26: English /m/ and /n/ pronunciation

The /m/ and /n/ are two of the three nasal sounds in English. Learn about them here.


Hi everyone! Welcome to this week's Seattle Learning Academy American English Pronunciation podcast. This is podcast number 26, and my name is Mandy. Last week we began talking about nasal sounds. Nasal sounds are strange sounds because, to make them, we need to completely close air off from exiting out our mouth, and allow the air to go out our nose instead. The sound we practiced last week was the ng sound (ng sound).

Let's say a few -nging words to review the fact that there is usually no g sound at the end of the ng spelling. Repeat after me if you can.




Sometimes, certain words, like finger, do also include the g sound, but those words are the exception. You need to listen carefully to new words so you know how to say them. Dictionaries will also tell you if there is an additional g sound or not.

Today we are going to practice the other two nasal sounds, the m sound and the n sound. Not too many people have trouble with the m sound. We create that sound by pressing our lips together, the same as we do for the b sound and p sound. Let's say a few words with the m sound in the beginning, middle, and end of the word. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me.




That last word, column, is spelled c-o-l-u-m-n. The last letter of that word, the n, is silent. Other words that follow the same pattern are: autumn, solemn, and d-a-m-n, which some people consider a curse word, so I'm not going to say on this show. Anyway, all those words end in the m sound, not the n sound, as the spelling would suggest.

Sometime coming up I'm going to do a whole show about unusual silent letters, but it might be a while yet. I have lots of other topics I'm also excited to get to.

Let's move on to the n sound. The n sound can cause considerable difficulty for some people from China. I haven't noticed this problem with students from anywhere else, so if you also do this, please let me know.

The n sound is produced in the same part of the mouth as the t sound, d sound, and l sound. For all of those sounds, we press the tip of our tongue against the tooth ridge. For the t sound and d sound, the sound is mostly created when we let go of the sound. For the l sound, we let air travel out our mouth around the sides of the tongue. For the n sound, because it is nasal, we use our tongue to completely block the air from leaving our mouth, and we push the air out our nose.

The trouble I hear from Chinese speakers is that you sometimes use the n sound and the l sound interchangeably. I understand that is allowable in some dialects of Chinese. English speakers however, will never substitute those sounds for one another. For us, changing around an n and an l can create new words, or may not be a word at all.

I'm going to say all the sounds that have our tongue against the tooth ridge in a row. I'll go in this order: t sound, d sound, l sound, n sound. Listen carefully. (t sound, d sound, l sound, n sound)

Here's a minimal set for all four sounds. Each of these words begins with a different sound and ends with an n sound. I'll give you time to repeat each word after me.




And that's all there is to it. English has only three nasal sounds: the ng sound, the m sound, and the n sound. I hear the accidental addition of the g sound to the ng sound from nearly all my students. If any one of those sounds is going to give you trouble, it will probably be that one, so, if you missed last week's show, you may want to go back and give it a listen.

If you are a native speaker of Chinese, check in next week for the Chinese speaker's special podcast. I'll let you know all the things that I've noticed my Chinese students have trouble with. If you are a native Japanese or Spanish speaker, look back a few weeks. I've already done special episodes for all of you. After Chinese, I plan to do special shows for native German speakers, then native Korean speakers. If you speak any of those languages, let me know your specific issues, and I'll address them during your podcast.

I'll link to the free practice for all three nasal sounds along with the transcripts for this week's show. Transcripts can always be found at www.pronuncian.com.

You can also buy the MP3 audio lists of all of the sounds of American English from any of the transcript pages for $10US. You'll get 4 1/2 hours of audio sound practice that you can easily add to your MP3 player or burn CDs of.

That's it for today, folks. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy Digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening!