Learning tips-Listening/Speaking

1. Whispered vowels

Some Japanese vowels (mainly i. u) often devoiced when they are between voiceless consonants.
The same thing happens in
Quebec French. Many students can notice this feature in the early stages
of lessons. But most  Japanese native speakers don't notice it.

The conditions of the occurrence

1. Close vowels/high vowels,
i and u become voiceless, when the accent is not put on the
    syllable.  The pronunciation of Japanese vowel,
i and u are transcribed [i] and [ɯ]
    followed by IPA (International Phonetic Association).

    [i]: close front ungrounded vowel
[ɯ]: close back ungrounded vowel  

    The whispered vowels are shown by underlined blue letter.
    (1) when
[i] or [ɯ] is between voceless consonants (ka-line, sa-line, ta-line, ha-line
          ex.) k
usa (grass), shika (deer),susuki (Japanese pampas grass)
usugu (to rinse), shita (below, under, tongue), hifu (skin)

    (2) when [i] or [
ɯ] is after voiceless consonats on the end of the word or sentence
          ex.) ~des
u (is, are),~masu ( the end of polite form of verbs)
u (blanket),fuufu (married couple)

    (3) when [i] or [
ɯ] is before voiceless consonants on the top of the word
utsukushii (beautiful, tsu is followed by (1)), ikimono ( living creature)

[a] and [o] are between ha-line/ka-line can become voiceless, when the accent is
    not put on the sylabble.
          ex.) h
aka (grave), kokoro (mind), hikaru ( to shine)

One point advice
Let's listen and speak carefully various native speakers' speech. Shadowing and
repeating are very useful practices. Do not forget to imitate speaker's accent.
If you pronounce the vowels picked up in above without whispering,
the lengh of  the word can be heard a little bit longer than the natural pronunciation.
The number of Haku does not change, but you have to put the stress on the vowel
if you pronounce it without whispering. As a result, the sound can be heard longer
in the pronunciation without whispering.
*review 'Haku' -> "Introduction step 3"
Herefrom, you will notice that Japanese has a pitch accent, not a stress accent like English.