I've been learning Japanese for the past month and I have a few problems pronouncing the ひ sound (being a native Hebrew speaker and fluent in English I don't believe that sound exists in those languages).

I've found that sometimes I would hear (or miss hear) the sound as a shi sound like in the sentence いいひですね - I would hear iishidesune

Could anyone give me a few pointers on how to correctly pronounce this sound?

Also does this happen only on the shi sound or does it also happen with the ha, ho, he sounds ?

  • 2
    Try extending the H sound of human or humid. You will find it is different from horse or hat. That is the H sound of ひ, ひゃ, ひゅ, and ひょ. – Angelos Aug 26 '16 at 19:19
  • So it is also close to the hh sound in Hebrew? like in hanoka? – David Limkys Aug 26 '16 at 21:51

In standard Japanese, 'h' before 'i' or 'y' is pronounced a bit differently (source). In the International Phonetic Alphabet, this sound is written as [ç]. This is the sound you're hearing as kinda like a し. However, it's still distinct from し (which is pronounced as [ɕ]).

The ひ consonant, [ç], does occur in some varieties of English – e.g. British English hue; but, from looking at the Wikipedia article on Hebrew phonology, it looks like you guys don't have it. To understand Japanese, it's important that you get used to hearing the difference between these two sounds. The Google text-to-speech system you posted will do nicely; listen carefully. Notice how ひ sounds softer and closer to English 'h', whereas し sounds noisier and closer to English 'sh'.

Pronouncing this sound in a Japanese way is not vitally important. You can just use English 'he' and 'she' in your accent, and the Japanese will hear it as ひ and し. If you want to perfect your Japanese accent, try to do this: whisper the vowel /i/ forcefully, then change the whisper to the voiced vowel. (While whispering, be sure to have your tongue already in the /i/ position).

By the way, if you want to pronounce the し in a more Japanese manner, try sticking the tip of your tongue behind your lower front teeth.

  • Thank you so much! i know I wasn't just hearing things. I was looking for a way to make google translate sound it out for me, this does the trick. I really do want to (in time) perfect my accent so I'l do my best with your tips. Thanks a lot!. – David Limkys Aug 26 '16 at 21:49
  • What I recall from Japanese phonetics class was that pronouncing し could be helped by holding your lips taut instead of rounding them as you would to say "she." – Casey Aug 26 '16 at 22:25
  • @Casey: That sounds like a good tip – I'm not a native English speaker, and I don't round my shibilants even in my native Portuguese; I don't think the Japanese do it either. The "lower teeth" hint comes from the fact that English [ʃ] is distinct from Japanese [ɕ] mainly by "doming" the tongue tip up; roughly, English is like this, and Japanese like this. – melissa_boiko Aug 26 '16 at 23:15

I think you are confused and in standard Japanese (not in a dialect), the sound of ひ is very close to 'he' in 'Hebrew' or the personal pronoun 'he' in English.

You can watch the linked YouTube video to hear how it sounds. Hiragana Pronunciation Practice はひふへほ (ha hi hu he ho)

  • What you say is interesting, I might have heard a specific daialect, I also checked in google translate to check how to bot would pronounce this and it as a "hi" but when I entered the statement いいひですね I do still hear the shi sound translate.google.com/#ja/en/… – David Limkys Aug 26 '16 at 18:28
  • 1
    Isn't ふ closer to 'fu' in English? At least it sounds that way to me. – Andy Oct 7 '16 at 0:33

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