Tongue twisters are a fun and memorable way to challenge your language skills. In English, tongue twisters like, “she sells seashells at the seashore” can provide a laugh-out-loud hilarious challenge for a group of people. But can these wordplays be employed as a language learning tool? In fact, are tongue twisters the best way to learn Japanese pronunciation?
If you aim to supplement your old learning materials for Japanese pronunciation, tongue twisters are a great option. Many learners have proven the effectiveness of tongue twisters to learn Japanese. Plus, your Japanese teacher or Japanese friends will be astounded when you bust out a tricky Japanese tongue twister! Here’s our argument as to why these tricky phrases might be the best way to learn Japanese pronunciation as well as a list of some of our favorite Japanese tongue twisters.
Are Tongue Twisters the Best Way to Learn Japanese Pronunciation?
In Japanese, tongue twisters are called 早口言葉 (はやくちことば), which translates to “fast mouth words.” Using tongue twisters may just be the best way to learn Japanese pronunciation because of two major reasons:
1. Tongue Twisters Build a Good Foundation for Japanese Pronunciation
Tongue twisters help you develop a good spoken foundation for the language. Since it’s always difficult to correctly pronounce all the words in a tongue twister, focusing on difficult parts can help you in learning pronunciation basics in a fun way that doesn’t feel like a chore.
Initially, you may find it challenging to pronounce the words correctly. However, with consistent use of tongue twisters, you can distinguish the different words that have similar pronunciations but different meanings. In other words, when you encounter difficult parts in a tongue twister, you can easily sharpen your Japanese pronunciation skills with time.
2.Tongue Twisters Help You Learn Japanese by Making Mistakes
When learning a new language, you’ll always make mistakes when pronouncing a couple of words! This is just part of the language-learning process, and it specifically applies to when using tongue twisters to learn Japanese.
During the first days, you’ll make significant pronunciation mistakes. Don’t let that discourage you! With consistent use of tongue twisters, you’ll reduce such mistakes. To effectively learn Japanese pronunciation, you’ll need to embrace your mistakes as part of the learning process. And don’t get discouraged; these tongue twisters are often difficult even for native Japanese speakers!
The Top 6 Tongue Twisters to Learn Japanese
To effectively use tongue twisters to learn Japanese, you need to practice them. Here are our top 6 Japanese tongue twisters to try and master.
1. 生麦生米生卵 (なま むぎなまごめなまたまご) – Raw wheat, raw rice, raw eggs
This tongue twister talks about a pretty basic subject covered when your first learn Japanese vocabulary: Japanese food. It’s amazing to visit Japan due to the variety of delicacies offered in the country, so bolstering these terms is a good idea. With the popularity of these foods in Japanese menus, their use in a tongue twister presents a perfect way to master their Japanese pronunciation.
When visiting Japanese restaurants, you need to know when things are 生 (なま) raw, especially if you have dietary restrictions. Take note of the following 漢字 that represent staple foods:
- 麦 (むぎ – mugi – wheat)
- 米 (ごめ – gome – rice, uncooked)
- 卵 (たまご – tamago – egg)
If you don’t eat wheat products, remember to ask the hotel attendants; “麦が入っていますか?” (むぎがはいっていますか?), or “is there wheat in this?”
2. 赤巻紙、黄巻紙、青巻紙 (あかまきがみきまきがみあおまきがみ) – Red Scroll, Yellow Scroll, Blue Scroll
This tongue twister describes a clerk with scrolls. This takes place in the old Japan days, and the Japanese scrolls are related to the concept of an eternal loop. The red scrolls (赤巻紙 - あかまきがみ - akamakigami), yellow scrolls (黄巻紙 - きまきがみ - kimakigami), and blue scrolls (青巻紙 - あおまきがみ - aomakigami) keep reappearing as the clerk sorts them. They keep flashing in the format あかまき がみきまきがみ あおまきがみ, あかまきがみ きまきがみ あおまきがみ…
Here, you need to take note of the frequent k sound in the pronunciations. If you accomplish that, reading and speaking normal Japanese sentences becomes easier. For example, the phrase “it was not warm” in is “暖かくなかった” (あたたかくなかった - atatakaku nakatta), with plenty of k’s.
3. バスガス爆発 (バスガスばくはつ) – Bus Gas Explosion
To effectively learn Japanese pronunciation using this tongue twister, you first need to split the words. This translates to バス (basu - bus), ガス (gasu - gas), and 爆発 (bakuhatsu - explosion). Next, you need to practice repeating this without having to look at the text. Because “bus” and “gas” are English derivatives, this should be fairly easy. Remember to keep the “a” sounds short!
Apart from that, you need to note the pace at which you pronounce these words. As we’ve said, tongue twisters in Japanese are called “fast mouth words.” Repeat each word three times and much faster to effectively learn them.
4. 隣りの客はよく柿食う客だ (となりのきゃくはよくかきくうきゃくだ) – The guest next door eats a lot of persimmons
In this somehow complex tongue twister, you need to take note of the reading of the kanji 食, or “くう” (kuu), meaning “eat.” If you’ve been studying kanji for a while, you may recognize this kanji as “た” of “食べる” (to eat). This tongue twister employs the other, less polite pronunciation “kuu,” for the sake of the rhyme.
When practicing this tongue twister, you may encounter a bit of challenge since you’re required to move your mouth quickly between the sounds “か” (ka) and “きゃ –” (kya). For proper Japanese pronunciation this distinction must be nice and clean. This is sometimes a challenge for native English speakers learning Japanese.
Some other examples include:
- キャッシュカード (きゃっしゅかーど - kyasshi kaado) – cash card
- キャンセル (きゃんせる - kyanseru) – cancel; cancellation
- キャラクター (きゃらくたー - kyarakutaa) – character
- キャスト ( きゃすと) – cast
5. 李も桃も桃のうち (すもももももももものうち) – Both Plums and Peaches Are Members of the Peach Family
Once they’ve been studying Japanese for a while, many people feel it’s easier to read 漢字 (kanji) than かな (kana)? With proper strategies, you can conveniently learn hiragana and katakana first, but kanji, the Chinese-derived pictographic character language, is ultimately more convenient for a variety of reasons. Research shows that a typical Japanese person knows about 2,000 kanji.
It’s quite hectic reading out a plain kana if presented in a string of eight もs, as illustrated in this tongue twister! You can’t understand the meaning of the sentence by reading the hiragana alone. Also, you can’t tell where the next word begins or ends. To read such sentences, you need to know the words presented.
We can break down these words as follows:
- 李 (すもも - sumomo) – plum/s
- も - mo – “also” particle
- 桃 (もも- momo) – peach/es
- も – “also” particle
- 桃 (もも - momo) – peach
- の うち -no uchi– the group/ family of
6. 丹羽の庭には二羽鶏俄にワニを食べた (にわのにわにはにわにわとりにわかにわにをたべた) – In Mr. Niwa’s Garden, Two Chickens Suddenly Ate a Crocodile
This tongue twister describes an alarming incident in Mr. Niwa’s garden. Out of nowhere, as a crocodile relaxed in the garden, two chickens emerged and ate it! The original version of this complicated tongue twister was: 庭には二羽鶏がいる (にわにはにわにわとりがいる – there are two chickens in the garden), but this longer version presents a more memorable plot.
To understand this tongue twister, we can break it down as follows:
- 丹羽 (にわ - niwa) – family name, imagine there’s a さん affixed, so Mr. or Mrs. Niwa
- の - no – ‘s (possessive)
- 庭 (にわ - niwa) – garden
- には - niwa – preposition, in/ at
- 二羽 (にわ - niwa) – counter for birds
- 鶏 (にわとり - niwatori) – chickens
- 俄に (にわかに - niwakani) – suddenly
- ワニ (わに - wani) – crocodile/ alligator
- を- o – this particle marks the direct object of a sentence
- 食べた -tabeta – ate
This tongue twister is more legible in kanji than the plain format of kana. If this tongue twister receives further exploration, a significant number of homonyms and near-homonyms emerge. You can watch this tongue twister video from Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com for a spoken example.
Improve Your Japanese Pronunciation Game Today!
So, are Japanese tongue twisters the best way to learn Japanese pronunciation? We’re not sure, but they’re definitely a creative and fun way to practice! Navigating these tongue twisters can improve your Japanese pronunciation skills immensely.
Remember that to effectively learn Japanese, you need to practice it constantly. Take your speaking to the next level through speechling.com, a nonprofit language-learning platform that focuses on speaking and pronunciation. We’ve also got tons of other fascinating articles on Japanese specifically, including this articles on the best way to learn Japanese if you're busy or on the difference between Japanese onyomi and kunyomi.
Keep practicing, and don’t give up until you can say those tongue twisters like a native!
Can't get enough of tongue twisters in general? Expand to other languages! Tongue twisters are an efficient way to learn languages and an excellent way to practice the pronunciation "muscle." See our articles about Spanish tongue twisters and Chinese tongue twisters for more examples.