8/April/2023 in Tokyo
"Why are the Japanese so bad at English pronunciation?"
This is the question every single Japanese person wonders at least 6996 times in their lifetime
Will write my personal view
Looking up online or books, always this reason comes up
Or, actually only this reason shows up
"English has many sounds that Japanese doesn't have, so that Japanese people can't recognise/listen & re-produce/speak"
While I totally agree with it, this rather superficial, rather ordinary, rather un-inspiring reason never satisfied me
Seeing an absolutely terrible level of English pronunciation from Japanese people(I include myself here), I always thought there must be some other, more fundamental, more deep-rooted reason
Something coming from their internal, morbid mindset
First, why are the Japanese sounds much simpler than English?
In my view, one of the reasons is the number of letters available
English has only 26 letters (alphabet) and this is all what can be used to make a word
So that English made use of sound & accent to differentiate each words
On the other hand, Japanese has 50 letters (Hiragana/Katakana), plus countless number of Kanji (Chinese character, at least 6000 ~)
Enormous number of letters available for composing a word
So that Japanese didn't rely on sound or accent to differentiate
"A few sounds. Many letters"
This feature produced a lot of "same sound, but different spelling & meaning" words
This is called "homophones" and Japanese relatively has many homophones
Then, the next question is, how can the Japanese differentiate homophones during a conversation?
When they speak/listen, they always imagine the written form (how it's written in Kanji) in their brain
It's all a subconscious activity and probably hard to understand for non-Japanese speakers
But through this, they avoid mixing up
And actually they do it all the time
When they meet someone for the first time & exchange their name, they often ask how the name is written in Kanji
Because only with sound, like "(My name is) Akane Tanabe", it's difficult for them to memorise
But if the written form is explained, it's far easier to memorise
Kanji are visually oriented letters, and visual information makes it easier to memorise
Up until now it's clear that Japanese language puts a great importance on "how a word is written" rather than "how a word sounds"
And this feature of the language inevitably affected the mindset of its users/the Japanese
And I'm nearly certain that, with another feature of Japanese language which I'm going to explain next, Japanese people almost have disdain or contempt toward word sound
What is "another feature"?
It is the total absurdity of Kanji sound
Think about an English word, 'dog'
Each letters: d, o, g
And the combined one: dog
Sound of these 2 are not too different
At least we can guess how the combined one should sound like based on each letters in English, such as;
r, a, i, n => rain
s, m, a, r, t => smart
It means sound is attached to each letters
On the other hand, Kanji inherently doesn't have any sound
Any Kanji, 小, 雨, 人, 三 etc..., the Japanese can pronounce these Kanji just because they know its sound
If they don't know, they can't pronounce
Not to mention, they can't guess
Because sound isn't attached to Kanji
Kanji shows only its meaning
Other example is "昨日"
This word can be pronounced as in "Kinou" or "Sakujitsu"
But either way it doesn't really matter, as long as its meaning is conveyed
So technically, "昨日" could be pronounced as in "Tokyo", "Kyoto", "Neko", "Geisha" or whatever
"昨日" is just one of the numerous Kanji that has multiple, unfixed pronunciations
Kanji sound is totally random & totally ambiguous
So far, 2 things became clear
1 ― Written form (how a word is written) plays a big role in Japanese language
2 ― Sound is less, far far far less important, in Kanji
Considering these overly dependent attitudes on the written form in the language, Japanese people must have an extremely low interest & an extremely low attentiveness to word sounds
Or, they simply can't understand an importance of word sounds
And in my view, this corrupted mentality of Japanese people (again, including myself🤭) must affect their English pronunciation
Thinking about "Japanese is very much writing-oriented language", some other things could be explained;
― Why the Japanese puts a great importance on lyrics rather than melody in pop songs
― Why calligraphy is such a big culture here
― Why the Japanese finds it very important to have a good hand-writing (Many of them think "Westerners" have a very bad hand-writing)
― Why Twitter (text-based social media) has been so popular in Japan
― Why voice message is not popular among the Japanese
― Why the Japanese have such a low communication skills
― Why the Japanese are such a morbid communication phobia
― Why the Japanese have such a morbid avoidant attitude with an interaction with others