Tips on speaking with proper pitch accent

I know what it is, I’ve installed a script to show the pitch accents on vocab, I’ve even looked on forvo for quite a few words and I still can’t quite grasp it. My main problem I think is that I just don’t know how to control my voice to go high or low at certain times. In English there’s not as much of a presence but it still is there. I bet I probably do it naturally because of growing up with it, but I just don’t know how to consciously force myself to do it in Japanese. I’ve tried listening to podcasts, anime, and dramas and attempting to imitate and even then I feel like I’m in the same place I started. I seriously have no idea what I’m supposed to do, and I can’t just ignore it considering it’s a big part of speaking the language.


Do you have wk set up to say the vocab out loud each time you review? That is helpful for me. I repeat along with the voice and that seems to help a bit. Beyond that, for me, I just try to keep listening to a ton of stuff and talking when I can, and I think I am slowly, slowly getting better. It almost feels like how learning rendaku felt to me. At the beginning I was like, wait what the heck is happening here, how can I predict it? But after a while, I started getting a sense for what words would have rendaku and what kind after a bunch of exposure. I am still wrong sometimes, but I am getting better at it the more exposure I have. I feel similarly with pitch accent. The more I listen and the more I speak and mimic, the more I start to kind of have an intuition as to how a new word might be stressed. I am much worse at it than rendaku guessing though, so I am hoping it will improve with time and listening and tons of conversation. My two cents, anyway…:slightly_smiling_face::turtle:


My take on the pitch accent is that it’s just not that worth fretting about. In the Tokyo dialect, HAshi is “chopsticks” while haSHI is “bridge”, but in the Kansai dialect it’s exactly the other way around. I figure since Tokyoites and Kansai…niens can understand each other perfectly well regardless, people aren’t going to freak if you don’t pitch things perfectly.


As much as I can to some degree agree that not focusing on pitch can be okay, this is not a good reason for it. The reason they can understand each other so easily is because they already know that the other person is speaking in another dialect.

To quote Eleanor Harz Jorden:

Doesn’t this mean, then, that the student of Japanese might just as well ignore accent? Not at all! The fact that two different accents are sometimes acceptable, does not mean that any accent at all is permitted. (Some native speakers of English say ‘dry cléaning’ and others say “drý cleaning,” but no speaker says ‘dry cleaníng.’).

Pronunciation may seem discouragingly complicated at the beginning, but with perseverance, it will soon become surprisingly easy. After all, it is a finite system that can be learned much more quickly than all the structural patterns and vocabulary that must be mastered - and once learned will affect everything you say in Japanese - forever! Faulty pronunciation will strain the imagination and grate on the ears of every Japanese who must listen to you. Accurate pronunciation, on the other hand, will contribute immeasurably to smooth communication. Efforts expended on pronunciation are well rewarded!

My suggestions are:

  • Dogens pitch accent course
  • Anki decks with words, you say the word, record yourself, and check if you uttered with the right accent. Move on to sentences when you feel comfortable. If possible, get native sound to go with the cards.
  • Output! Get a teacher, or a tutoring native speaker (these exist on, and get them to correct you. You are trying to learn how to speak, but you can not master this purely by listening.

I didn’t but I do now, I had no idea that was even an option :stuck_out_tongue: I think that may be my problem is that I don’t speak enough. I think to myself a bit now and sometimes practice on my own out loud. I think my problem with getting to speak is

  1. I have Aspergers and have a hard time keeping up a conversation. Even in English I usually end up doing more listening than speaking. All the times I’ve tried in Japanese have ended up with an awkward atmosphere and me not really saying much.
  2. I don’t really have too much useful vocab outside of WaniKani, even just listening and not speaking I have a hard time understanding what’s being said and that just makes me embarassed if every time someone speaks I need to ask what they just said.

Thanks, I’ll try those suggestions. My main problem with getting a teacher is my money situation isn’t great right now :sweat_smile:
I recently joined a nice group on HelloTalk which will hopefully be a nice substitute. They seem good on correcting texts, I just hope they’ll be patient with correcting me speaking.

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Even if they are native speakers, chances are they do not know well how to correct faulty pitch. I actually had to teach my previous italki teacher how to correct me.

If money is the problem, you can do exercises on your own with the introduction from “Japanese: The Spoken Language” (free online), as long as you have the audio files (also free online on some colleges websites). Tell me if you’re interested, as I also have the audio files in “cleaner” more Anki-friendly format.


Yeah, that is rough. I am a fairly withdrawn person myself so I think I understand to some degree. Conversation is very uncomfortable for me, especially in a second language. That really scared me off from practicing talking for a long time. Also, my Japanese is pretty bad and like you said, I have to keep asking the person to explain what they said in other words.

As I understand it, there is a range of how bad Aspergers can be, right? If yours is not to the point where this idea sounds absolutely unworkable and horrible, my one thought would be maybe to see if you can find a good person to talk to. If you find the right person, they won’t mind you asking for help or being awkward with conversation. I was really lucky in finding a person who is willing to take over the conversation when I cannot find anything to say or ask and who does not mind me constantly struggling to find the right words or understand their words. It is still really awkward and stressful and even somewhat painful sometimes in a real way, but it is worth it. I am really grateful to that person. If it was someone else, who had less patience and was not willing to deal with my awkwardness and lack of ability to keep a conversation going, then I would probably have to just move on. The tough part about this idea is finding the right person. I got lucky and found them on my first try, but I think a lot of people have to go through a lot of failed conversations with the wrong people first to get there which would be really tough for me, and, I imagine, much more tough for you. Some people have suggested trying to get on an app where you can exchange written messages with people first. That might give you a way to over time figure out if that is a person you can practice speaking with in a low stress way before having to deal with a real, out loud conversation.

Anyway, if that idea sounds awful, maybe you could try talking to yourself, as weird as that sounds. I do that sometimes, and it seems to help me a bit. Also, shadowing along with native content (trying to speak along with the native) can be good practice too I think.


Sure, you’ll be understood from context most of the time. It’s just, you’ll sound like an obvious foreigner, switching from regional variation to regional variation all the time. Or inventing new ones that don’t exist at all in any regional dialect.


Yea there is a range, I’m considered more on the higher functioning side but it still does affect me greatly. I think I’m going to take your advice and try finding that right person and not trying to jump into a voice call too soon. A bit of an issue I’ve had with quite a few people is that I spend most of my time indoors, I’m not really an outgoing person. I find staying inside more peaceful and relaxing than going out all the time. As such I find I have a hard time getting a good conversation with people who do. I can go on and on about my programmings skills, video games, movies, anime, manga, etc. It seems like people with those similar interests are rare on HelloTalk so I’ve had a quite a share of dud conversations.


I already sound like a foreigner before I even open my mouth. :slightly_smiling_face:

Honestly, I learnt the pitch accent like this: week two of class at university, “This is the pitch accent, it’s very important”, then about six or eight examples of how the assorted types sound. It was not mentioned again, ever, not once in three years. The lesson I took home from this is either (a) I’m such a prodigy at Japanese that I somehow inherently understood the pitch accent without realising I was, or (b) it’s not really as important as they initially made it out to be. Since I consider option (a) to be fairly unlikely…

Of course, it’s entirely possible the correct answer is (c) the lecturers just wanted to rubber-stamp us and send us on our way, cringing internally the entire time, but considering how strict they were in other areas, I find that less likely than option (a). :grinning:


Whether “very important” is accurate depends on your goals. It’s not literally critical for being understood in most cases. It can occasionally cause confusion, but that’s something you can overcome in face-to-face communication.


i can’t +1 this enough. Dogen’s course is outstanding & goes into a great level of depth without ever making it overwhelming, and if you have aspergers @RysingDragon , i think you’ll appreciate the structural way he’s laid it out. he treats it very much as a system with rules that can be learned & executed. YMMV, cuz if you’ve met one person on the spectrum you’ve met… one person on the spectrum… but an aspie friend of mine also studying Japanese said worked well for them.

there are a number of the videos available on his youtube channel if you want to try it out first or can’t afford to subscribe to support the full series on his Patreon. (although it’s only $10/month, and even though the whole series isn’t done yet, you can chew through the videos he does have out pretty dang quick, so it’s an amazingly good value!)

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I think pitch accent is mainly important in being understood. If you find yourself misunderstood a lot and everything else seems to be okay, then maybe it’s time to work on pitch accent. But if you are consistently understood, then maybe you don’t have a problem.

In English, many people speaking it as a second language will put the accent on the wrong syllable sometimes and it will sound funny but be otherwise understandable. But in prioritizing faults to correct, I’d rank it below vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. Once someone is at the level of speaking with the right words in the right order, only then might I think about correcting their intonation, but probably only if there was some confusion, or if they wanted me to.

All that to say, I don’t find it to be the first thing I’d work on (though I understand Dogen has a different point of view). And having said that, I am interested in Dogen’s course.

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I think we all are forgetting a highly efficient and effective resource that’s also not that far from “home”. EtoEto! Come on it’s like the best way to practice your accent because it allows you to shadow and pick up on situational changes to pronunciation through various scripts. Doesn’t hurt that you also get to brush up on your reading skills, vocabulary and pretty much your comprehension as a whole. I’m telling ya Tofugu… They got you covered. Even the guide to using EtoEto is so uplifting and motivating. I would definitely at least try it out after reading the guide.

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another thought occurred to me– if you’re not super outgoing, have you considered looking into online Japanese communities that communicate mostly in text? there’s an awful lot of Japanese programmers in the world. it’s good to play to your strengths and interests, so if you’re trying to improve at Japanese, grammar and being able to form a casual sounding, natural sentence might be higher priority for you to work on than pitch accent if you’re not super outgoing or have difficulty warming up to voice calls. those relationships can be good in both directions, because i think there are a lot of Japanese speakers with interests similar to yours who themselves may not be the most outgoing or most likely to put themselves out there on a live voice-style language exchange site. you could try Lang-8 for that, since it’s more geared towards text! best of luck!

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I think I’ve decided what I’m going to do from these comments and researching a bit more online. I’m going to try and improve my conversational ability first so that I can have good, natural conversations in Japanese. Once I’m able to do that, and if it turns out to be something that really needs working on at that point in time, I’ll take a look at these suggestions once again. I think I was getting way too ahead of myself and thinking it was something I absolutely needed in order to progress further (I’m a very long way away from that stage).

I’ve seen his first video and it was really nice, but as I said earlier I’ll save that for another time.

I think I read somewhere on these forums there’s a place where there’s Japanese discord gaming servers advertised. I think I’d rather join that since I’m more familiar with Discord and it has a more comfortable and casual feel than what Lang-8 has.


I second Discord for practicing speech if you play any games. When no conversation or a conversation of no interest or relevance to me is going, I am practically a mute. I’m just simply not an idle conversationalist. Discord is great because you not only ensure that you’re going to be communicating with people of similar interests and possible backgrounds, but you’ll also have an active reason to talk since, even if you’re playing a single player game, hopping into a voice channel and discussing what you’re doing or your opinion of the game is an easy conversation to start.

I met a lot of my Japanese gaming friends through Discord. :smiley:


Well sure, if it was available… Wait, is it available? [checks] Nope, still “coming soon”.

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I started a course at edx called “Japanese Pronunciation for Communication”, and I really like it so far. I finished the first part, and it’s been mostly about pitch accent. It’s free.