Pitch in Japanese, a few more comments.
My video on pitch in Japanese stemmed from a comment at a Forum at LingQ on the subject. Now the person who started the thread, Alex, (a compatriot I might add) has commented at Youtube and I would like to continue the discussion here at my blog.
First of all, Alex says that he enjoys studying Japanese and enjoys studying pitch and grammar. From that point of view alone, I am sure he will succeed. In language learning, rule number one is to enjoy it. People enjoy different things, different methods, different content items, and different aspects of the language.
Alex wonders why I downplay pitch and yet spend time on cases in Russian. Are they not the same? he asks. To me they are not the same. Using the wrong case in Russian may not prevent communication, but it is a mistake, it is incorrect. I have spent a long time on input, where confusion over the cases does not greatly inhibit my ability to understand, or at least not as much as my lack of vocabulary. So I have focused on vocabulary, while being aware of the cases, occasionally reviewing them but not worrying too much about them.
Now that I have a sufficient vocabulary level, and have read and listened to enough Russian, I am starting to focus on case, and I am finding it a lot easier than a year ago. Many of the cases just sound natural. So, in summary, I have always wanted to speak correctly, with correct cases, but have not let a concern about my accuracy in the use of cases prevent me from enjoying the language, and even from speaking.
Pitch in Japanese is different for two reasons.
First of all,it is different in terms of importance. I speak Japanese well and am unaware of pitch. I think it is possible for many people to speak Japanese well without knowing that pitch exists. This is not so with cases in Russian. When you make a mistake in the use of case in Russian, it is obvious, like the wrong tense, or wrong gender in other languages. When Alex or others claim that you “need” to work on pitch in order to speak well, I just cannot agree.
Second of all, I do not believe that “sounding like a native” is a realistic goal for most people. It is far more important, and far more realistic, to strive to use words and phrases like a native. I find that I respect those non-native speakers of English the most, who use words well, often better than many native speakers, but have an accent, even a pronounced accent. On the other hand, people who affect a native like accent, but have a limited vocabulary, make a much poorer impression.
I would say that to focus on pitch, is not something that I would recommend. For many people it will come naturally or it won’t. The focus should be on the language, the words and phrases the ability to comprehend and express oneself in the language. But for those, like Alex, who enjoy pitch, by all means go for it.
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