Voiced vs. Voiceless

Japanese makes a distinction between sounds that are voiced (that is, produced with vibration of your vocal folds) and those that are voiceless (produced with no vibration of your vocal folds). If you place your fingers gently on your throat when you make sounds, you can feel whether there is vibration or not. Consider, for example, the contrast between the sounds at the beginning of the English words ‘sip’ and ‘zip.’ You can feel vibrations in your throat with the first word, which begins with a voiced sound, but not the second, which begins with a voiceless sound.

Not all languages make this distinction. Speakers of languages without the voiced/voiceless distinction, like Korean or Chinese, might have trouble perceiving and/or producing the distinction between these sounds when they are first learning Japanese. Watch the videos below to enhance your knowledge of the Japanese distinction between voiced and voiceless sounds. After watching the videos, complete the Lesson Quiz on Voiced vs. Voiceless.