Error Type 1:/n/

This error mainly occurs in word endings as the [n] in Japanese pronunciation, when it occurs in the end of a word, it is usually very similar to the English /ŋ/ [ng].

The tongue blade does not come into contact with the alveolar ridge.  However, at times, despite the correct movement of the tongue blade, the ending of the word continues to sound erroneous.

The reason is that some Japanese learners nasalize the vowel before consonant /n/ by retracting the tongue dorsum towards the back of the hard palate as English speakers would do for English consonant /ŋ/.

One; Ran; fan; pen; mission; win etc

Error Type 2: /r/

Japanese learners are not able to produce the consonant /r/ for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist in Japanese.  It’s often replaced by a consonant which is at times either identical or similar to the consonant /l/.

Japanese learners find it especially difficult to produce the /r/ sound at the beginning of the word as they are required to curl the tip of the tongue backwards, position it in the center and move it up and down while preventing it from touching the roof of the mouth.

Usually, native speakers of English, move their lips forward while curling the tip of their tongue back inside their mouths. For Japanese, performing those two movements simultaneously seems to be extremely difficult.

Rat; right; really; return; year; here; cherry etc

Error Type 3: /l/

While it is not difficult for Japanese learners to position the tip of their tongue behind their upper teeth, it seems to be quite difficult for them to control the movement of their lips during the production of consonant /l/.

The forward movement of the lips distorts the sound produced and therefore, learners must be instructed to freeze their lips completely especially at the beginning of their learning period.

Also, in order for Japanese learners to produce a proper English /l/, they have to be taught how to keep their tongue back down while raising their tip up.

Like; laugh; light; certainly; definitely; available

Error Type 4: /f/-/v/

When producing the consonant /f/, Japanese learners are not able to: 1/restrict the downward movement of the upper lip; 2/situate their lower lip underneath their upper teeth to produce the restricted air coming out from the gap between the lower lip and the upper teeth.

Sometimes, the consonant /f/ is replaced with the consonant /h/ especially before vowels /u/ and /oʊ/ which require rounded lips. The English /f/ and /v/ do not exist in the Japanese pronunciation.

First;Fight; forward; furnished; friend; enough; laugh; tough; cough

Error Type 5: /w/

This consonant exists in the Japanese language; however, it’s not performed in exactly the same manner as in English.

Japanese seem to have no problem producing this consonant before most vowels except /ʊ/, /uː/, /iː/ and /ɪ/.  When followed by vowel /ʊ/, /w/ is completely omitted, but when followed by vowels /iː/ or /ɪ/, sometimes /w/ is substituted by /v/ (although they’re unaware it’s /v/).

The word “would” is the best example of how this error is displayed.

This causes a major obstacle for Japanese learners mainly in connected speech as they’re not able to use /w/ to connect a word ending with the vowel /uː/ or /ʊ/ with another word starting with any other vowel as per the examples.

Would; wicked; with; women; do (w)I; situated; situation; casual

Error Type 6: /j/

This consonant also exists in Japanese pronunciation but never precedes the vowels /ɪ/ or /iː/.  As a result, it is omitted once it precedes /ɪ/, /iː/, and at times, /e/.

Like /w/, /j/ also makes it extremely difficult for Japanese learners to connect the words ending with vowel /iː/ or /aɪ/ with another word starting with any vowel.

/i:/ Need; read; treat; believe; meat; wheel; receipt etc./ɪ/: Knit; rid; tit; live; mitt; will; sit etc.

Error Type 7: /ʃ/-/s/

The consonant /ʃ/ exists in Japanese pronunciation but is also produced in a different manner than that in English.  Japanese learners keep the tip of their tongue too close to the back of their upper teeth while keeping their lips spread which results in a sound that falls between the English /ʃ/ and /s/.

When producing consonant /s/ though, Japanese learners seem to position both their lower and upper lips slightly forward which affects the production of that consonant in English.

Learners need to be advised to keep their lips spread when producing the English /s/ and position both of their lips slightly forward when pronouncing the English /ʃ/.

Also, they ought to be shown the precise tongue location and movement during the production of /ʃ/.

Mass; push; wash; silly; shooed; sheep; she; summer; kiss; cash

Error Type 8:/θ/-/ð/

Neither of these two consonants exist in Japanese and therefore, they’re both substituted for other consonants.

The consonant /θ/ is substituted by /s/ and the consonant /ð/ by /d/.

When asked by the teacher to place the tongue between lower and upper teeth, Japanese learners might incorrectly perform the movement by pressing both lips on the tongue or by over restricting the air flow with their teeth.

Think; think; both; father, that; mother; weather

Error Type 9: /z/

Japanese does have this consonant but once more, it is not specifically uttered in the same way.

First and foremost, the sound /z/ in Japanese never occurs at the end of the word and thus it is always substituted for the consonant /s/.

When it does occur either in the beginning or middle of the word, it is preceded by a consonant similar or identical to /d/, which means that the tip of the tongue makes contact with the teeth prior to releasing the restricted air of the English /z/.

Rise; vegetables; tables; chairs; wise; zebra; zero; reservation

Error Type 10: /ʃ/-/ʒ/ and /tʃ/-/ʤ/

As with most consonants in Japanese, /ʤ/ is never pronounced at the end of the word. Thus, Japanese learners either substitute this consonant with /dz/, /ʒ/ /tʃ/ or even /ʃ/.

Also, Japanese learners could add a schwa sound or /i/ after /ʤ/ when they successfully produce it.

Teachers need to demonstrate plenty of patience in assisting the learner to omit the schwa sound at the end of the word, and they need to spend a significant amount of time helping the learner distinguish between /ʒ/ and /ʤ/.

Learners need to be shown the detailed movement of both consonants and they also need to be exposed to ample repetition of minimal pairs.

Manage; cage; change; grudge; wedge; pledge; graduate; George; pleasure; leisure; version; immersion; lesion; casual; visual

Error Type 11: /ɝ/

This vowel does not exist in Japanese and as a result pronounced as either /ɑː/ or /ɔː/.

Japanese learners open their mouths too wide and lower their tongues, which prevents them from pronouncing the /ɝ/ correctly.

Learners need to be shown the correct positioning (how high and how far back the tongue should go) and advised not to allow their jaw to drop during the utterance of that vowel.

Learners need to be reminded to concentrate on tongue movement rather than the jaw or the lips. Lips need to be slightly positioned forward.

Would; wicked; with; women; do (w)I; situation; casual etc

Error Type 12: /oʊ/

This vowel is substituted by /ɔː/ for the simple reason that, as previously
indicated, Japanese do not produce consonant /w/ in the same manner as in English.

Vowel /oʊ/ requires the addition of consonant /w/ at the end of it, which Japanese learners are unable to do, which results in having that vowel replaced by /ɔː/.

/θ/: thin; wrath; moth; thigh; Ruth; truth etc.

/ð/: weather; loathe; then; writhe; scythe; rather etc.

Error Type 13:/ӕ/

This vowel is often substituted by the vowel /ɑː/ or /e/.

Japanese learners need to be advised to stretch or lengthen the vowel /e/ which they have in Japanese, and by doing that, they will obtain a very similar or even identical vowel to /ӕ/.

Learners also need to be exposed to much repetition and be given several examples of minimal pairs to increase their awareness of the differences between the vowels above.

Rat; cat; back; sad; that; can; fat; bat; mattress; apple; fantastic

Error Type 14: /ʌ/

In principle, Japanese learners should have no issue with this vowel as it exists in Japanese but learners erroneously produce it as either /ӕ/ or /e/ when it succeeds or precedes either of these vowels.

The tongue is incorrectly brought to the front and lowered down while it should be centered inside the mouth.

For example, ask your Japanese students to say [month] alone, they will pronounce the vowel in it correctly, but ask them to say [last month], then they will probably pronounce /ʌ/ as /ӕ/ or /e/, and if you correct it for them, they will replace the /ӕ/ in month with /a/ or /ʌ/.

But; bug; bus; month; none; sun; mutt; tough; wonder; crunch

Error Type 15: Schwa sound /ə/

Please read about the schwa sound if you do not know what it is.  If you do, then, Japanese have two main issues with it:

  • They substitute for for /ʌ/, /ɔ/, /e/
  • They add /ə/ between consonants (beginners would be adding the Japanese sound [u] or [o] but these get shortened to become a schwa in the case of slightly more advanced learners)
Lesson; delicious; position; reservation; attractive; mashed etc
Website; strong; please; problem; right side; cake; side;

Error Type 16: /i:/

This vowel exists in Japanese but learners substitute it with /ɪ/ in English.

Learners find difficulty in elevating the tongue and holding it close to the roof of the mouth.

Bead; meet; need; seat; feet; greed; read; lead; finally; slowly

Error Type 17: /eɪ/

As Japanese learners struggle with lifting their tongue high inside their mouths, they’re unable to pronounce vowel /eɪ/ which ends with the consonant /j/.

Therefore, this vowel is often substituted for long /e/.

Play; way; day; date; rate; race; create; wait; straight