First of all, I am an American, and my native language is American English. My home language or first language, on the other hand, is a contour tonal language, with multiple tones, probably 4 or 5, with a logographic writing system. When I listen to the Japanese audio, I instantly pick up on the sing-songy intonation of speech and pronounce as close as possible.

From what I read on Wikipedia, native Vietnamese speakers, when pronouncing English, will really emphasize on the intonation, as if they were Vietnamese tones. I personally feel the same way. I hear tones... or at least regard the intonation of speech as having tones.

I know that Japanese is a language with a pitch-accent. But I am wondering if native Japanese speakers can pick up a distinctive accent among people whose first language contains contour tones, as opposed to people whose first language is non-tonal?

  • 1
    I found the phrase "wondering if native Japanese speakers can pick up a distinctive accent" to be ambiguous in "pick up" - I first thought it meant "acquire", but after reading an answer I realized you meant "recognize".
    – Nayuki
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 6:05

1 Answer 1


The simple answer is yes.

As an American myself, when I lived in Japan, it got to the point that I could distinguish where a person was originally from based on the way they spoke. This was particularly true of the Chinese, Philippinos, Brazilians, Americans, Australians and Koreans.

I didn't encounter many other nationalities in my stay there, but you can tell when talking with someone whose mother tongue was tonal. It was all in how they accented their words and pronounced them. That being said, I wouldn't know how to pinpoint what specifically was different, let alone be able to describe the difference.

The thing is, the better they were at Japanese, the better they got at masking their accents. So, the distinguishing really works best with people who are new to the language.

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