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There Is No L (And Other Differences Between Japanese and English)

There Is No L (And Other Differences Between Japanese and English) | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Throughout high school and college, I mainly focused on learning how to speak Japanese as my second language. Unlike English, Japanese is a fairly phonetic language. Two of its three writing systems, hiragana and katakana, are phonetic. This makes it easy for foreigners to learn because each syllable, also known as sound clusters in some circles, is almost always said exactly how it is spelled. The third writing system, kanji, is not and, as such, is much more difficult for foreigners to learn because kanji are essentially pictures that describe their meaning. They are much more difficult to learn and use in everyday speech.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Nicole H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Differences in Syllable Pronunciation

The first difference in pronunciation between English and Japanese is the Japanese syllable "tsu". Tsu is a strange sound for an English speaker but not a particularly difficult sound, in my opinion, because English speakers are used to dealing with silent or near-silent letters in many of our words. The syllable "tsu" is almost identical to the syllable "su" when pronounced properly. The only difference that I can hear, as a non-native speaker of Japanese, is the almost silent or unvoiced "tch". I can only compare it to a soft hiss before the "su" sound. It reminds me of the middle of the word "kitchen".

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Consonant Clusters

The second difference in pronunciation between English and Japanese is how double consonants are typically used. When it comes to English, native speakers tend to use a lot of linked sounds when we say double consonants sounds. An example of this is the word "butter". English speakers, Americans in particular, tend to link their sounds and so the word "butter" ends up being pronounced like "budder" instead. This isn't the case with Japanese students learning English because they pronounce double consonants in a completely different way. When double consonants are used in Japanese, they insert a very small pause or space between the two consonants. It isn't easily detectable to those learning Japanese but you can hear it with some practice and use of authentic Japanese materials. So when Japanese students learn double consonant sounds in English, they tend to pronounce the word to properly and make it sound unnatural.

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Sound /L/

The last difference in pronunciation between English and Japanese I would like to point out is the difficulty they have with the letter "L". All l-sounds, which are quite common in English, are turned into r-sounds. Using these r-sounds though is not as straight forward as you believe by reading them. When learning to pronounce them, the tip of your tongue makes contact with the back of your front teeth. It sounds almost as if you were combining an English d-sound and r-sound and can take some time to learn if you come from an English background. Alternatively, this also causes problems for Japanese students trying to learn English because l-sounds do not appear anywhere in their language.

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They don't know how to create the sound because their mouths are unfamiliar with it, unlike native English speakers. While all of these differences can be difficult to overcome, I believe learning about these differences and comparing them while learning a second language can, generally, improve my English speaking skills.

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