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Home: English Pronunciation Mini-Course for Japanese Learners, Page 1

English Pronunciation Mini-Course
for Japanese Learners
Page 1 of 4

One of the biggest problems confronting English education these days is that it's just plain gotten too geeky. This applies especially to the teaching of English pronunciation to non-native speakers.

All the debate back and forth on the exact proper positioning of the teeth, tongue, and lips; which phonetic symbols are most useful; and all the other senseless and incomprehensible academic terminology and doublespeak that are used at academic conferences and in classrooms like "labiodental," "uvular R," "suprasegmental," "voiceless consonants," "minimal pairs," "diphthongs," etc. can even make many university educators' eyes glaze over.

Here's just one example of a confusing term:

fricative (n.): a consonant produced by forcing the breath stream through a constriction formed by two separate articulators in the vocal tract, causing turbulence

HUH?! smiley

And here's a funny example of overkill on pronunciation instructions:

How to pronounce the TH sound
How to pronounce the TH sound
(image credit:

In my nearly 3 decades of experience teaching English in Japan (20 years at the university level), I've found that all this high-level academic talk serves only to greatly confuse our students and impedes their actual learning of the language.

Through the years I've observed intimate details of the major pronunciation problem areas that plague my Japanese learners of English, many of which stem back to the way English was taught in their junior high and high school days, including use of the Japanese syllabary katakana to teach English pronunciation.

Thus, in the following American English mini-course I have chosen to focus only on 4 of the most common and troublesome pronunciation problems that my students have struggled with through the years. And linguists and phonetics purists are certain to shun my approach, but I've intentionally simplified the exercises to aid the learning process.

Here is our game plan:
Each lesson contains 3 exercises (speaking, listening, and dictation), and although this mini-course is tailored to Japanese learners, it may prove useful to non-native English learners from other countries as well.

I'd recommend studying just one lesson per day to give yourself time to completely absorb and master the sounds in each lesson before moving on. But if you wish, and you have the time, there's no reason why you can't complete the whole mini-course in less than an hour, as each of the 13 videos are less than 90 seconds.

Either way, I hope you enjoy yourself! Okay, let's get started. Good luck! smiley

Course intro

English Pronunciation Mini-Course Intro
(click link above to view a larger-size video on separate page)

Lesson 1: TH/S sounds

Making the English TH sound is not rocket science. Search for "TH pronunciation" at YouTube and you'll get dizzy with all the over-the-top, WAY too detailed and difficult instructions. Those teachers are well-intentioned, but their techniques won't work with most Japanese learners, at least not from a video.

Just simply touch your tongue to your top teeth. That's ALL! You can do it. Like this:

making the TH sound
Making the TH sound
(photo credit:

But it IS important that you learn the difference between the TH and S sounds, or you might put people's lives in danger, as in this funny video of a German Coast Guard trainee:


"Sinking" vs. "Thinking"
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

TH/S sounds speaking practice

In this video the teacher will first read a TH word from the left column along with its similar sounding S word in the right column. Please repeat the word pairs after the teacher for your pronunciation practice. Remember to touch your tongue to your top teeth for the TH sound.

TH/S sounds speaking practice
(click link above to view a larger-size video on separate page)

Ok, very good. Please replay this video as necessary until you feel comfortable correctly pronouncing the TH and S sounds. And now on to the TH/S sounds listening practice. 頑張ってください (Gambatte)!

TH/S sounds listening practice

Now we will give you some listening practice with the TH/S sounds. The teacher will now read 10 words from either the left column or the right column. Please write down your answers on a piece of paper. He will say each word twice.

TH/S sounds listening practice
(click link above to view a larger-size video on separate page)

Finished? Ok, you can now check your answers by clicking below on the “Show/Hide answers” link, which will reveal the 10 words which the teacher just said. If you got more than 3 or 4 answers wrong, you might want to do this listening exercise again for more practice.

Show/Hide answers

TH/S sounds dictation practice

Our final Lesson 1 exercise is the TH/S sounds sentence dictation practice. The teacher will read 2 sentences using the TH & S sounds and you should write down the sentences on a piece of paper as best you can. The teacher will say each sentence 3 times, the 2nd time more slowly than native speed.

TH/S sounds dictation practice
(click link above to view a larger-size video on separate page)

Ok, you can now check your answers by clicking below on the “Show/Hide answers” link, which will reveal the 2 sentences which the teacher just said. If you found this difficult, you might want to try this dictation exercise again for more practice.

Show/Hide answers

Ok, congratulations! You’re now done with Lesson 1. If you're ready to start Lesson 2, R/L sounds, you can proceed now to Page 2.

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