It is a common goal among many students enrolled in a Japanese lesson in Singapore to become so fluent in speaking the language that they can easily blend in with native speakers. Of course, this challenge is best tackled last as it is more important to overcome the fundamentals such as grammar, kanji, and so on. However, if you are ready to take your fluency to the next level, read on to learn the simple strategy for speaking beautiful and native-sounding Japanese.
The Fundamentals of The Japanese Accent
Fortunately, Japanese pronunciation is not as difficult compared to, say, Chinese or other languages. As such, it tends to be overlooked during beginner studies, but putting it aside for later makes it more difficult for students to get to grips with it. Thus, getting started with accent training as early as possible is vital so you get used to new sounds in Japanese.
A native accent, regardless of language, is a combination of pronunciation and intonation. Pronunciation means making the sound of a letter or word with your voice, while intonation is the rise and fall of your voice when speaking.
In Japanese, intonation involves a distinct rise and fall when speaking resembles the shape of a hill. In other words, it typically starts the sentence low, goes up quickly, and slowly falls back down at the end. This is what sounds natural for native Japanese speakers. Another key aspect of Japanese intonation is how they are used with individual words. For instance, the emphasis is on the “a” when saying 雨 (ame, rain), while “me” takes the spotlight in あめ (ame, candy). In short, one can easily differentiate between two words with the same sounds yet mean different things depending on where the word is accented.
How Shadowing Helps Improve Your Accent
So how can you work on these two areas to sound like a native Japanese speaker? The most effective strategy that advanced language learners recommend is shadowing. This process involves trying to replicate what a native speaker says as closely as possible when you hear it. Japanese learners of any skill level can work on this skill to train their accents. Below are the five key steps to shadowing:
1. Find an audio clip or video that suits your skill level. Beginners can start with short, 1-2 minute conversations until they are more confident to move up to longer and more complex conversations.
2. Listen to the audio a few times and focus specifically on how the speakers say each word or phrase when listening.
3. If there is an audio transcript, make sure to read it as it provides a learning opportunity to pick up new vocabulary and grammar. Following along with the transcript while listening to the audio and taking notes on how the speakers accentuate words or phrases makes this exercise more effective.
4. Once you are comfortable with what the speaker is saying, you can start shadowing by reading aloud while playing the audio. Do your best to follow their pronunciation and intonation and repeat this until you say all the words without pausing the audio and when you feel like you nailed the accent.
It is best to review each audio clip until you can truly match the speaker’s words. And as a reminder, the goal of shadowing is not to understand 100% of the audio but rather to match your pronunciation and intonation with that of the native speakers in the audio. Learning new slang, vocabulary, and grammar while shadowing is just icing on the cake.
Take it slow whenever you are shadowing to give yourself time to fully process the inflection and cadence of the native speakers. Most importantly, be patient when just starting as it takes time to get used to. Once you become more familiar with the process, you can progress more easily and faster.
Whether perfecting your accent, polishing up on advanced grammar concepts, or any other goal, you can get all the help you need at Japanese Explorer. We provide AJALT-accredited Japanese classes taught by native speakers who use personalised teaching methods to help you learn Japanese in Singapore in record time. For more information and scheduling of our Japanese course in Singapore, feel free to contact us anytime!