ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION FOR JAPANESE SPEAKERS

English Pronunciation For Japanese Speakers – 

8 Top Problem Areas & Exercises


Includes a Checklist & Practice Recording Tools

Welcome Speakers of Japanese : ) So you’d like to improve your English accent and pronunciation? 

I’ve put together this super helpful page for Japanese speakers who are looking for English pronunciation training or accent reduction and how to speak English more clearly.

On this page you’ll find out the 8 most important areas of English pronunciation for Japanese speakers to improve for clear English. Record your own speech and find out if you have similar pronunciation problems. Listen to Japanese speakers and find out how you can start working to correct some of these sounds.

What are the typical English Pronunciation problems for Japanese Speakers? Many Japanese speakers have difficulty pronouncing the English consonant sounds /l/,/r/, /f/,/v/ & ‘th’. Japanese has only 5 vowel sounds. English has 20. English long & double vowels are often challenging. Word stress is often flatter and more even than an English native speaker.  

Top 8 English Pronunciation Problems For Japanese Speakers

I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of Japanese speaking professionals to help them speak clearer English.

For most of them, the 8 areas below were their main problems. Some sounds were easy for them to correct and some were very challenging and took a lot of dedicated, systematic training and practice. 

Use the questions in the checklist below to check these areas in your English pronunciation.

You might not be sure if you’re making these errors or not! That’s OK. It takes time to become aware of your pronunciation and to get control of your mouth and muscles!

The recording tools below will help you with becoming more aware of your problem areas. 

Record your own speech to check for errors further down the page!


The Top 8 Problem Areas For Japanese Speakers And Checklist:

1. Consonants /l/ & /r/           

Check: Are you confusing /l/ & /r/? 

2. Consonants /f/ & /v/           

Check: Do you sometimes use /p/ instead of /f/ for example ‘preper’ instead of ‘prefer’? Do you sometimes use /b/instead of /v/? For example you might say ‘bideo’ instead of ‘video’.

3. Consonant ‘th’                         

Do you sometimes use /s/ or /z/ instead of ‘th’? For example you might say ‘sink’ instead of ‘think’. 

4. Vowel /oʊ/ like in ‘note’       

Do you pronounce ‘note’ more like ‘not’ or ‘nought’

5. Vowel ‘er’ /ɜː/ like in ‘hurt’   

Do you pronounce ‘hurt’ more like ‘heart’ and ‘firm’ more like ‘farm’?

6. Vowel /æ/ like in ‘hat’           

Do you pronounce ‘hat’ more like ‘hut’ and ‘back’ more like ‘buck’?

7. Word stress                               

Do you feel like the pitch and rhythm of your English is flatter than a native speakers? Each multi-syllable word in English has 1 stressed syllable. Using word stress makes words easy for your listeners to recognise and makes the ‘rhythm’ English.  

8. Weak vowels                           

Japanese speakers tend to make every vowel in English full. For example, in the word ‘today’ they pronounce the ‘o’ sound. English speakers make the letter ‘o’ in ‘today’ weak, more like ‘uh’, so it’s /təˈdeɪ/. Listen here. 

Scroll down to LISTEN & RECORD!

Record Your Speech & Listen To Japanese Speakers 

Let’s start by looking more closely at the consonants /l/, /v/ and then the double / diphthong vowel /oʊ/.

  1. Read about the problem and how to fix it in the grey box. 
  2. In the blue box, click to listen to the Japanese speaker. Can you hear the problem sound?
  3. Then, listen to the native English speaker. Can you hear the difference between the Japanese speaker and the native speaker’s pronunciation. 
  4. Try it yourself! Record your speech using the voice recorder. Play to listen. Are you making the sound incorrectly or correctly?  

This will help you become more aware of what your problem areas are.

Correcting pronunciation and improving your English accent can be challenging. It can be made easier with specialised training. For easy to follow, step by step training to correct all these problem areas specifically for Japanese speakers, check out our award winning English Pronunciation Course for Japanese Speakers.  

The English Consonant /l/  

Many Japanese speakers confuse /l/ & /r/.

In words with /l/ like ‘like’ they might use /r/ – ‘rike’. 

In words with /r/ they might use /l/ for example the might pronounce ‘please’ as ‘prease’. 

Words that have both /l/ and /r/such as ‘really’, ‘regular’ and ‘relatively’ are a real headache for many Japanese speakers and are often unclear. 

What do Japanese speakers do wrong? 
This image shows how /l/ is pronounced.
The tongue tip TOUCHES or taps behind the top teeth. 
The picture below shows the tongue position for /l/.  


The English Consonant /r/  
The image below shows how /r/ is pronounced in English. The tongue tip DOES NOT TOUCH behind the top teeth. The tongue tip curls a little.

YOU SHOULD CHECK THAT:

Your tongue tip TOUCHES for /l/. 
Your tongue tip DOES NOT TOUCH for /r/.

With our Accent Reduction Training for Japanese Speakers you will fully master /l/ & /r/ so you can pronounce it with confidence. 

 

Practise Your /l/

/l/ in ‘especially’ & ‘completed’

Hearing and making the difference between /l/ & /r/ takes practice! Can you hear that the Japanese speakers use /r/ instead of /l/?

Now listen to the native speaker. Can you hear the tongue tip touching for /l/?

The English Consonant /v/  

Many Japanese speakers confuse /v/ and /b/ in some words.  For example they might pronounce the word ‘video’ as ‘bideo’ or  ‘avoid’ as ‘aboid’.  

What do Japanese speakers do wrong? 
The image below shows the correct mouth position for the sound /v/ in English. 

Did you know that /f/ and /v/ have exactly the same mouth position? The only difference is that /v/ has voice and /f/ has no voice. /f/ is also a challenging sound fro many Japanese speakers. 

For /v/ and /f/ the bottom lip lightly touches the top teeth and the air comes gently in between. There is a friction sound as the air passes through. 

The English Consonant /v/: 

The English Consonant /b/  
The image below shows how /b/ is pronounced. The lips come together and release a puff of air.  

YOU NEED TO CHECK THAT:

When you make /v/ you are not bringing your lips together. The bottom lip should lightly touch the top teeth with the air coming between, like for /f/.

For systematic training to master /v/ and /f/ enrol in our English Pronunciation Training for Japanese Speakers.  

 

Practise Your /v/

/v/ in ‘volunteer’ & ‘avoid’

Can you hear that the Japanese speaker uses /b/ instead of /v/? You can hear that she closes her lips and there is a puff of air, which makes /b/ instead of /v/. 

Now listen to the native speaker. Can you hear friction sound for /v/? There is no puff of air!

The English Vowel //  

There are about 4 times more vowels in English than in Japanese. English has long vowels, short vowels and double vowels.

Many Japanese speakers pronounce the double (or diphthong vowel /oʊ/ with a single vowel instead of a double vowel.

For example, a Japanese speaker would pronounce ‘coat’ more like ‘caught’ or ‘cot’ and pronounce ‘note’ more like ‘nought’ or ‘not’. 

What do Japanese speakers do wrong? 
The double vowel /oʊ/ has two mouth positions. /o/ and then /ʊ/ smoothly joined together. 

See the two vowels in the // vowel here. 

YOU NEED TO CHECK THAT:
You need to check that you are making a double vowel for /oʊ/not a single vowel. 

The spelling in English for this vowel varies a lot! Because of this it can be difficult for Japanese students to know when to make /oʊ/. 

Japanese students often miss /oʊ/ in the following words:

won’t /woʊnt/
most /moʊst/
global /ˈɡloʊ.bəl/
focus /ˈfoʊ.kəs/
both /boʊθ/

Correct/oʊ/ and the other English vowels that are challenging for Japanese speakers with our English Accent Training Course for Japanese Speakers

 

Practise Your //

// in ‘won’t’

Listen to the Japanese speakers saying the word ‘won’t’. There’s a problem! It sounds like they are saying ‘want’ because they use a single vowel instead of a double vowel.   

Now listen to the native speaker. Can you hear they make two vowels for /oʊ/. 
won’t – double vowel  – /woʊnt/
want – single vowel – /wɒnt/ or /wɑːnt/

Why You Need to Think About Word Stress


Did you know that research shows that the emphasis and rhythm you use in English has a HUGE effect on how clear your English is to listeners. 

Every multi-syllable word in English has one stressed syllable. That syllable is slightly higher in pitch and has more emphasis than the other syllables. 

You can listen to some examples below, but here are some examples now: 

rePORT – the ‘PORT’ is the stressed syllable. 
MEdical – the ME is the stressed syllable.
eXAMple – the XAM is the stressed syllable. 

When you put the emphasis on the right part of words in English, it means that your listener can instantly recognise it. Good word stress is essential for clear English. Flat or incorrect word stress means that your English is very likely to be unclear. 

Many Japanese speakers use word stress and rhythm in English that’s much flatter than a native speaker. 

This is because Japanese has a very different ‘rhythm’ or ‘music’ to English. Many Japanese students have noticed that their English sounds flat (see comments like from students below).

This is because in Japanese every syllable is given the same amount of stress or emphasis, so the rhythm is quite even and flat.

Speakers bring this flat and even pattern of Japanese into their English.

In English, the ‘word stress’ and rhythm is totally different.  English has stressed and unstressed syllables and only the stressed syllables are given emphasis and the others become weaker. 

Let’s reverse the problem! When English speakers speak Japanese, many Japanese speakers note that English speakers use quite a different rhythm. They put emphasis and stresses on parts of Japanese words that shouldn’t have it. That’s because they are transferring the ‘music’ and rhythm of English into their Japanese. It’s hard for English native speakers to get the flat and even rhythm of Japanese right :  )

Some Japanese speakers pick up the stress and rhythm of English very quickly. Usually these are people who have learnt musical instruments or had singing lessons and they are good at hearing pitch and rhythm. Some people are just super talented at picking up languages. 

For many people, learning word stress and rhythm in English is very challenging.

It’s challenging too because you can’t tell by looking at an English word, where the stress should be. It can be on any syllable.  

So, as a Japanese speaker start improving your word stress today here! 

Word Stress in English 

Every multi-syllable word in English has one stressed syllable. That syllable is slightly higher in pitch and has more emphasis than the other syllables.  

What do Japanese speakers do wrong? 
Many Japanese speakers use word stress that is too flat in pitch or sometime they put the stress on the wrong syllable in English words. 

They are bringing the even rhythm and stress pattern from Japanese into their English. They use a flat, even pitch and give all syllables a similar amount of stress. 

This means that their English listeners have to work harder to understand and recognise the words that they say.  Flat stress or incorrect stress make English unclear.  

TO IMPROVE YOU SHOULD:

Listen for the ‘up’ and ‘down’ of the voice when other people are speaking AND listen to it in your own English. 

It may take a week or so for you to be able to hear it but the more you try, the better you will get at it. 

Start to open your ears to stress and emphasis. 

For multi-syllable words, take a moment to think about which syllable should be stressed.

For help with mastering word stress and emphasis for clear and effective English with our English Pronunciation Course for Japanese Speakers

 

Practise Your Word Stress

compare, prevent
service, discussed

Watch the video below to hear examples of Japanese speakers flat word stress.

Listen to the native speaker saying the words – compare, prevent, service and discussed. Practise out loud while focusing on the pitch / tone of the voice. Pay attention to the one stressed syllable in each word. It’s higher and the other syllable is lower and weaker.  

What Next? How To Keep Improving!


When Japanese speakers mispronounce English vowels and consonants it’s often because those sound doesn’t exist in Japanese. They are completely new!

Remember it takes time to learn the new sounds – to learn to hear them and make them!

Over the next few days, focus on paying more attention to the sounds you make when you speak English.

Here’s a summary of how to improve the sounds you’ve heard above. 

1. When pronouncing the English consonant /l/ your tongue tip TOUCHES for /l/. For /r/ it DOES NOT touch, it curls slightly. 

2. When pronouncing the English consonant /v/ check you are not bringing your lips together. The bottom lip should lightly touch the top teeth with the air coming between.

3. When pronouncing the English vowel /oʊ/ you need to check that you are making a double vowel /o/ and then /ʊ/and not a single vowel. 

4. For improving your Word Stress in English you should start to listen for the ‘up’ and ‘down’ of the voice when other native speakers are speaking AND listen to it in your own English.  Here are some videos on improving word stress. 

For help with English vowel sounds and consonant sounds visit our Recording Tool – English Vowels & Consonants page. You can record all the sounds in English and compare them with a native English speaker. It’s a great way for Japanese students to become familiar and practice all the sounds in English. 

Why Japanese Speakers Are My Favourite Students


Did you know that Japanese students are my favourite? I probably shouldn’t say that but hey – I can tell you!

Why are Japanese students my favourites? Because most of the Japanese speakers I’ve worked with are very good at understanding the problem AND then working systematically to correct it. They put in the effort and practise needed to get the job done.

As well as being lovely people, they have mostly been very diligent and good at completing regular practise to make excellent improvement.

I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of Japanese professionals and students, based in the UK, the US, Australia and around the world. They’ve engaged in our training to speak better, clearer English. They want to feel more confident with their spoken English and pronunciation. 

See some comments from Japanese students who have taken our English Pronunciation / Accent Reduction Course which is specifically designed for Japanese speakers below.  

I really love all of this course. It covers all areas which are important but difficult for Japanese speakers. 

In the past I acknowledged that I had problems with ‘f’, ‘v’ and ‘th’ sounds but had no idea how to improve. This course showed me exactly how I need to pronounce these and gave me the right practice. Lots of practice so I can use my new sounds. 

My English was very flat. The course shows me how to change this and I still improve this everyday.  I speak clearly now and people understand me more easy.

I highly recommend this course to all Japanese students who want to speak clear English.

Masumi K
Nurse 
Japanese Speaker, Perth Australia

This course was very helpful for me to speak with more natural pronunciation.

I always wanted to speak English like a native speaker so that was very good.

This course helped me a lot with my confidence. Thank you very much.

Kei

Japanese Speaker , Sydney Australia

Would You Like More Help With Your English Pronunciation? 


Please contact us to talk about your English speaking goals and how we can help you improve your English accent and pronunciation skills and your spoken English. 

You can chat with us with our chat tool on our website, email us at [email protected] or fill out the contact form below or call us on +61 411 295 828. 

We look forward to hearing from you. 

If you are ready to get serious about improving your English pronunciation you can enrol in our online course and get started straight away. 

Start Improving Today With Speech Active's Course For Japanese Speakers

Thanks For Reading! 

We hope you’ve found this page helpful to become familiar with some of the areas of English pronunciation that Japanese speakers find challenging. Whether you’re looking for accent training, accent reduction training or English pronunciation training, this page is a good place to start improving your awareness of pronunciation problems for Japanese speakers. 

We look forward to hearing from you. 

If you would like to know more about our training for Japanese students, please fill out the form below and we will get in touch with you. 

Thanks and enjoy your day. 

Georgie

Founder of Speech Active  

Contact Us To Find Out More About English Pronunciation For Japanese Speakers

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