135: m sound/n sound/ng sound

The sounds that come out your nose!


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 135th episode.

Today's show is about nasal sounds. Nasal sounds are those sounds that you surprisingly need to use your nose to create. To show you what I mean, let's do a quick little experiment with the three nasal sounds of English: the m sound, n sound, and ng sound. We'll start with the m sound because it's the easiest. To create the m sound, the lips must be closed: (m sound). Now, I want you to create that sound while holding your nose shut with your fingers. You can't really just imagine this action in your head, you have to actually do it. So hold your nose shut and say the m sound.

Could you do it? If you could, you aren't creating the sound correctly. This is because the air must pass out through our nose for all three nasal sounds.

Let's try the n sound next. To create the n sound, my tongue is pressed against the middle of my tooth ridge. My tooth ridge is that bump right behind my top front teeth. I completely block the air from pushing past my tongue, and so the air must come out my nose: (n sound). Again, you cannot create that sound if your nose is plugged.

The n sound can really be a troublesome sound for native speakers of Cantonese and Japanese, but for different reasons.

If you are a native Cantonese speaker, you must be very careful that you are forcing air out your nose. Otherwise, you tend to create an English l sound by mistake. Think about how similar these sounds are for a bit. The l sound also presses the tip of the tongue to the tooth ridge. This substitution can cause a lot of miscommunication because, unless your listener has a lot of interaction with Cantonese speakers, we just aren't expecting it, and so we don't naturally transfer it into what you meant to say.

If you are a native Japanese speaker, you want to be careful that you're not using the m sound for both the n sound and m sound. This is also an uncommon substitution, and may cause confusion for your listener.

Finally, we have the ng sound, the final sound in the word sing (ng sound). This sound uses a vocal tract movement similar to a k sound and g sound. Say the k sound: (k sound). Notice how the back of your tongue lifts and touches your soft palate. Your soft palate is the soft, squishy area at the top, back of your mouth.

Now, lift your tongue like you're making a k sound, but don't release it from your soft palate. If you allow air to come out your nose, you will create an ng sound: (ng sound).

In English, the ng sound cannot occur in the beginning of a word. This is why native speakers of English get so confused when we see a name that begins with the letters ng-. This happens a lot with Vietnamese names. If your name begins with the letters ng, you can play with native English speaking friends and teach us the correct way to pronounce your name.

Let's do some practice with the three nasal sounds of English. These are just the short lists. If you want a longer list, you can subscribe to the Pronuncian website and find that extra practice at the bottom of the m sound, n sound, or ng sound lessons. As always, I'll link to those lessons from this episode's transcripts, which you can find at www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

First, let's practice a few m sound/ng sound minimal pairs:

brim, bring
rim, ring
swim, swing


Now a few n sound/ng sound minimal pairs:

thin, thing
ton, tongue
kin, king


Now a few m sound/n sound minimal pairs:

numb, none
same, sane
warm, warn


And finally a few m sound/n sound/ng sound minimal sets:

rum, run, rung
some, sun/son, sung
whim, win, wing


As I said, you can get more practice like this on the Pronuncian minimal sets nasal exercise which is linked to from the spelling and pronunciation lessons for these sounds.

Let me quickly remind you again that you can also get a free audiobook from Audible.com by visiting www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.