Pronunciation Problems in Japan Anyone learning a new language is going


Anyone learning a new language is going to have issues with pronunciation at first. The pronunciation of some languages is easier then others. In my opinion, English is not one of those languages. English has many different rules of pronunciation and they can change depending on different regions or countries. Common difficulties with pronunciation aside, I chose Japan as my country to focus on, as that is where I plan to use my TEFL skills.

One of the most noticeable pronunciation problems that Japanese people have with the English language is differentiating between L and R. In the Japanese language, there is no L and so the sound of L is completely foreign. Because in Japanese R's are rolled very slightly (much less than in Spanish), the R sound is the closed sound to an L that there is. Therefore, when confronted with an English word that contains an L, often it is pronounced as an R. For example, the word 'nationality' becomes 'nationarity.' This pronunciation problem for Japanese people is so common that it even has its own name; 'Engrish.' Tackling the problem of 'Engrish' can be tough. It is helpful to have students practice two words that are the same, except for the L and R sounds in the word (bar/ball, far/fall, etc.).

There are a couple of other letters that the English alphabet uses that do not have equivalents in Japanese. These letters include V, X, Q, and F. In English, these letters are generally not used as frequently as the letter R, so they do not present as much of a problem. Also, there are letters or combinations of letters that more closely resemble the sounds to these letters (B=V, i.e.). A problem presents itself in the fact that, in the Japanese language, every consonant is followed by a vowel (with the exception of N which can be followed by a vowel or used alone). Therefore, English words that end in a consonant will often have an extra vowel attached at the end when spoken by a Japanese person. For example, 'dog' becomes 'dogu.' Getting a Japanese student to drop that vowel can be a struggle, as the sound comes naturally to them.

Yet another pronunciation problem lies within where to place the stress in a word. Spoken Japanese tends to be vague and therefore somewhat less emotional then spoken English. Because of this, Japanese speakers will have a hard time picking up on which syllables the stress should fall on. Stress and intonation are difficult to teach as it is, but on top of that, Japanese speakers use these things minimally in their native language.

There is a way to work on all of these pronunciation problems. There are computer programs for teaching English that teach proper pronunciation. Such programs have a recording of a person saying a word or phrase the way it would be said naturally. Students then use a microphone to repeat the word out loud. The program records the student's voice and plays it against the original recording, comparing fluctuation and intonation. The difference is graphed so the student can see where they need to put more or less stress on the word or phrase.

Though there are many difficulties in teaching the correct pronunciation of English to Japanese students, anyone can become an expert through patience, practice, and the help of teachers and language learning tools.



'Lambacher, Stephen G., 'Improving Japanese Pronunciation of American English [r] Using Electronic Visual Feedback,' March, 1996, http://www.u-aizu.ac.jp/~steeve/rsound2.html

'Ikeda, Miki, 'Teaching English to Japanese Students,' July, 2005, http://humanities.byu.edu/elc/teacher/japanesestudents.html#Pronun/Sp eak