WHAT ENGLISH SOUNDS ARE DIFFICULT FOR THE JAPANESE?


English sounds that are hard for japanese

Teaching and Learning English: What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese?

Learning English is a challenge for anyone, and some problems are common to all learners. However, many common problems are specific to speakers of specific first-languages. In this article, we will look at what English sounds are difficult for the Japanese, why, and ways to overcome these. We will look directly at:girl teaching in classroom cartoon

/r/ & /l/

/s/ and /sh/

/w/ and /ʊ/

/th/ and /s/

Loanwords

 

What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese: /r/ & /l/

In Japanese, there is no /r/ or /l/ sound. Instead there is a “soft l.” Technically, this is a liquid phoneme, but the easiest way to think about it is as an “L” with the tongue higher up. In Japanese, the nearest sound to an English “R” is actually formed with the tongue touching the back of the teeth lightly. To pronounce an English /r/, the tongue does not touch the teeth at all.

Conversely, to pronounce an English /l/, the tongue touches the back of the teeth strongly. Much more strongly than a Japanese /r/. This means that Japanese speakers of English often seem to mix their /r/ and /l/ sounds. And did you know, the reverse problem is common with English-speaking learners of Japanese? They often over-emphasise the Japanese /r/ as a direct English /l/.

Even first-language speakers of English need to practise pronouncing /r/. Speech therapists often need to help native English speakers to pronounce it correctly.

Another reason why Japanese can’t pronounce English R often is that they can’t hear it. As we said before, there is no /r/ sound nor /l/ sound in Japanese. By the time Japanese people are adults, they usually lose the ability to hear the difference. This is a common problem for all language learners after childhood – in many areas, older learners have more difficulties learning a language than younger learners. 

However, older learners have the benefit of experience and motivation. Older Japanese learners of English can learn to pronounce /r/ and /l/ correctly, but it takes commitment and a good teacher. Both the tongue and the lips are important in pronouncing these sounds, so careful study is important.

Ways to practise /r/ and /l/:possible blackboard

Tongue twisters are a good way to practise and improve pronunciation. Students, record your teacher on your smartphone saying these, then record yourself and compare!

Tongue twisters to practise /l/ and /r/

Red lorry, yellow lorry.

I really like roll cake and lemon.

Rachel laughed roughly at the rolling rock.

 

Other resources to practise /l/ and /r/

Online resources to practise the English /r/ pronunciation and /l/ pronunciation are easy to find.

For teachers, language teaching sites and research articles are valuable.

For students, a simple google search will bring up hundreds of videos, sites, and guides!

 

 

What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese: /s/ and /sh/girl in blue dress smiley face

This common mistake by Japanese learners of English is not caused by a difference between Japanese and English pronunciation. Rather, it is because of the frequency of the /sh/ sound with /ɪ/ in Japanese.

In Japanese, the “sh” sound is almost always combined with the /ɪ/ sound. The /ɪ/ sound is the vowel sound in words like “with,” “fit,” and “sit.” This means that words such as “sill,” “sin,” and “medicine” are mispronounced – “shill,” “shin,” “medishin.”

During lessons and studying, Japanese learners often do not make this mistake. This is because they are concentrating. However, in conversation and high-speed speaking, the mistake appears.

Again, Japanese learners of English can pronounce “sh,” but they need to be aware of their mistakes before they can fix them.

 

Ways to practise /s/ and /sh/:

Tongue twisters are a good way to practise and improve pronunciation. Students, record your teacher on your smartphone saying these, then record yourself and compare!

Tongue twisters to practise /s/ and /sh/

She sells seashells by the seashore.

She sees the shells shining by the sea.

Send seven sheep by ship.

 

Other resources to practise /s/ and /r/sh

Again, online resources to practise the English /s/ pronunciation and /sh/ pronunciation are easy to find.

For teachers, language teaching sites and research articles are valuable.

For students, a simple google search will bring up hundreds of videos, sites, and guides!

 

What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese: /f/ & /v/Simon ma wearing coat

In Japanese, the consonant /f/ does not exist. Instead, there is something like a slightly more powerful /h/ sound. This means that sometimes, Japanese speakers will mispronounce words like “furniture” or “forward.” To correct this, learners need to focus on placing their lower lip directly below the upper teeth.

The problem is the same for /v/ pronunciation. In Japanese, there is no /v/ sound. Instead, many Japanese speakers of English will replace the /v/ with a /b/ – “valley” becomes “balley,” “van” becomes “ban.”

Often, why Japanese students can’t pronounce English  /v/ is because they hear a /b/ instead. Again,to correct this learners need to focus on mouth movement and position. [https://pronuncian.com/pronounce-v-sound] You need to place your upper teeth directly on to your lower lip. Japanese learners will often find the /v/ sound funny, as if trying to imitate a motorbike!

 

Ways to practise /f/ and /v/:

Tongue twisters are a good way to practise and improve pronunciation. Students, record your teacher on your smartphone saying these, then record yourself and compare!

Tongue twisters to practise /f/ and /v/

The very fair vine was feeling very fine.

Violet did ballet in the valley.

The ban on vans was very vexing.

 

What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese: “w” and /ʊ/ – would

Perhaps surprisingly for native English speakers, Japanese students often struggle with the word “would.” However, they can pronounce “w” correctly when followed by most vowels: it is the /ʊ/ sound in “would” that is difficult to combine. Interestingly, this can also depend on the variety of English they learn.

Japanese sometimes can’t pronounce “would,” and will instead omit the “w” entirely. This causes strange sentences like “I ood like to go to Paris”.

The same problem is noticeable in words like “casual” or “situation,” where the “ua” sounds more like a hard “j” sound.

Again, however, overcoming this problem just needs practice! Remember the English idiom, practice makes perfect!

 

Tongue twisters to practise /w/ and /ʊ/

I would like to walk in the woods.

What would you like to watch with me?

No-one would be casual in this kind of situation. 

 

What English sounds are difficult for the Japanese: /th/ and /s/girl wearing headset

The “th” sound – /θ/ or /ð/, in the phonetic alphabet – also does not exist in Japanese. This can lead to “th” being replaced by “s” or “sh.” Examples include “think” becoming “sink,” or “thing” becoming “sing.”

Both versions of the /th/ sound need to be practised, and there is plenty of help online!

 

Tongue twisters to practise /th/ and /s/

That cat sat and sang then.

Don’t sing in the sink, think in the sink.

So the thing you sing is thunder, though. 

 

Bonus – watch out for loanwords!Japanese loanwords do not use English pronunciation

Japanese is full of “loanwords,” words borrowed from other languages. Chocolate, for example, becomes チョコレート(chokoleeto). Back becomes バック(baku).

Be aware of these! These can cause confusion in meaning, as sometimes the Japanese loanword has a different meaning to its original.  “Back mirror” in Japanese means “rearview mirror” in English. スーパー (suupaa) in Japanese means “supermarket”.

It can also cause problems in pronunciation! An English speaker might have trouble understanding “where is the suupaamaaketto?” instead of “where is the supermarket?”.

When speaking English, Japanese learners should be careful to use the English pronunciation, not the Japanese one.

 

 

 

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