Q. What is Hatsuon?

A. Hatsuon means "Pronuciation" in Japanese.

Hatsuon is a phonetic system designed explicitly for teaching Japanese children from ages 5 to 15 to correctly pronunce English THROUGH READING. This is possible because Hatsuon is comprised of just 75 phonemes utilising just 7 diacritics.

There are three main elements to the Hatsuon system.

1. The Hatsuon training DVD

2. The Hatsuon hand mnemonics (hand gestures).

3. Hatsuon textbook.

Two extra tools available also.

DVD books

4. Hatsuon Flash Cards

5. Hatsuon Primer

Following a week of 10 minute daily home sessions with the Hatsuon Training DVD students are ready to begin reading and correctly pronouncing the first lessons within Hatsuon Textbook 1.

NOTE : The Hatsuon system may be used as a "stand alone" system or as a phonetic supplement to existing curricula.

The Curse of Katakana : "Herro, my namu isu Maikeru"

Despite completing more than nine years of compulsory English study most Japanese high school graduates still have, by world standards, quite poor oral skills yet they can read, write and translate (written) English admirably. It is a shame that so many cannot answer simple questions nor distinguish between "L" & "R".
The Japanese Government spends billions annually in the single largest importation of English teachers in history. These are drawn from all over the English speaking world to work in Japanese elementary and high schools. Many high school classes have both Japanese and foreign English teachers working as a team, thus doubling the cost, and still the end result falls far short of the TOEFL & TOEIC scores of countries like Korea and Malaysia. Although there are many contributing factors to this problem the main culprit is
katakana, one of the three components of written Japanese.

Katakana sabotages English
Katakana is almost identical to hiragana but katakana was devised expressly to fufill two functions...

(1) To express non-Japanese words, concepts, or words that cannot be accurately "mimicked" by the other two components; hiragana and kanji (Chinese ideograms).
(2) To "stress" a word or idea.

Katakana begins with the single sound Japanese vowels A - I - U - E - O but is largely comprised of Consonant / Vowel groups.  Examples: kA kI kU kE kO. The name 'Michael' (2 sounds in English) expressed in katakana changes to MA-i-kE-rU (4 sounds). Similarly, "cake" after passing through katakana becomes "cakee". "bowling" emerges as "bowrinGU".
Obviously, many of the thousands (literally) of English words that have been imported into Japanese will end with a spoken vowel. Japanese view this as quite normal. The only exception being the character N.

Even today many, if not most Japanese high school English teachers, still teach the katakana soundings. The Hatsuon System corrects these mistakes, breaks the "katakana habit".

More Bad News

As well as forcing the ennunciation of trailing vowels, Japanese also lacks some crucial elements essential to correct English pronunciation. There is no single "S" sound in Japanese. It is expressed as ZU.

"shoes" becomes "shoesZU'

There is no 'R' or 'V ' in Japanese.... "rice" becomes 'lice'. "video" becomes 'bideo'.


English has become the dominant world language and there are hundreds of different English accents. In a restaurant in Tokyo a man from Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A. is carrying on a conversation with a group of British, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and South Africans. Everyone seems to understand each other. This communciation is possible because the group has been exposed, through TV, movies etc. to each other's "accents", versions of English. Their minds have had time to compare and evaluate the differences and similarities and arrive at a concensus.

The Japanese government adopted American English and although there are quite a few non-American English teachers in the system, American English has the dominion along with Webster's Dictionary spellings. One wonders how a typical Japanese high school graduate would fare in the restaurant in Tokyo.

The Hatsuon System reduces the number of phonemes required for standard English around 200 to 75 this reduces student stress, produces results much sooner in acceptable, easily understood English with a neutral accent

The power of the Hatsuon system lies in how it displays and differentiates the 75 Hatsuon phonemes. This is achieved through using only 7 graphically simple"diacritics" attached to phonemes. Two letters like "O" and "U" can share the same diacritic where they both share a common sound, herein lies the simplicity.The system is surprisingly easy for students to commit to memory.

The Hatsuon Primer presents 5 Hatsuon phonemes per page at a rate of 1 ~ 3 pages per session. The current version of the Hatsuon primer (Vers. 1.01) stands at 15 actual practice pages plus an evaluation page containing the entire 80 phoneme set.

At commencement of the Hatsuon System students embark upon a 6 week program watching the Hatsuon Training DVD at home to a pre-determined viewing schedule. This is re-inforced in the classroom with Hatsuon Primer sessions, the teacher gradually increasing both reading speed and sound target fluency to the point where, in effect they are correctly reading and pronouncing an unbroken stream of English sounds.

All that remains to be done at this stage is to begin converging these sounds into words and this begins from page 5 in the Hatsuon Primer. Almost all of the words contained in the Hatsuon Textbook are introduced during the Primer phase. Why "Almost all"? Because the student will be expected to be able to read "Hatsuon flavoured" text instinctively upon completion of the Hatsuon Primer.


They most certainly can! By age 7 all Japanese children are expected to have memorised more than 200 hiragana & katakana characters PLUS a hundred or so kanji. On top of that, most will know the names of over 100 of the "Pocket Monsters" © Nintendo.

The Hatsuon System has three main components.

(1)   The Hatsuon DVD:

       The student watches this animated DVD at home over a six week period and is introduced gradually in three short, sections to the 75 Hatsuon phonemes. Each viewing session is verified by a parent stamping a form supplied specically for this purpose.
(2)   The Hatsuon Primer:

       Used concurrently with the Hatsuon DVD to drill students in 5 phoneme increments per page, one ~ three pages per session. Speed and fluency increase with each session. This book also introduces words used in the Hatsuon Textbook.

(3)   Hatsuon Textbook 1:

        Introduces students to their first spoken English lessons. As students progress, they begin basic grammar and enter a gentle, learning curve which becomes gradually more complex.

Garbage In - Garbage Out.

All children learn speech before reading. Hatsuon takes an unusual approach in that the student (after initial training) reads the Hatsuon characters and instinctively pronounces ' cat' not 'catto' from the very first lesson. Typical American or British children generally already KNOW most of the words presented in their first English primers. They are familiar with them because they have already spoken these words at home and with their friends or have heard them on TV.

Japanese children do not have this luxury when studying English. Each and every word is new and must be translated and the sound demonstrated. The Hatsuon student can correctly pronounce new words and discern their meanings from the accompanying illustrations thus changing from.......

(1) Hearing words then ~ Saying them.... 


(2) Saying words from the very first time

Hatsuon teaches the ' SAYING ' first.

Accompanying illustrations impart the meaning.

Not Perfect But Close....

Hatsuon does not pretend to be a "perfect system" yet it does accurately transcribe 99% of the words used in common everyday English yielding a pleasant, neutral accent with correct stresses and intonation.

Hatsuon teaches intuitive English pronunciation within a dramatically reduced time period compared to current officially approved teaching programs in Japan.

The Hatsuon phonemes serve much like the training wheels on a child's first bicycle and upon completion of the Hatsuon Textbook the student may be reasonably expected to be able to start work with conventional non-Hatsuon textbooks.

Color or Colour?

The Hatsuon System freely acknowledges the "American Spelling" victory in the Japanese English world and so American spellings are adopted. But Anglophiles, do not despair! Hatsuon can accurately describe both the USA & UK pronunciations for words like 'NEW',  'DUE',  'KNEW' ...etc. 


The Hatsuon System relieves the teacher of the burden of having to model each and every phoneme in each and every word.

Consider this sentence : "Place your bat by the wall near the stairs" which contains 5 distinctly different pronunciations of "A".

How can we expect beginners to know which pronunciation to use? Hatsuon succinctly provides the vehicle to intuitive understanding of English pronunciation.


Michael Wilkins,
Kyoto, JAPAN