Hayakuchi Kotoba: Japanese Tongue Twisters

Tonguetwisters

I was watching videos on Youtube and came across a video on Japanese tongue twisters. I am terrible at tongue twisters in English (my native language) – I can just about say ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’ without messing up!

Because of this, I had shied away from tongue twisters in Japanese, but watching a video on tongue twisters made me realise that learning tongue twisters are not only fun but also useful Japanese speaking practice.

Benefits of learning tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are often seen as something for children, and therefore not worth learning as an adult. This is partly because tongue twisters were invented as a way for children to enjoy practicing tricky sounds. Similarly, TV presenters often use tongue twisters as a warm up to improve pronunciation.

There are definite benefits from practicing tongue twisters:

  • It gets you used to the sounds of Japanese which may not exist in your native language
  • You train your muscle memory on the subtle differences between similar sounds. By having to make these similar sounds so closely together within the same phrase, your mouth muscles get used to the slight changes in mouth movements required to say them effectively.
  • You learn to hear the difference between similar sounds used within the same word or phrase, eg. かく vs きゃく.
  • They are fun! Learning something silly in Japanese is bound to be more interesting and therefore easier to remember than ‘田中さんは日本人です’. Plus, even if you mess up you can be forgiven as tongue twisters are difficult for native speakers too!
  • You get bragging rights – it is pretty satisfying to finally get them right after a lot of practice (especially if you are terrible at tongue twisters like me)

 

Japanese Tongue Twisters

The Japanese term for tongue twisters is 早口言葉.

There are a whole bunch of Japanese tongue twisters out there – this Japanese website has a whole bunch for you to practice!

早口言葉

はやくちことば

Hayakuchi kotoba

Literally ‘fast mouth words’

I definitely recommend practicing these with a Japanese friend or language partner as it is great fun to share with other language learners. Alternatively, you could use HiNative or HelloTalk to record yourself and get feedback on how you did.

If like me, you do not have as much time to practice speaking, I think this is a great way of practicing the sounds of Japanese by yourself in just a few minutes every day. YouTube is a great source of audio to find people to mimic and to compare your own pronunciation against.

An example is this video by JapanesePod101, which covers some of the most well-known Japanese tongue twisters.

It is worth saying that tongue twisters do not always make perfect sense, so are not the best to use to study in depth. Here are 5 of my favorite 早口言葉 that are not featured in the JapanesePod101 video that are also popular (with very rough English translations):

 

東京特許許可局

とうきょうとっきょきょかきょく

Tokyo Patent Office

 

裏庭には二羽、庭には二羽鶏がいる

うらにわにはにわ、にわにはにわにわとりがいる

There are two chickens in the rear garden, and two chickens in the other garden

 

この猫ここの猫の子猫この子猫ね

このねこここのねこのこねここのこねこね

This kitten is the cat of the cat here, this kitten

 

隣の客はよく柿食う客だ

となりのきゃくはよくかきをくうきゃくだ

The neighbour’s guest is a guest who often eats persimmons

 

蛙ぴょこぴょこ3ぴょこぴょこ、合わせてぴょこぴょこ6ぴょこぴょこ

かえるぴょこぴょこみぴょこぴょこ、あわせてぴょこぴょこむぴょこぴょこ

The frogs jump three times, all together they jump six times

 

What is your favourite tongue twister (in Japanese or any other language)? Let me know in the comments!

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Sound more like a Japanese native with あいづち

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called 相槌/ あいづち. あいづち does not translate well into English but refers to little phrases that help to facilitate a smooth conversation in Japanese. We do use this in English too, but it is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not mean you necessarily agree with it!).

Therefore when used well, it has the double benefit of keeping the conversation going whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

The most common あいづち are  へー, うん, え, うわ,そうですね, but actually あいづち can serve several purposes:

  1. As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
  2. Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったです
  3. Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
  4. Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから

Here are some more you may hear:

さすが; なるほど ; その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

Nodding also counts as あいづち!

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful あいづち.

Line Stamp Chocotto

Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practicing conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some あいづち!

One thing to note: be careful about your use of あいづち with people senior to you, it can sound too casual.