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Pronunciation errors made by Japanese and Chinese

Japanese pronunciation errors

Japanese speakers tend to put a vowel at the end of some English words. For example:

  • good is often pronounced goodo,
  • school is often pronounced schoolo.

The ‘n’ sound at the end of a word is also difficult for Japanese students. This sound may disappear or become /m/ or /ŋ/. Examples are “sin” is pronounced /sɪ/, /sɪm/ or /sɪŋ/

Native speakers of Japanese fail to pronounce the ‘n.’

Examples are: ‘one’, ‘pen’, ‘ran’

Japanese students are not able to pronounce the consonant ‘r.’

The reason is that it does not exist in Japanese

Examples are: ‘rat,’ ‘ran.’

The consonant ‘r’ tends to be pronounced ‘l.’

Japanese students are not able to pronounce the consonant ‘l.’

Examples are: ‘like,’ ‘little.’

Japanese students have problems pronouncing ‘f.’

Examples are: ‘fight’, ‘forward’

Japanese students have problems pronouncing ‘w.’

As in ‘would,’ ‘woman.’

Example of a sentence that would be difficult for Japanese learners

To illustrate these errors, ask a Japanese student to repeat the sentence;

‘Little red riding hood would fight the rat for the election.’

This television show makes fun of the typical pronunciation errors of Chinese and Japanese

Difficulties that Chinese (Mandarin) speakers have with English pronunciation

Pitch and stress

Pitch is essential for speakers of Mandarin.  The meaning of a word changes depending on pitch.

For example, the word ‘ma‘ can mean ‘mother, hemp, scold, or horse’ depending on the pitch.  In English, the pitch does not change the meaning of a word.  However, stress is more important in English.  Stress can change the meaning of a word in English.

For example, ‘no’ can express sarcasm, a question, an emphasis, or horror depending on the context, stress, and tone. Sarcasm can confuse speakers of Mandarin.

Connecting words

Most words in Mandarin have a single syllable.  Speaking in a single syllable can make English sound staccato.  When speakers of Mandarin try to speak English, they can miss the subtlety of how words are joined together.  Mandarin words do not end in consonants except for /n/.  As a result, speakers of Mandarin find it challenging to connect the last consonant in a word with a vowel.

An example of this is: He’s out.  Mandarin students of English would have to be trained to say He zout.’

Mandarin speakers tend to omit the final consonant when speaking English words.  As a result, they tend to add a sound to the end of some words.  The sound may be ‘scwha,’ which makes it very difficult for English speakers to understand.

Mandarin speakers also tend to de-emphasize certain consonants at the end of a word.

Examples are;

/b/ becomes /p/, the /d/ becomes /t/, the /z/ becomes /s/, the /g/ becomes /k/, the /v/ becomes /f/

Words ending with /v/: dive; love; crave
Words ending with /g/: morgue; rogue; bag
Words ending with /d/: hide; food; rude
Words ending with /z/: bears; toys; booze
Words ending with /b/: bulb; curb; globe

Consonants clusters

Consonant clusters is where two or more consonants are together in a word.

Chinese students of the English language tend to leave out sounds and substitute sounds when pronouncing consonant clusters.

Examples of words with consonant clusters

/pr/: problem; practice; pronunciation; present
/pl/: place; plough; plane; please; plumber.
/tr/: try; train; trophy; trail; tricky; trace; trim.
/kr/: crane; crab; crime; Kristen; cram; cradle.
/kl/: climb; claim; cloud; clear; Clayton; cluster.
/fl/: fly; fleece; Fletcher; fluke; flirt; fluster.
/ks/: lacks; Max; spikes; takes; seeks, ticks.
/sk/: ask; task; husky; rascal; mascot; risky.
/st/: must; rusty; festival; Crystal; pastor; best
/ts/: rights; mates; fights; boots; seats; hits

Teachers should spend alot of time helping Chinese students with pronouncing words with consanant clusters.

Ask the student to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’  They might pronounce Birthday as Biertday.

Conclusion

Speakers of Japanese and Mandarin have considerable difficulty with English pronunciation.  Learning to speak clear will only through hard work and practice.

Please leave a comment in the ‘Comments’ section below.  I will reply to all relevant comments.

Practical English

Learners English by Michael Swan

Michael Swan’s book Learner English is a practical reference guide that compares the relevant features of a student’s language with English. Comparing features helps teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have. Learner English has chapters focusing on significant issues of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and other errors as well as new chapters covering Korean, Malay/Indonesian and Polish language backgrounds.

Aaron Skudder

5 Comments

  1. Wow, just wow, Aaron. You did a great job on this one. I frequently hear these mistakes by those from East Asia (Japan, China, Korea). You stated here the dynamics of how each word they say and how it should be pronounced. Now, from your standpoint, what do they need to do to say those words correctly? You know there’s that “accent” or “regional factors” that affect it. Even if they say correct English, they still have those that prevent them from pronouncing them as they should be.

    Mecyll

  2. Thank you for your comment Mecyll
    I have not finished the article. I have been busy travelling around South East Asia. I am learning all of the time. Yes. I will provide more explanation when I get time. Basically the answer to your question is practice. Sounds like ‘th’ and ‘wh’ are difficult and require practice. The facial muscles need to be trained before the sounds will be shaped properly. It is a matter of time and practice.

    • The book ‘Learner English’ is an excellent resource for teachers. I recommend reading ‘Leaner English’ for specific examples and solutions for pronunciation. I cannot contain all of the information in Learner English on my website.

  3. I remember when I worked at an Outlet Center how hard it was at times to under Japanese and Chinese shoppers and we got a lot of them. Wish I had this great information then. Thank you, Aaron Skudder

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