How to Pronounce KARAOKE

It is the season of karaoke parties, including TechKaraoke, giving me plenty of opportunity to hear the word karaoke mispronounced and even misspelled to fit the mispronunciation. Tonight, it was Ryan Owens on ABC World News with Charles Gibson that put me over the top.

Karaoke originated in Japan and it is a Japanese word meaning empty orchestra.
“Kara” comes from “karappo” meaning empty, and “oke” is the abbreviation of “okesutura,” or orchestra. I arrived in Japan in 1981, in plenty of time to participate in many hours of obligatory karaoke business entertainment during my twenty years working there.

Since karaoke is a Japanese tradition that we now enjoy here in the USA, it would be nice if we could pronounce it.

Japanese words are actually straightforward and simple to pronounce. If you know some Spanish, then you are familiar with the vowels and you should be able to sound out any Japanese word that you see written in roman letters. You should also be able to spell any Japanese name that you hear without having to have it spelled for you.

how-to-pronounce-karaoke

There are many things that make Japanese a difficult language but pronunciation is not one of them.

Linda Performing Karaoke in Japan During a Company Retreat (before karaoke machines)

Please enjoy your festive singing this holiday season. May you be safe, healthy and happy.

About Linda Sherman

International, multicultural marketing pro, Linda brings a distinguished background of international subsidiary CEO/CMO to her Social Marketing expertise. These include CEO Club Med Japan, Barilla Japan and CMO Wal-Mart Japan. Linda Sherman has been featured and quoted in Forbes, The New York Times, Christian Monitor and other leading publications. She devised and implemented an innovative guerrilla-marketing plan for ZIMA in Japan that produced a lasting, profitable success. Linda has hands-on technical skills in building and search optimizing WordPress websites and an influential on-line presence. Linda teaches social marketing for business at the University of Hawaii. Her company, The Courage Group, provides websites, digital film, branding and social marketing strategy and training.

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15 comments
panicBoy
panicBoy

Boy, the "r" in Japanese is more of a soft T or D sound, huh? KAH-da-OH-KEH.

LindaSherman
LindaSherman

Thank you Nancy and thank you Ecko - we're improving American pronunciation one person at a time.

Jim - seeing as how he is an MP, the applause should be very polite.

Jim
Jim

My 20 year old son is stationed on Okinawa Japan as a Marine MP - he just told me Karaoke bars and clubs are every where - he even belts out a few now and then (still waiting for the video). Thanks Jim

Nancy
Nancy

For all those non believers that have pronounced Karaoke WRONG for years, here ya go. I wasn't wrong, the rest of you were. My friend Ecko, (Tina in America.), told me how it was pronounced! Thanks sweetie!!

LindaSherman
LindaSherman

Thanks so much to Marsha, Erin, Zipporah, CeCe and Carol for your comments!

LindaSherman
LindaSherman

Tracy, Thanks for asking!
Japanese language is flat so there no emphasis any syllable. There is no slurring.

tracy
tracy

Is it better to enunciate all four syllables, or slur it down to three syllables? ka•ra•oh'•kay or ka•row'•kay ?

Carol
Carol

On Point on NPR had a story about karaoke:

http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2009/01/karaoke/

They gave major points to the expat calling in from Japan for her pronunciation. I still believe if you don't speak Japanese or live in Japan, it's just going to sound jarring in an English sentence.

Csalomonlee
Csalomonlee

Thanks Linda! I learned how to say this when I studied/worked in Taiwan, which has a strong Karaoke culture as well. Now I can show this to my hubby and he won't tease me on how I say it =)

Csalomonlee’s last blog post..Why Meetings Still Matter

Zipporah Sandler
Zipporah Sandler

Funny how there are certain words that have become a part of the American vernacular that we struggle with. Thank-you. Yes, I can now pronounce it, but no I won 't be DOING it any time soon, and YES you should be thanking me for that.

Zipporah Sandler’s last blog post..Finding The Mansion

Erin
Erin

Linda! I have often wondered about the correct pronunciation. Now I know and I can correct all my friends :)

Also, thanks so much for reading my blog last week. I actually celebrated my birthday at Tokyo Delves, a fun sushi bar in North Hollywood.

Have a Happy New Year!

Erin’s last blog post..Magnetized by the Mic While I Kick My Juice

Jesús
Jesús

Allright... KARA-OKE then! That was easy!

vanessa
vanessa

I'm with Marsha, I don't think I'll be singing anytime soon. I'm happy to play piano for anyone who wants to give it a go though!

Marsha Collier
Marsha Collier

OK, so now I can pronounce it - I'm still never going to do it! Thanks for the proper pronunciation!

LindaSherman
LindaSherman

Yes, the Japanese R is indeed softer than the English R especially, if you compare the sound of R in the middle of a word. For an R at the beginning of a word, it is slightly harder but not as hard as English. For instance "raishu" for "next week" is still relatively soft compared to English. Remember there are no "L's" in Japanese, they are converted "R's". So my name is pronounced "Rinda".

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  1. […] same as in Spanish so it is relatively simple to pronounce Japanese words. I produced this little Japanese pronunciation tutorial with audio during a raft of news anchor mispronunciations of the word karaoke during the holiday […]

  2. […] same as in Spanish so it is relatively simple to pronounce Japanese words. I produced this little Japanese pronunciation tutorial with audio during a raft of news anchor mispronunciations of the word karaoke during the holiday […]