Spelling Help! (Voiced vs Unvoiced // Long Vowel vs Short Vowel)

I don’t know if it’s simply a me problem, or if this is applicable to others, but I generally know what sounds a kanji or word would make, however, I struggle with knowing if it is voiced or unvoiced (こ・ご). I try to say it out loud to test which I think would be more natural, but I still get it wrong . Same thing goes for whether it is a long vowel or a short one (しょ・しょう).

Is there a trick to getting these down or is it simply needing more exposure to the language, or more practice memorizing and increasing retention? I will note I have always struggled with spelling in English as well so perhaps it has crossed over to Japanese.

Thank you in advance for any help!


There’s no real trick - these are just different sounds in Japanese. You wouldn’t confuse “cold” and “gold” in English either, I assume.

I can’t think of another way than just memorising the words and making sure you pay attention to those details. In terms of “which sounds more natural” - well, Japanese won’t sound “natural” to you until you’ve really learned it, so that’s probably not a good strategy.

I don’t know if your statement that you have struggled with spelling in English is due to some learning disability (e.g. dyslexia), in which case I can’t really offer advice, sorry. But other than that, English spelling is chronically irregular and often matches pronunciation poorly. That’s not the case in Japanese, if you know how to say something, you know how to spell it (in Kana) 95% of the time, and vice versa (there are some exceptions, but they’re comparatively few).


Ah! Thank you.

I wasn’t sure if there was some useful rule like the second kanji would be voiced in a word or something. I’m glad that it is simply just a practice and learn thing and not me being oblivious to a pattern. XD

My old Japanese teacher at one point simply told me that it would be whichever sounded more natural so I have been trying to do that and it has not been very helpful. But it makes sense why it wouldn’t be since all of Japanese sounds unnatural to me.

Thank you for the reply and help. :smiley:


Sounds a bit like a teacher who doesn’t understand what it means not to speak the language lol.

There are some, uh, “rules” about consonant voicing (rendaku) when two word parts come together, but they’re complicated and full of exceptions, so I would rather try to memorise words… if there are any patterns, I’m sure you’ll pick them up eventually.


I mean, yeah, after a while you will get to a point where you can say that something is probably not a Japanese word because it sounds “unnatural”, but even then this timespan is measured rather in years than (a small number of) weeks, I guess. :woman_shrugging:
And even then that’s not a foolproof method, of course. I think I have developed a fairly ok instinct for this, but I recently learned a new word 健やか (すこやか) and I was like “oh there must be a typo in this anki card” :rofl: but no, it is the correct pronunciation :woman_shrugging:
later I realized that 少し has the same pronunciation so there’s that


With long and short vowels in particular this can be tricky for many native English speakers, because English doesn’t generally distinguish words on vowel length alone[*] so our brains are not in the habit of looking out for it. This means we don’t really hear しょ and しょう as “different”, and then we end up memorizing the spelling when really we should be able to just spell it the way we hear it.

For voiced/unvoiced, I guess this also depends on your native language. In English this is a distinction we make (cold/gold, seal/zeal, etc) so as @Fryie says this one is easier for English speakers.

[*] Some English accents make a vowel length only distinction in a few places, eg in my Standard Southern British accent ‘shed’ ʃɛ́d and ‘shared’ ʃɛ́ːd differ only by vowel length. This didn’t help much with distinguishing Japanese vowel lengths though :slight_smile:


Even in some other European languages, like German or Spanish, vowel length distinctions do exist, but only in stressed syllables. Japanese has short and long vowels both in accented and unaccented position, which is unnatural for speakers of many (though not all) languages.


This is like if a Japanese person was learning English and they were like “which is the right spelling, ‘becose’ or ‘because’?” and you told them it’s whichever seems more natural. As an English speaker that would be obvious, but not only is it not obvious to a Japanese speaker, they’d probably go with “becose” since it has the “co” sound.

You can’t teach language learners to rely on their intuition in a language they don’t speak, because it takes years to develop an intuition and even then natives will still make mistakes.


I imagine short and long vowels by glottal stop, so しょ(っ) / しょー, but another one may occasionally become troublesome, so しょツ.

About voiced, there are too many exceptions IMO, and sometimes I can’t hear the voicing. Normally I would rather remember each vocabulary’s sound or Kana directly. I guess Romaji would be more distinct and easier to see than Dakuten / Handakuten in Kana, though I don’t really remember that.


I know you were asking for spelling help and not quite pronunciation help, but I thought the videos below might be of some help. I think Fyrie has answered you well regarding your questions above.

In case you need a more in-depth explanation of whether it’s voiced or voiceless (with tongue position visuals), you could check out these two videos for comparison.

Hopefully the link goes straight to the timestamp at 5:59, where it explains more about the Japanese long vowel with regards to your question.

Here’s a しゃ しゅ しょ pronunciation to compare with:

This might not be what you’ve asked specifically, but it’s a good video to start with for Japanese vowel devoicing:


I see!! Thank you, I appreciate your help and advice all of this. I will work on memorizing the words and making extra note when I do so that maybe it won’t take me so long to remember which one it is supposed to be! :smiley:

Thank you!! I totally understand the feeling thinking that something is a typo only to realize that no in fact it’s similar to a word you already knew XD

Oh! I see, I will try and work on some listening and pronunciation practice materials. I do struggle with listening in general so I think making extra effort for these types of vowels will pay off ! Thank you!!

There definitely was a reason she is no longer my Japanese teacher. It helps knowing it wasn’t just me not grasping the concept but the concept not really being applicable to me.

Oh!! That makes sense, thank you!

Thank you!! I think is definitely what I need to work on as pm215 pointed out. These videos will help me a lot. Thank you for linking the videos!!


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