Having previously spent almost a decade living in Japan, I can affirm that Japanese speakers often encounter distinct challenges with English pronunciation.
A prevalent issue among Japanese learners is the struggle to differentiate between the sounds /l/ and /r/. In Japanese, a sound that falls between these two English sounds is utilized, as evident in words like “ramen.” Furthermore, Japanese speakers frequently face challenges in distinguishing the sounds /w/ and /v/, leading to the pronunciation of imported words like “veteran” as “beteran.” The difficulty with the /w/ sound stems from the challenge of rounding the lips, a characteristic of native English pronunciation.
However, these challenges are just the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who has spent significant time in Japan as a native English speaker is likely familiar with these issues. Yet, recognizing these differences is one thing; effectively addressing them is another.
Pronunciation extends beyond the placement of the tongue; it involves understanding how to produce sounds with the correct airflow. Japanese speakers tend to transition rapidly from one syllable to the next, creating a constant start-stop mechanism that controls airflow from the back of the mouth. In contrast, English sounds are typically aspirated, emphasizing the role of the lungs. When speaking English, one can feel the diaphragm being pushed down and released as we speak.
For Japanese students aspiring to enhance their English pronunciation, it’s crucial to begin by understanding the fundamental mechanics of speech. I encourage my students to focus on the aspect of speech therapy, taking a step back to delve into phonetics, the basic building blocks of sounds, and learning to articulate them naturally. Simply repeating words or expressions with the hope of improvement may lead to disappointment.
Comprehending the intricacies of English sounds and speech mechanisms at a fundamental level establishes a robust foundation for mastering English pronunciation. It’s a journey that commences with awareness and progresses through dedicated practice and guidance.