Pronouncing Romaji

Japanese didn't originally use Latin letters, so there are multiple ways of writing Japanese using Latin letters (romanji). Most words spelled using a system of romanji can be sounded out to a reasonable degree of accuracy. Here are some quick rules to help out:

  1. Vowels:
    • "a" sounds like the "a" in "father",
    • "i" like the "ee" in "feet"
    • "u" like the "oo" in "mood"
    • "e" like the "e" in "met"
    • "o" like the "o" in "fort"
    • double vowels are simply held out longer
  2. Consonants:
    Most consonants are pronounced as they would be in an English word, with the following exceptions.

    • "g" is always hard, as in "gift", NEVER soft, as it would be in "vegetable"
    • "ch" is always pronounced as in "chair", NEVER like the "ch" in either "charade" or "character"
    • The "f" in "fu" sounds like a cross between "f" and "h"
    • There are two types of "n" in Japanese. The "n" in the syllables "na", "ni", "nu", "ne", "no" sound like an English speaker would expect them to, but the "n" that's not followed by a vowel is counted as a syllable itself, and is very nasal, almost sounding like "ng" rather than "n"
    • "r" in Japanese has nothing comparable in the English language. The best description I can give is it's somewhere between "R" and "L" with a little bit of "D" mixed in.
  3. Multiple representations:
    There are different systems of romanji. The first examples below are easiest for English speakers to read quickly, the second/third are more closely related to the Japanese character system. Pronounce the following syllables as you would pronounce the first example if it were English, with the exception of the differences noted above.

    • shi = si, sha = sya, shu = syu, sho = syo
    • ji = zi, ja = zya, ju = zyu, jo = zyo
    • chi = ti, cha = tya, chu = tyu, cho = tyo
    • tsu = tu
    • fu = hu
    • oh = oo = ou
    • ee = ei

    Note: As Japanese adapts to the influx of foreign words, some new sounds are being added, such as the English sound "ti" (pronounced like "tea"), so it can be unclear whether the romanization "ti" should be pronounced as "chi" or "tea" at times.

How Romaji is derived from the Japanese alphabets
Japanese Names and Suffixes
Fanfic Japanese Dictionary
Rurouni Kenshin: Fun with Archaic Japanese and Politeness levels

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