Good question Nathan. Pronounciation can be tough. For most "vowel combinations" in Japanese, you just basically say them together, and in order. For example:
あい (AI) would go A-I like in the English words "Knife" or "Bite" or "Try."
いあ (IA) would go I-A I'm struggling to think of an English equivalent, but think of Schwarzenegger saying "Here," it sounds like (phonetically) "Heeya"
いえ (IE) would go I-E a good example of how this is pronounced can be found in the Pronounciation Lesson . There is a sound for the word IE which means house.
I think you can notice the pattern. The combinations are pronounced by simply saying the sounds in order and together. There are a few exceptions to this rule. There are two combinations that form what we call Double Vowel Sounds. This is also explained in the Pronounciation Lesson, but I will run through it here:
えい (EI) makes the same sound as ええ (EE)
Ex. けいこ (KEIKO) -a girls name えいご (EIGO) - English Language へいせい (HEISEI) - The current period in Japan
おう (OU) makes the same sound as おお (OO)
Ex. おとうさん (OTOUSAN) - Father とうふ (TOUFU) - Tofu だいとうりょう (DAITOURYOO) - President (of a country)
arigatou gozaimasu Thanks for the examples in the answer. I read thru the pronounciation before I had a clue about anything. Now that I'm trying to remember more vocab words it seems I've forgotten those simple rules of pronouciation. Sometimes it seems the more I learn the more I forget. Oh well, I guess I should spend less time reading posts and more time on lessons. (^-^)
no diphthongs Yes, the wonderful thing about Japanese is that you pronounce all the vowels you see, with the exception of おう and えい, but those are easy anyway. They don't make a third, unrelated sound like they sometimes do in English.
double vowels (again) in the first lesson from the hiragana lessons there is an example of many (おおい） and to chase (おう) But they seem to sound the different. You can hear the O and U distinctly in the chase example. Is this always the case or am I hearing things?
romaji spellings I was wondering how romaji worked then as they use such a funny notations. Cos they can use ou and o~ (not sure how to type in that st8 line) But now its one less sound to remember. Much simplier now less sounds to know but means you have to memorize the spellings more!
And I would reinforce that suggestion, by encouraging anyone not to get stalled on romaji, but instead abandon it and memorize all the hiragana and katakana as soon as possible. I really only have one use for romaji, and that's knowing which letters correspond to the hiragana, so I can type in Japanese on the computer. Even though it may be hard to resist moving on in the lessons, I suggest taking a break and spending a few days or even couple weeks learning all the characters. The nice thing about YesJapan, is that they've provided a very easy way to accomodate this with the various reading versions.
never touch romaji! I never touch romaji unless I have to. Yerky stuff. Problem is that even Kanji dictionarys use romaji. And a Japanese reader book I have first introduced kana and in the kanji section used romaji! And as Mr Dog said you need it to type sometimes. Loads of questions and answers on here are in it so need it then. I don't recognise words written in romaji its really werid.
I find that by being selective with resources, one can significantly reduce the amount of unwanted romaji influence in their student life. One of my favorite's is Kodansha's pocket kanji guide. Or should I say....
It has 1006 kanji and a lot of compounds, but most importantly no romaji.
My electronic dictionary (wordtank) doesn't appear to have a romaji function, not that I've noticed anyway. Probably most don't; not sure though.
A very functional online dictionary which allows you to search in a romaji-less environment is wwwjdic. I mention this because it is free and available to everyone. http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html for anyone who has yet to discover it.
The answers on this site I'm sure are given in both romaji and hiragana so not to exclude any student. Myself, I make a personal effort just to read the hiragana though. Romaji is really just an elementary learning device. Outside of words that have already been adopted into the English language (like the word 'kanji' itself) I only use romaji for names in an English conversation, and absolutely never in a Japanese conversation (except of course to input the words in the first place).