In the video above, we will be focusing on how Mandarin Chinese sound patterns are different from English, affecting pronunciation. This tutorial focuses on the “N” sound in American English, as in “noise”
Although the “N” sound does also exist in Chinese, there is a tendency for native Mandarin Chinese speakers to replace the “N” sound with an “L” sound when speaking English. Therefore, the English word “nose” may be pronounced as “lose,” or “pronounce” my sound like “prolounce.”
The difference between the “N” and “L” sounds
The main difference between the “N” and “L” sounds is the location of airflow from the nose or mouth, in speech science we call this resonance.
Let’s begin with an exercise. Try just holding the “N” sound with your hand on the side of your nose. Can you feel a slight vibration with on your hand?
With the “N” sound, air is escaping from the nose, and we call this nasal resonance.
Now try saying “L” for a long time with your hand on your nose. What do you feel? You shouldn’t feel the vibration on your nose with “L.” With the “L” sound, air is escaping from the mouth, the oral cavity, and we call this oral resonance.
So, air leaving the nose or the mouth is the main difference between “N” and “L.” Being aware of this airflow can help the accent student with pronouncing “N” in American English.
Here are a few “practice words” for accent students working on the “N” sound in American English, specifically working on not inadvertently replacing it with an “L” sound.
First, go back to placing your hand on your nose, and alternating saying “N” and “L” while feeling the vibration turn on and off by your nose. Be sure to understand that “N” means air is leaving the nose, and “L” means air is leaving through the mouth.
Practice exercise 1:
Try saying these 6 short words containing the “N” sound. You do not have an accent coach present to give you feedback, but try to increase your self-awareness about whether you are pronouncing the “N” or replacing the “N” sound with an “L” sound. Pause as a put these 6 words up and say them out loud:
Practice exercise 2:
After that warm up with short words, now we are going to practice 6 longer words containing the “N” sound. Since these words are generally more challenging to pronounce, I will say the word, and then repeat my model:
For extra practice, you can put these words in short sentences to see if the “N” sound is being maintained, such as “I practice how to pronounce the “N” sound in English.
This tutorial was designed to give native Mandarin Chinese speakers a simple tutorial about the “N” sound to increase your awareness of the sound on your system. Since each speaker is an individual, you may be pronouncing the sound correctly, or you may need extra support from a professional accent teacher. This video was to understand how that “N” is sometimes replaced with “L” in English by native Mandarin Chinese speakers, and teaching the speech science behind how “N” and “L” are different.
These tutorials are designed to empower the accent student by increasing the awareness of your own pronunciation and sound trends. It is recommended that you consult an accent coach about your own personal pronunciation patterns and accent goals.
Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!
Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP
Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist
All About Accents