However, I think language should sound beautifully like music. Clean, clear and fluent speaking language sounds like a beautiful melody to me. Maybe studying intonation and accent are the second phase of learning language.
I'm studying English. I'm Japanese native. English pronunciation is very difficult for me. But I want to speak correctly. That's because I know how beautiful English sounds like. So does Japanese. I don't want to pressure any Japanese learners, but I'd like them to know how Japanese sounds beautifully. I don't deny dialects. I love dialects. I want to speak both beautifully.
As I wrote, I wouldn't say everyone should study Japanese intonation. However, I wouldn't accept the idea that you don't have to care about Japanese intonation.
I think that it is inevitable that, in imitating what we hear, we imitate the pitch. I also think that the kind of video Alexandre has created makes us more aware of pitch, regardless of what method we use to acquire the pitch.
Pitch-accent, or pitch-stress, is a fairly well-defined and studied linguistic phenomenon, so we can make statements about it. Whether they're helpful for learners is another matter entirely.
"Be aware of it. That's it."
This I very much agree with. That's sort of the opinion I took when I began Japanese. Be aware of it, but don't have any real ambition of nailing it down.
@Ken, how about people like Dave Spector? Does his 高低アクセント sound natural to you?
For me, when other foreigners are speaking Japanese, I find some people very difficult to understand and other people are easy. I'm not entirely sure what the difference is. It's not consonants and vowels (usually), but intonation and importing intonation patterns from their native language. Steve, for example, I find extremely clear and easy to understand. But, since I mostly listen to Japanese speakers, I wonder if incorrect pitch-stress in the non-natives' speech throws me off sometimes.
That said, I would say that awareness of pitch/intonation is probabaly the only feature of pronunciation I would consider teaching (EG if it came up in a lesson on vocabulary).
As far as pronunciation goes, I used to do a course based around discrete listening points, things like the voicing of "t" intervocalically in NA English, words like "city" (siddy) and so forth. Also, things like syllabic "n" in words like "eaten". And even just basic linking. I found that most students made it through many years of study without becoming aware of these things. I focused on listening and understanding, not producing. Doing these sorts of discrete point listening activities seemed to help them advance into understanding natural English. At the very least, they became aware of these phenomena, and hopefully that awareness was helpful in increasing their ability to comprehend.
You can make the argument that massive amounts of listening and reading would make students aware of these things without anyone consciously pointing them out, and that's true for some people, but I still think our "ability to notice" needs to be helped along. There are so many English learners who get to a reasonably advanced level in some respects, but are completely hopeless at understanding natural speech, largely because they haven't listened to very much of it. Somehow, I don't think this happens very much with Japanese learners.
And as far as English is concerned, that's not bad advice. Stress is pretty obvious -- the vowel is louder, often longer, it stands out -- it sticks out even. It's not a complex system, it has no effect on other words, and it never changes. Not only that, but if you remember the vowels right, you can often predict the stress. But if you get the stress wrong, we'll still understand you. After all, there are few minimal pairs in writing (like record, advocate, etc.) and virtually none if you only consider pronunciation. Yet, we teach it, we correct it, we tell students to pay attention to it. Why? Because it sounds better to us. It's easier to understand. The speaker gives off a better impression. If you get stress wrong AND make another error in pronuncing the word, you've made the word twice as hard to understand. Get the stress right, and you can screw up half the sounds, we'll still understand.
The same applies to Japanese. If all learners studied pitch, they would sound nicer, there would be less misunderstandings. But if they don't, it's not the end of the world.
However, we treat Japanese pitch and English stress completely differently. Almost nobody teaches pitch. A quick mention at the beginning of a book, at best, and nada mas. Why is that? In an effort to simplify things for learners of a language that is already very challenging, we've deprived them of information that could make their Japanese clearer, prettier and easier to understand.
While you can tell an English learner than they can just listen and copy, unfortunately, you can't say that for Japanese. Pitch is a lot more subtle, it's affected by neighbouring words and it moves to other morae depending on certain factors (verb endings, etc.). It's more subtle, more volatile and more complex: it requires an explanation. But because it's harder, we just say it's not important. Truth is, it's just more convenient that way.
Learners of Japanese can't just listen and learn pitch. They don't. They can't. It just doesn't happen. It's not impossible that someone who lives in Japan for years may be able to do it with conscious effort, but we know this is exceptionally rare. For the vast majority of students, including people living in Japan, to listen and copy simply isn't a credible option.
I think this is valuable information. I think it's an important part of the language and should be taught, and all students of Japanese should be given access to it. As learners, we can choose to ignore it, but we should be able to make that choice for ourselves.
End of rant ;)
I think we have had a few native Japanese in this thread say this is not true.
Azusa said: "I think learners who learn to pronounce all the sounds well get the pitch wrong."
And Ken, answering Bortrun’s question (Have you heard foreigners speaking with what you thought was really natural pitch/intonation?), said "Yes, I have. But not many."
I've been arguing that stress-timing in English and pitch-stress in Japanese are reasonably equivalent. I'm not sure I accept the argument that the English stress system is simple. Nevertheless, point taken. The question is, how do you "teach" the pitch-stress system, and it is possible to "learn" it. The question of how you "teach" stress-timing in English is also a question. I do know, however, that you can't do it in the absence of massive amounts of listening.
I haven't heard you speaking at length in Japanese, so I don't know what you sound like, but, if you can judge your own ability, do you believe that you speak with natural pitch-stress patterns? I don't believe that I speak with natural pitch-stress. I've listened to my own voice and I think I sound pretty obviously like a foreigner (which I'm fine with). I've asked people to analyze my pitch, and they say it's fine, although a little flat, kind of like a younger person. That may be because I worked in high schools, but probably also because I decided early on to deliberately try to use a more-or-less flat pitch. Have you had someone analyze your accent?
I think you are not getting all the comments from native speakers on this question, and to some extent you are taking them out of context.
As a rant, it is fine.. but I can't say that it is a serious proposition based on my pretty significant contact with Japanese people.
Dave Spector is pretty nice. But he uses too much up'n'downs sometimes. He also stress words. Basically, Japanese doesn't have stress accents.
Peter Barakan is very nice and fluent. Almost native level. Robert Cambell is also very good.
The Enka Singer, Jero is incredible. His Japanese is native level.
I suppose it depends on whether it truly can pay dividends later on. I question whether having perfect pitch really does do that. Would Schwarzenegger have been more famous and successful if he had adopted a perfect American accent? Would Jean Chretien (three-term Canadian prime minister) have been a more successful politician if he had gotten rid of his accent? I only see a benefit to a perfect accent and pitch in areas such as interpreting and intelligence work. For anyone else there is a certain tolerable range: speaking English with a charming accent is a great way to make friends without effort, speaking it with a nearly unintelligible accent and embarrassing pronunciation (always mixing up beach and bitch, sit and shit and sheet and seat) is not acceptable.
If I get back to spending time on Japanese, I would mostly be motivated to learn the kind of vocabulary that would enable me to enjoy more literature. I would read books of interest and listen to audio books. I would perhaps pay more attention to pitch while listening. Mostly, though, I am interested in increasing my vocabulary and my ability to express myself.
"… Korean, which is accentless, like French."
BTW and a little bit off topic, French is not accentless. Stress in French is always on the last pronounced syllabe of the word and on the last word of a sentence. But it is true that this is not very important, a stress on another part of the word makes French only a little more "singing" or exotic; in Switzerland and in Belgium, there is sometimes a pitch too (for example: in Belgium: BONjour (H-L), vs in France: bonJOUR (L-H), but in both cases stress is on 'jour'). Politicians often tend to stress words on the first syllabe, to emphasize what they are saying. In theatre schools though, students learn to stress the words correctly (on the last syllabe).
In Hungarian and Czech, stress is as a rule always on the first syllabe. Is it in these languages also intonation, not accent?
"I found it interesting and informative, in that in all the years I've lived here in Japan I have never approached this subject in an academic fashion. [...] unless you live in Japan and are exposed to Japanese people speaking constantly, it is really hard to get your ears accustomed to local pronunciation, so for the vast majority of foreign learners of Japanese the sort of information you're providing is really valuable.
I personally acquired my Japanese speaking ability after moving here, although I did have the added advantage of having studied the language in university. I found myself making pronunciation and/or intonation errors all the time, and worked intensely to correct them as soon as I became aware I was doing something wrong. Even so it can be so hard to self-detect these things, and even now I am very appreciative when someone brings an error to my attention."
He also mentioned this:
“I think the reason why people struggle so much with these issues is that we all concentrate so much on visual input. This certainly applies to Japanese people trying to learn English. I don't know how many hundreds of times I have pronounced musicians' names correctly on the radio, but nobody seems to get it until a magazine, on a very rare occasion, prints the correct katakana transliteration, rather than the usual garbage. I sometimes wonder whether anyone actually switches their ears on....”
As per Ken's suggestion, I went and listened to Peter Barakan, and of course he sounds extremely fluent and natural. I then went and listened to Dave Spector, and yeah, compared to Barakan, his Japanese did seem a bit "off" somehow. I hadn't noticed that before, but then again, I never listened to Spector much, and probably haven't heard him in years.
The real question here is there anything that learners can deliberately do in order to better pick up pitch-accent. Being aware of it is step 1, but what is step 2? I look forward to hearing your ideas.
And if, as is my case, they travel to various areas of Japan and are naturally influenced by what they hear, it is possible that they will not exhibit the pitch pattern of any one region. The same is true of most of my languages. I find that whereas our native language is hard wired, we are easily influenced by regional accents in our other languages. If I spend some time in Quebec or Le Midi, or Portugal or Brazil, or Mexico or Spain, or Taipei or Beijing this will have major influences on my accent.