36: Japanese speaker special

Native Japanese speakers of English face special difficulties when speaking English.


Hi everyone, and welcome to this special edition of Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation podcast. In the coming months I will be publishing these special podcasts to help direct certain language groups to the resources that group will find the most helpful.

This podcast is an overview of issues that Japanese speakers are likely to face when they are learning to speak English. The transcripts for this show are online at www.pronuncian.com, and all the episodes mentioned during this podcast will have direct links from this show's transcripts. Also, I'll put links at the top of the page to all the sound lists mentioned during this show.

Japanese speakers have a number of difficult challenges when speaking English. Many of these issues I have already created podcasts about, so you can pick and choose which areas you would like to work on first. Although there are lots of sounds to work on, I have taught many Japanese students who have made wonderful progress in their pronunciation skills through practice, practice, and more practice. Remember, you need to train your ear just as much as the muscles in your mouth. Spend plenty of time listening to audio files, especially at the beginning of your practice.

r sounds and l sound

If Japanese is your first language, I'm sure you already know your personal difficulty with the r sounds and l sound. This includes all the r-controlled vowels. Be sure to listen to episodes 4, 5, and 6 for specific instruction for those sounds. Remember, your tongue touches the inside of your mouth, directly behind the front upper teeth during the l sound, and it does not touch anything during the r sounds.

Consonant fricatives

Almost all of the consonant fricatives give the Japanese speaker problems. Fricatives are sounds created when air is forced out of the mouth through a small opening. These sounds include the voiced and unvoiced th sounds, the zh and sh sound, the s and z sound, the f and v sound, and the h sound.

Episode number 1 covered the very important th sounds. It's a good idea to practice the word lists for both the voiced th sound as well as the unvoiced th sound. Also, learn which sound you might be substituting for these sounds and practice those minimal pairs lists. Many Japanese speakers say the s sound in place of the th sound.

The z sound is a voiced fricative that Japanese speakers often replace with its unvoiced counterpart, the s sound. Episode 3 can help you learn more about this issue.

The voiced fricative v sound is troublesome for many Japanese speakers, and may be accidentally replaced with a b sound. A b sound is a stop, meaning we stop all the air from leaving our mouth for a little bit. The v sound has a constant airflow. Episode 18 is about the f sound and v sound, and might be helpful for this problem.

The zh sound is basically a voiced sh sound. Many Japanese speakers do not properly say the zh sound, and will replace it with the sh sound. Listen to episode 17 for more information on this issue.

w sound

Japanese speakers also need to be careful with the w sound, which is made with the lips rounded and held out away from the teeth. If the bottom lip touches the teeth, a native English speaker will probably hear a v sound. I talk about the w sound in episode 7.

Consonant stops

Consonant stops, especially the unvoiced stops, the p sound, t sound, and k sound, have a puff of air after they are released. If you don't let out enough of a puff, your stops may be heard as their voiced counterparts, the b sound, d sound and g sound. Also, make sure you are fully voicing the voiced stops, especially at the ends of words. Learn the correct -ed endings and make sure that you are saying the d sound when it is appropriate for the -ed spelling. Episode 19 will explain how to know which sound the -ed ending should be, and episode 2 explains how to properly say the t sound and d sound.


Vowels also cause considerable difficulty for the Japanese speaker. Pay special attention to the short i, which many speakers replace with the long e. Spend plenty of time with those minimal pairs at the bottom of these sounds' lists. All of the short vowel sounds are talked about in episode 9.

In addition to the short i, also pay attention to the other vowels with no counterpart in Japanese, especially the short a, the oo sound, and the aw sound. Episode 10 includes information about the oo sound, and the aw sound is a part of episode 11. Also, remember that the long a, long i, long o, and long u are two-sound vowels. Listen to episode 8 for a reminder of what that means, as well as how to fully produce those sounds.

Pronunciation Pages: Sounds of American English

Now, I have a short promotional announcement. Even if you are listening from Japan, you can easily support this podcast with a purchase of a copy of my book, Pronunciation Pages: Sounds of American English. The ebook is only $25US, which is about 2,700 Yen, and you can immediately download it over the internet. The book can be yours in only minute. When you purchase a copy of the book, you receive 6 months full-access to Pronuncian.com and online audio files for all the book's exercises. Just click the "Add to cart" button under the picture of the book on any of the transcript pages of Pronuncian.com.

I hope all you Japanese speakers have found this special episode of the American English Pronunciation podcast helpful. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy Digital Publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening!