Japanese to English

Japanese to English

General Problems

  1. It is a good idea to read about the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds before you practise the individual pronunciation sounds.
  2. English idioms are used often and there are many that are commonly used. I have put a short list of idioms under the common problems section. There are many more which will be added, or you can purchase a book on English idioms and go over the book with an English-first friend to find the most commonly used.
  3. Countable versus uncountable nouns require different adjectives. “Much” is used for uncountable, and “many” is used for countable. We say “How many pencils did you have yesterday?” You can count pencils, as opposed to “How much rain fell yesterday?” Don’t get confused now. The word rain is uncountable. You cannot say “One rain (or two rains) fell yesterday”
  4. Sentence stress is not used in Japanese but it is important in being understood in English. English is a stress timed language. To be easily understood it is important to develop the English rhythm. To stress a word is to say it longer and louder, and in spoken English sentences we stress nouns (not pronouns), adjectives, verbs (main verb only) and adverbs. The rest of the words become grouped together with those stress words. (For more information see our Members’ lesson 6). 


  1. There is an “r” sound in Japanese but it is very different from the North American English “r” sound. To the English-first speaker the Japanese “r” is very difficult to pronounce and sounds almost like a “d” sound. The reverse is also true. The English “r” sound is difficult for the Japanese-first speaker. There is confusion between the “r” sound and the “l” sound. The Japanese speaker should be aware that the “r” sound is produced in English with the tongue curled up towards, but not touching the roof of the mouth. The “l” sound is produced in much the same way but the tongue touches the top of the mouth just above the gum line just above the teeth. (See Members’ lesson 4 – #11, #15)
  2. The “f” and “v” sounds, not used in the Japanese language, are similar in production, in that the lower lip is brought up very near the upper front teeth, and air is expelled between the front teeth and the lower lip. The major difference between the two sounds is that the “f” sound is produced in the mouth (unvoiced) and the “v” sound is produced in the throat using “vocal flaps. Another difference is the position of the upper teeth and lips. The “f” sound is created with the lower lip and upper front teeth just slightly touching with room for air to be pushed out between them. The “v” sound is produced with the upper front teeth extending further out on the lower lip and touching it as the sound is created. (See Members’ lesson 4 – #7, #8)
  3. In English we have two different “th” sounds, Japanese has none. This is a relatively easy sound to explain how to produce and with practise it can be almost perfected. Look in a mirror when pronouncing this sound. If you do not see the tip of your tongue coming out a little ways between your teeth, you are probably making a “t” or “d” sound. The difference between the two “th” sounds is that one is produced in the front of the mouth and the other is produced in the throat using vocal flaps (unvoiced vs voiced sounds). Create a list of words with the “th” sounds, and using a mirror watch to make certain you can see your tongue as they are pronounced. It is a good idea to record your attempts, then listen closely as you play back your list of pronounced words. Lips should not touch the tongue when it is extended. (For more help See Members’ lesson 4- #18, #19)
  4. The short “i” sound found in the word “it” is often a problem and the Japanese-first speaker may pronounce this as a long ‘i” as in the word “eat”. The difference is explained more fully in the Members section but a good way to begin saying this sound correctly is to smile (slightly) when beginning to say the long “i” but no smile when saying the short “i”. (See Members’ lesson 5 – #25, #26)
  5. The schwa is a vowel sound used in English to replace vowel sounds in unstressed syllables, but it is used in all English consonant clusters. The Japanese language typically contains a consonant sound, followed by a vowel sound, followed by another consonant sound and so on. The Japanese-first speaker will put the schwa between all consonants in an English consonant cluster adding a syllable each time. As an example the word “tree” is a one syllable English word, with a two letter consonant cluster (t and r). This may be pronounced by a Japanese-first speaker putting a schwa sound between the “t” and the “r”, creating a two syllable word “ter ee”.This may be difficult to unlearn the Japanese CVCV speech and learn the English CCV speech (C=consonant, V=vowel). (See how the schwa is used in Members’ section 5 – #34).

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