Japanese Homophones: Making them work for you

Kawaii Japanese Language Learning

The Homophones: They're alike, and that's a good thing! The Homophones: They’re alike, and that’s a good thing!

People often say “there are so many homophones in Japanese”. And it’s true. Japanese has fewer vowel‐sounds and far fewer possible syllables than most languages. So quite a few words are pronounced the same as each other.

This can feel confusing. But it can also work for you if you approach it in the right way. First of all, homophones are rarely actually confusing in practice. How much trouble do you have in English with “to”, “too” and “two”; “know” and “no”; “lie” (fib) and “lie” (down), for example?

Homophones aren’t really a problem. And as an English speaker you are already used to them. Some languages are less tolerant of them than English. In French, for example, the word for “yes” is oui and the word for “today” used to be hui (cf. Spanish hoy, German Heute). However…

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