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One challenge english teachers will face when teaching japanese students english, and in particular pronunciation, is the distinction between the r and l sound. In the japanese language neither of these sounds exist and for japanese people the sound these two letters make is very similar and more often than not indistinguishable. So teaching about the difference between these sounds and how to pronounce them correctly is very important. The japanese have three alphabets. The first is Kanji. This alphabet was borrowed from the chinese and consists of chinese characters. The number of characters is unknown, but it is said that to read a japanese newspaper one should know at least two thousand kanji characters. The second alphabet is hiragana. This is the first alphabet children learn. This alphabet originated in japan and consists of forty-six syllables. Some of these syllables can be altered to create new syllables (sounds). In total, however, there are only about one hundred japanese syllables or possible sounds. That is much fewer than in english. The last alphabet used in japanese is called katakana. This alphabet is basically the same as the hiragana alphabet (same number of syllables, same sounds), but the characters look different. They use this alphabet for words they have borrowed from foreign languages. For example, there is no japanese word for cheese. So at a supermarket, the label on cheese package would be written in katakana and would be pronounced “cheezu”. The reason for the extra u at the end of the word is because in japanese all syllables finish with a vowel. Therefore, a word or syllable cannot finish in a t or d sound, for example. If you want to test this theory, write the word “and” on the board at an elementary school and ask one of the students to say this word. They will probably say “ando” because when they learned this word their teacher probably wrote the katakana form of this word beside the english spelling so the student would know how to pronounce it. This katakanizing of words creates real problems for japanese learners of english. Since a young age they have been taught incorrect pronunciation of english words and when native english speakers go to japan to teach them how to speak english, they have to try to rewire how the students should pronounce many english words. This brings us back to r and l sound. english words that have r or l sounds will be translated by the same katakana character in japanese. For example, in japanese America would be spelled and pronounced “a-me-ri-ka” and italy would be spelled and pronounced “i-ta-ri”. Although for us ri and li(ly) are different sounds, there is no distinction of these sounds when these words are written in japanese. All ls are transformed into rs. So a teacher will find an overuse of the letter r in the spelling of words and a lack of the letter l. Common mistakes include, Itary (italy), dericious (delicious), crap (clap), etc… There are other sounds that create problems such as ‘b’ and ‘v’, as well as ‘th’, so all of these sounds must be practiced extensively with many opportunities to practice. Demonstrating mouth positioning, including what your tongue and lips should do are all important in teaching how to pronounce these english sounds. A useful exercise is to put the numbers 1 to 0 on the board (as shown below). Beside the pairs of numbers write two words that have almost the identical pronunciation except for the r and l sound. This can also be done with v and b sounds (eg. very vs. berry). Then give your phone number to the students by calling out the corresponding the word. So if your number is 265 then you would say “light, long, wrong”. The students listen and the write the number of the corresponding word on piece of paper. The students repeat this activity with a partner. Sample Activity 1 - right 2 – light 3 – road 4 – load 5 – wrong 6 – long 7 – bread 8 – bled 9 – rice 0 - lice