Mistake #5 - Not Floating the "N" Sound

ん / ン / n / m

First, I'll mention that ん, the only Japanese character independent of a vowel sound, is like the English "N" sound.

When it's followed by an "M," "B," or "P" sound, however, it will sound more like an "M" sound than an "N" sound.

So 先輩(せんぱい), though we write it in romaji as "senpai," sounds more like "sempai." Some people will argue that this is not the case. Really, though, it doesn't matter either way. Who cares?!

What we're looking at in this section is pronunciation mistakes. And the one I want to point out is unrelated to the "N vs M" debate.

I am shamed to admit that the pronunciation mistake I'm about to introduce is one that I myself was making several years into my Japanese studies: Over-pronouncing the ん sound, especially when it's followed by a vowel sound.

You see a word like 一万円 (いちまんえん // 10,000 yen), and you know that the romanization of those kana characters is i-chi-ma-n-en. Accordingly, you say that: ichimanen.

And just like that, you sound like a gross foreigner.

What? Wait, why? What did I do?!

We'll need sound samples to solve this particular dilemma.

First, listen to this non-native speaker saying 一万円 (いちまんえん // ichimanen // 10,000 yen) incorrectly:

Let's hear that word again, this time pronounced naturally by a native Japanese speaker:

Did you catch the difference?

It might be hard to hear if you're just starting with Japanese.

The native speaker sort of "floats" over the ん sound, so to speak. That's how I like to think of it, at least. You'll also notice that it has a slightly more nasally sound to it.

Technically speaking, the difference is that the non-native speaker is pressing his tongue to the top of his mouth too much when trying to make the ん sound, and as a result he says "N" and not ん.

To a Japanese person, it sounds like this person is saying いちまんねん (i-chi-ma-n-ne-n // え→ね), which is not a word.

So, you know, go easy on that ん sound. And shadow native speakers like your life depends on it.

Word Kana Romaji Meaning
うん うん un yes; yeah; uh huh
ううん ううん uun no; uh uh
簡単 かんたん kantan easy; uncomplicated
女の子 おんなのこ onnanoko girl; daughter
日本語 にほんご nihongo Japanese (language)
禁煙 きんえん kinen No Smoking!; abstaining from smoking

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