Common English Pronunciation Problems You Might Face as a Japanese Speaker
When working to improve your English as a native Japanese speaker, one of the most challenging aspects is becoming comfortable using English pronunciation.
Japan has a rich cultural history that brings to mind traditional kimonos, tea ceremonies, beautiful calligraphy, emperors and samurai. In modern times, Japan has brought sushi to the western world and is known as a technology powerhouse. While being from Japan has many advantages, it can pose some challenges for those who want to communicate clearly in English.
Words and sentences in Japanese are approached differently than in English, requiring speakers to learn a new set of pronunciation rules in order to properly communicate using connecting sounds, intonation, and stress. Even if you have spoken English for decades, pronunciation can still be difficult, and you will likely benefit from trying to improve your American English accent.
When working to improve your English accent, it’s important to focus on using correct English pronunciation in order to avoid forming a habit of pronouncing words and sentences incorrectly. By overviewing the top three pronunciation problems native Japanese speakers face when learning English, you can evaluate your own English pronunciation and see how well you speak with an American accent.
To improve your American English accent, learn about linking!
Japanese speakers who have learned English often fail to link words, especially when two consonants are pronounced one after the other. In Japanese, a vowel sound is most commonly inserted between consonant sounds, so this habit often carries through to English speech. Japanese speakers tend to add extra vowel sounds, or they may try to take extra pauses to separate their words.
To see if you’re linking correctly: Read the following two sentences aloud, and record them.
All of her barns fell down.
Oliver Barnes fell down.
Now listen to the sentences you just recorded. They should sound exactly the same! We reduce and link the words “All of her” to sound like one word, just like the name “Oliver”.
To improve your american English accent linking skills, you have to be aware of the main ways in which English speakers link words together. The three main categories of linking are “Consonant to Consonant”(C->C) “Consonant to Vowel”(C->V) and “Vowel to Vowel”(V->V). The most difficult linking category for Japanese speakers tends to be “Consonant to Consonant” linking.
Try printing off a paragraph and circling all of the (C->C) links between words, underlining all of the (C->V) links, and highlighting all of the (V->V) links. Then read the paragraph and focus on the links you’ve just identified. Remember, not all words are linked together! Natural pauses occur between phrases, and are often (but not always!) marked by periods, commas, semicolons, or other punctuation.
Improve your American English accent by learning about syllable stress
English is a stress-timed language, while Japanese is a mora-timed language. That means that Japanese speakers tend to stress sounds and syllables equally, while English speakers vary their stress widely.
In order to improve your English pronunciation, it’s very important to learn about syllable stress and vowel reduction. In English, this means that some of our syllables are pronounced longer and louder than others.
Try saying the following sentence:
The analyst will use analytics to analyze your analysis.
Think about how you stressed each of the bold words. Each of these words should have a syllable that is longer and louder than the other syllables in that word. Can you identify which syllable is stressed in each of these words? Let’s try again.
The analyst will use analytics to analyze your analysis.
The bold syllables are the stressed syllables in these words. If you stressed these words differently than the pattern above, especially if you stressed each word the same way, you may want to improve your syllable stress skills.
Pronounce /r/, /w/, and /l/ clearly and distinctly to improve your American English accent
If you want to improve your American English accent, it’s important to differentiate between these sounds. Japanese speakers often confuse word-initial /r/, /w/ and /l/. This can lead to confusion between words like “right” “light” and “white.” Japanese speakers may also substitute /l/ for /r/, particularly in consonant clusters.
To see if you’re pronouncing /r/, /w/, and /l/ clearly and distinctly, record yourself pronouncing these sets of words:
Listen to the recording you just made. Did each word sound distinct, or did two or more words sound the same?
In order to pronounce /r/, the tongue must be raised very high in the back of the mouth, almost like swallowing. The tip of the tongue is relaxed and not working or touching anything to produce the /r/ sound.
In pronouncing the /l/ sound, the tip of the tongue must touch the tooth ridge.
In pronouncing the /w/ sound, the lips do all of the work by tightly rounding before the next sound.
If you work on these three aspects of English pronunciation daily for 2-3 weeks, you should notice a significant improvement in your American English accent.
Each Japanese speaker may experience different issues learning English. Because of this, and because English involves very precise pronunciation skills,
working with an online Accent coach is one of the easiest ways to ensure you learn English pronunciation correctly. Participating in an online educational setting, native Japanese speakers can work one-on-one with a certified instructor to receive a personalized accent assessment and pinpoint specific pronunciation areas that need improvement.