Pronunciation problems for english
language learners in japan
Proper pronunciation is one of the fundamental aspects of developing a new language skill. In the case of japanese
learners of english
(JLE), Ohata (2004) states that we must understand the phonological differences between japanese
to best understand the difficulties for JLE. Through this paper we will examine the structure of phonemes, vowels, consonants, syllable types, rhythm and intonation to clarify how a learner will develop their ability to speak english
Lado (1957) has purported that learners tend to transfer the forms and meanings from their first language (L1) to the language being learned. It is more difficult to grasp pronunciation of a language (L2), which does not have the same phonemes as the L1. Avery & Ehrlich (1992) also believe that a foreign accent, which is produced by one’s pronunciation, is determined to a large extent by the learner’s native language. It is not surprising that JLE find difficulties in the pronunciation of english
as many of the phonemes are not found in japanese
language uses only five vowels, while in contrast, english
uses twelve (Avery & Ehrlich, 1992). As the number of vowel sounds differs greatly, Vance (1987) has said that learners show great difficulty producing english
vowels that do not exist in japanese
. The distinction of these nonexistent vowels in the japanese
language may pose a problem for the JLE. The difficulties are compounded by the change of tongue position (Ohata, 2004).
One of the most problematic areas in pronunciation for japanese
students is the tense/lax vowel pairs. These vowel pairs do not exist in japanese
, which suggest the difficulties in muscle tension in the mouth produced by the lips and tongue for JLE (Ohata, 2004). Therefore, words such as sleep and taste when spoken, are identified by a native speaker as slip and test respectively.
The number of consonants in the japanese
language is not as great as that in the english
language. Therefore, JLE tend to transfer the sound patterns of japanese
and produce consonant sounds that may be appropriate for japanese
, but not english
(Ohata, 2004). There are several examples of such cases, including the inability to distinguish the /r/ and /l/ sound. Because the sound is found somewhere between the two, JLE often substitute /r/ for /l/ and /l/ for /r/. Words such as fresh and right become flesh and light respectively. This is also true of the sounds /v/ and /b/.
Furthermore, the english
language has what are called open syllable types (CVCV) as well as closed syllable type (CCVCC) consonant clusters. However, as Reiney & Anderson-Hsieh (1993) report, the japanese
language does not support the closed syllable type. Therefore, words may conform to the japanese
consonant vowel pattern (CV-CV), for example, the word breakfast may become burekufasuto.
, according to Catford (1997) is a stress-timed language, while japanese
is syllable-timed. Therefore, the amount of time it takes to say a sentence in japanese
depends on the number of syllables it contains. In english
, however, this depends on the number of stressed syllables (Ohata, 2004). JLE may then produce english
sentences based on the japanese
syllable-timed style, which becomes noticeably longer and staccato-like.
share similarities in intonation, for example, with a rising tone for yes-no questions (Avery & Ehrlich, 1992). However, the pitch change or ranges for each language are different. JLE do not have the ability to produce a wider pitch range used to create sentences in english
. Therefore, native speakers may misinterpret a statement for a question or assume the speaker has not yet finished speaking. This fact, according to Ohata (2004), may be directly related to the JLE not being able to lower his pitch level far enough to indicate the end of a statement.
learners of english
are faced with several difficulties with pronunciation of english
sentences that are rooted in their native language structure. As instructors of english
, we must be aware of these differences, and develop lessons and activities to aid in the learners’ pronunciation development.
Avery, P. & Ehrlich, S. (1992). Teaching American english
pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Catford, J. C. (1977). Fundamental problems in phonetics. Edinburgh University Press.
Lado, R. (1957). Linguistics across cultures: Applied linguistics for language teachers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Ohata, K. (2004). Phonological differences between japanese
: Several potentially problematic areas of pronunciation for japanese
ESL/EFL Learners. Asian EFL Journal (6)4, Article 5, 1-19.
Riney, T. & Anderson-Hsieh, J. (1993). japanese
pronunciation of english
. JALT Journal, 15(1), 21-36.
Vance, T. (1987). An Introduction to japanese
phonology. Albany: State University of New York