I keep making attempts to help L2 English learners break their strange pronunciation habits with tools like phonetic charts, but it seems like they just relapse. One of the big issues I deal with with L2 English learners in Japan is that they finish words with "o". For example, instead of saying, "Can you get me that?" They say, "Can you geto me thato?" They're trying to enunciate.

I have a controversial way of teaching pronunciation that ends with consonants that seems to be effective, but people just relapse into the behavior of enunciating with the added o. One of my regular students often uses count pronouns with non-count words and says, 'It's a style of English speaking. So, it's okay.'

Let's look at a specific example: walk vs. work. If you have people sound out 'werk' and 'wok', they sound spot-on. Unfortunately, after about 5 minutes, they're right back to saying "WAHELK" and "WHORLK", which just sounds terrible.

How can I solidify their pronunciation?

  • 2
    Have you tried using listening exercises to emphasise the differences - they listen, write down the words, then say them back. Rinse and repeat.
    – Marcin
    Oct 19, 2011 at 10:44
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    I second what Marcin says: pronunciation is arguably more related to listening than speaking.
    – tenfour
    Oct 19, 2011 at 11:03
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    Try having them record their own voices reading a passage. Make them listen to a native speaker's voice reading the same thing, then have them listen to their own version. Ask them to identify the differences they hear. Hearing your own voice recorded allows you to be more objective about your sound.
    – user13141
    Oct 19, 2011 at 11:41
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    What is "L2" in this context? Oct 19, 2011 at 11:50
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    Not trying to be critical, but if your method is "effective", why do people "relapse"? I ask because you said your method is controversial...have you tried the standard way? What is controversial about your way?
    – JeffSahol
    Oct 19, 2011 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


I have had a similar problem when I was teaching German in Japan.

If the students are old enough you can explain to them that the phonetic pool of English is totally different from the one they have in Japanese, so they need to learn how to pronounce their words from scratch.

I spent about an hour teaching my student how to pronounce a word he never got right before and when it finally worked, he was really happy - also because he was instantly able to pronounce similar words correctly.

Another situation I had was when a student was able to produce the right sound already when combined with other vowels:

ich ("I" in German) echt ("genuine", "true")

acht ("eight") <--- my student always pronounced the "ch" as "h" here even though he got it right in the other cases.

So I made him say those words in a row "ich, echt, acht" to correct the "acht".

I realize this is pretty close to logpedics and speech therapy, but it does work in practise given a student who is intrinsically motivated to learn a language.

  • My learners always seem to take away a feeling of loss when I spend a lot of time on a topic. Why do you think he smiled? Is there something about your style of encouraging your students that encourages this response, or have you unlocked some secret to Japanese culture? Oct 19, 2011 at 11:47
  • You do realize that the pronunciation of both 'soft' and 'hard' ch sounds varies a fair bit across Germany in practice, yeah? In particular, the soft ch of 'ich' ranges all the way from [] (or at least, a very indistinct [h]) to [k]. Oct 19, 2011 at 11:54
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    @KarlKnechtel: In fairness, the goal of teaching a second language is usually to teach the "standard" form; and in any case students need to be consistent in their accents, not swerving between regions in the same sentence.
    – Marcin
    Oct 19, 2011 at 12:12
  • @Karl: I was teaching standard German at that time. My 'ch' vs. 'h' was meant to serve as an example of the method I used successfully. I have used it for other examples where the student was able to create the correct sound in one case but not in the other.
    – Raku
    Oct 19, 2011 at 12:25
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    As a native English speaker I have to concentrate to get the Ich sound right - I'm amazed you managed to teach a Japanese speaker to do it.
    – mgb
    Oct 19, 2011 at 15:32

I have a trick I use when learning another language: I speak my language (English) with a strong accent of the target language. That gets me into the feel, rhythm, where in the mouth I am making sounds, etc. Then I cut straight over to the target language keeping that feel.

I've been told by native speakers of all sorts of languages that I say words exactly like a native - with absolutely no detectable accent. Maybe you could try that.

  • That's a pretty cool idea - a perfect illustration of old habits vs. new
    – tenfour
    Oct 19, 2011 at 11:42
  • Hey, that sounds worthy of a chance, Bohemian. Typically, the complaint from Japanese about Native English speakers' pronunciation of Japanese is that the timing and inflection is off. The worst situation is when small or similar small characters are used. It's supposed to be pronounced with the preceding character together at the same speed as the rest of the characters, but it's often made too long. I wonder if they will have some creative output in other ways, though.... I'll repost if they do. Oct 19, 2011 at 11:50
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    Agreed. When living in a foreign country, one way I discovered to reduce my accent was to "make fun of theirs". By speaking in what (to me) felt like an exaggerated parody of the way that they speak English, I was able to start sounding more like them. Oct 19, 2011 at 14:21
  • @AricTenEyck That's exactly what I mean! You should hear my Spanish accent - it's basically a parody, but then I speak Spanish with that accent, and voila! It sound trite, but one should speak Spanish with a Spanish accent. Same of course for all languages.
    – Bohemian
    Jun 27, 2013 at 4:06

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