と

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When you listen to Japanese audio, speak with the audio, not after it. I’ve found it really helpful. It feels unnatural at first, but gets easier.

The course I’m taking teaches shadowing with these steps:

  1. Listen to the audio.
  2. Replay the audio and repeat or mumble after it.
  3. Replay the audio and speak at the same time as it, but focus on the intonation (pitch accent).
  4. Replay the audio and speak at the same time as it, but focus on the meaning.

I also find it helpful to record myself speaking so I can compare it with the audio. It’s easier to hear the differences in pitch accent when you can hear yourself side-by-side with native audio.

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I used to respect Matt. But to hell with him now.

Take a look at the links provided in this thread

And then take a look at this.


It could just be luck of the draw that you have the genetics to perceive these types of things. My bet, though, is that the music lessons when you were younger could have helped you out. The effects of learning music on childrens’ brains is pretty astonishing – even if they only casually took lessons.

Music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills

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That’s a good video from Matt and his friend Discount Channing Tatum

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I remember back when I was talking with doth and found out all the djt people hated matt getting linked this video. There was also apparently an interview with him that he chose not to air.

When hearing about this new big project, I was wondering if the madman was finally gonna actually exploit the whales and it looks like he might be. Kinda funny that everyone went to hating matt, to liking him for being reformed, and now might be going back to hating him.


I think having a better pronunciation, rhythm and timing gets you like 90% towards a better accent. People stress pitch-accent excessively, I feel.

I’ve interacted with a lot of beginner and intermediate learners both in Japan and Europe, and it’s always pronunciation, not pitch accent that they needed more work on. I could almost always tell where the people where from just by listening to their Japanese accent :smile:.

That said, I don’t aim for a native level accent, but think you can get very far just by listening a lot and interacting with natives. Maybe not exactly comparable, but after a year of living in the states, people were surprised I’m not native. Could be I’m just lucky having a somewhat good ear.


If you want to get a handle on pitch accent, I strongly recommend Dogen’s Patreon course. Dogen does
an amazing job of explaining the patterns - it’s like a college level course for $10 a month.

I went through the whole course to get an overview of the concept. I will probably revisit it once my Japanese is at a strong enough level that I can start to really focus on improving my pitch accent.

Can’t say it did anything for me the actual spoken words didn’t, but maybe for someone else it does help?

Yeah, I have the same feeling. Like anything on the internet this tends to be divided between two extremes - either pitch accent is the ultimate thing and super harmful to ignore and you will never learn Japanese without it or it’s completely useless - when in reality, as always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I personally feel it’s useful to sound natural, but you can probably get by just fine without it. I guess it can theoretically disambiguate things, but… let’s be real, how many times are things going to be ambiguous between 雨 and 飴? 橋 and 箸? As for the umpteen いじょうs someone else mentioned… You’re not gonna disambiguate all of those with just a handful of pitch accent patterns anyway.

And in an earlier conversation I’ve had regarding pitch accent, it’s been mentioned that in cases where ambiguity might exist, like with 柿 vs 牡蠣, people will actually specify to 森のかき or 海のかき if needed instead of relying on pitch accent to disambiguate, so as far as I can tell it’s of very limited use for comprehension (but, as always, not an expert - don’t trust me on anything :smile:).

So yeah, it’s not useless and it’s definitely a part of the language. It can be worth learning depending on your goals, or even just for its own sake. But I don’t think it’s super important and will harm your Japanese if you don’t thoroughly study it either…

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