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18 May 2005

L and R, are they really different?

For native speaker of Japanese like me, L and R are hard to pronounce. Foreigners say Japanese use inbetween of L and R. Not only we have difficulty to pronounce, we can't hear them correctly. The following is the list of pairs of the words which we can't distinguish.

1. light, right
2. life, rife
3. lice, rice
4. lip, rip (See the movie "Lost in Translation." There was a funny incident related to these words.)

The most difficult thing of learning foreign language is to master the pronunciation. It is what only children are good at. If I had started to learn English, I would be able to hear the difference between L and R.

I can sometimes hear the difference only when somebody speaks slowly and clearly. To me, L is clearer than R. R is more romantic than L. But when someone speaks at normal speed or faster, I can never hear the difference.

Japanese is one of the easiest language in terms of pronunciation. We have only 5 vowel sounds compared with 12 vowels in English and 16 in French. As for consonants, we have k,s,t,n,h,m,y,(l/r),w,g,z,d,b, and n. Surprisingly, our neighbor Chinese has 21 consonants. Chinese can hear the difference between L and R. Koreans can, too.

We also have difficulty in distinguishing s and th, and v and b. Like "faith or face," and "vase or base." But they are easier than L and R. Th and V sounds don't exist in our language, so it is easy to notice. But as for L and R, we use mixed pronunciation.

We also have problems in some of vowel sounds like the difference between color and collar.

Chinese language which I started learn recently has much more complexed vowel sounds system. It is called 4 tones. 1st tone is like stretching high voice, 2nd tone is raising tone, 3rd tone is down and up, and 4th tone is downing tone. If you mistone, even if the pronunciation is correct, it is regarded different meaning.

For example, "ma" of 3rd tone means horse but "ma" of 4th tone means to insult. Even if a person speaks fast, Chinese can hear the tone of every character as you hear the difference between L and R.

I wish I could hear the difference between L and R and Chinese 4 tones of the vowels perfectly as those of native speakers do.

21:15 Posted in Language learning | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: Education

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