Pronunciation Issues in Japan In Japan, as in all countries, there

In Japan, as in all countries, there are specific difficulties that the native people have with pronouncing English when it is not there first language. As Japanese is an almost exclusively syllabic language, there are many issues that one can come across. This article will focus on two particular anomalies within the Japanese pronunciation of English words: The ‘L’ sound and the ‘lone consonant’. Through the experience of this author as both a teacher of English and a university certificate holder in the Japanese language, as well as through external sources, this article will attempt to succinctly explain the reason behind these pronunciation conundrums and give possible teaching solutions to combat them. Let us start with the lone consonant, as it has great affect on the ability for the Japanese to make many English sounds clearly. One of the first things a person learns in regards to Japanese, just as in learning many languages, are the basic sounds that make up the language . As previously stated, unlike the English alphabet, the Japanese equivalent has nearly no lone consonants, meaning that each consonant is almost always paired with a vowel. The one instance of a lone consonant is the ‘n’ sound, which is pronounced alone as ‘un’. This makes words like ‘wagon’ easy to pronounce because it is made of two Japanese syllables ‘wa’ and ‘go’, then finished with the Japanese lone consonant ‘n’. However, the lack of all other lone consonants creates a constant issue when teaching English because automatically, Japanese learners will tend to pair the lone consonants with vowels. For example, a word like ‘patrol’, which has three lone consonants, will be pronounced ‘patororu’. In response to this teachers have created ways to combat the mispronunciation. One way is to do this is to feign confusion as to what the student is saying until the student pronounces it correctly or, in the case the person has forgotten how, correct them nicely by saying “Oh you mean ___”, and then have them repeat it with the correct pronunciation multiple times. Another effective method is to help them redefine their method of making words into syllables by mixing it with the English method. For example, a teacher would, with the added use of hand gestures, over-emphatically say “pa” “tro” “l”, then “pa” “trol”, and finally “patrol”. This lack of lone consonants however is not the only issue that many Japanese learners and their teachers face however.

The ‘L’ sound is defined as a consonantal sound made when the tip of the tongue is placed behind the teeth but before the hard palate, such as in the word ‘lollipop’, or when the back of the tongue is raised toward the soft palate, such as in the word ‘jell’ . The Japanese language does not have this sound, even if it is attached to a vowel to form a syllable. The nearest sound within the Japanese language is the ‘R’ sound. In turn, many beginners, especially first- time learners, have exceptional difficulty pronouncing the most common ‘L’ words with accuracy. Words like ‘lonely’ and ‘small’ become ‘ronri’ and ‘sumarru’. Again teachers have created ways to deal with this linguistic issue. One particularly interesting method is by physically showing the students how the sound is made and having them do it too. Then after holding the position for a minute or so, having the students say words that begin and/or end with ‘L’. This method has the positive outcome of making both the students and teacher look like complete cretins, usually earning more than a few laughs from everyone, and giving the students sound specific practice.

Pronunciation anomalies are not common among any one group of English learners, but are a constancy that one finds all over the English learning world. Those focused upon in this article are not the only issues that plague Japanese learners of English, however like all problems they can be solved through collaboration between the understanding teacher and the willing students. The first step is knowledge of what the issue is and why it occurs. From there both the students and teachers can come up with good ways to correct the problem. Through this article it was attempted to succinctly, but wholly, address two main issues that Japanese learners tend to have when learning English: The ‘L’ phoneme and the solo consonant.


1. Included for reference is a copy of the basic Japanese equivalent to the alphabet. Obtained from http://www.japan-