of L and R
Sugimoto from Japan
story written by Keiichiro Sugimoto was translated
from Japanese into English by students in Timothy
Mossman's Interpreting and Translating 200 Class,
at Canadian International College, North Vancouver,
Canada. It was edited by Timothy
tough for Japanese to pronounce L and R, isn't it? If your response is, "Well, not
really," you must either be a super fluent speaker
of English or a person who has lived abroad in your
childhood. Otherwise, it's probably fair to say you
are just a beginner who hasn't yet felt the wrath
of L and R.
very difficult for Japanese to recognize the
difference between L and R because
these sounds fall into the Ra, Ri, Ru, Re, Ro liquids1 category in Japanese. Therefore, in Japanese both L and R are pronounced as one
phoneme, but in English L and R are
two distinct phonemes.
So, native English speakers often wonder why
Japanese can't distinguish L from R.
Also, comedians often use this L-R problem
as a model of a typical Japanese accent as material
for their jokes. I find any joke based on race to
be disgusting, but what makes me feel worse is that
it is a fact I can do nothing about.
a story about a time when I went to a sports bar to
watch baseball with a few buddies from work and my
boss, who had just arrived from Japan. On this day
Nomo was the starting pitcher in the all-star game,
so we decided to watch the game over a few beers.
We felt like having an appetizer of steamed clams,
so I ordered.
"We'd like steamed clam." Waitress: "OK Crab." Me:
"No. No. Clam!" Waitress: "You want crab, right?"
Me: No! Claaaam, please! Waitress: ??? Then I
pointed to clam the menu. Waitress: "Oh! Clam!" Me:
"What the $#@!'s the difference?"
had been living in the United States for two years
and I was beginning to feel more confident with my
English. However, this incident dealt a real blow
to my confidence. What's worse, it happened right
in front of my boss. The waitress could have
understood me, it seems, because "Clam" ends in "m"
and "Crab" ends in "b" . But she didn't. I think
the reason for her confusion was that my
pronunciation of L sounded like R to
this incident, I've developed an "L phobia."
Also, other Japanese people's pronunciation of L has started to catch my attention: " Ooo,
that guy's L is terrible!" "Yikes! She's
pathetic, too!" "Wow! That fellow's L is
really good. I bet he's been living in the US for a
long time!" Since then, I've been trying to
pronounce my Ls correctly, but it's not
easy. When I try to speak fluently, my L sounds like R and when I try to say L correctly, my words do not
hard to free myself from this dilemma. I memorize
English vocabulary in my head by arranging them
according to katakana. Therefore, when I
speak English, I change the words that I arranged
in katakana to make them sound like English
using an "English-Sounds program".
Japanese, there is only one "liquid" phoneme-the
Japanese "R sound"--ra, ri, ru, re, ro-which is used for both L & R. Thus, I mix L & R words up because my memory cannot avoid
losing data of L and R in the process
of input. To pronounce L correctly, you need
to move your tongue forward and place your tongue
between the back of your front teeth and upper
jaw-just like the pronunciation of Th. The
Japanese language does not have any sound requiring
this kind of tongue movement, so it may be one of
the factors which brings L trouble to
quite a few Americans studying Japanese think that
the Ra line (ra, ri, ru, re, ro) is difficult to
pronounce. Don't you think that's interesting? My
friend, Tim, (not Tim Mossman--a different Tim)
worked as an English teacher for a Prefectural
Board of Education in Japan. He traveled around
teaching English conversation at some Junior High
and Senior High schools. He is quite proficient at
Japanese, but admitted that the has difficulty
pronouncing the Ra (ra, ri, ru, re, ro) and Da (da, ji, zu, de, do) lines.
day, when Tim returned from teaching at TOIDE
Junior High School, one of the office assistant
asked him, "Where was your class today?" Tim: "I
went to TOIDE." (the Japanese word for toilet is
TOIRE) Assistant: "Where? Did you go to the toilet
(TOIRE)? I mean, which school did you go to today?"
Tim: "TOIDE." Assistant: "TOIRE??? Oh, good grief!"
It's not easy to learn a foreign language is it?
Hang in there everyone! :-)
1 Liquid: A phoneme
(speech sound) categorized as a liquid
means that "there is some obstruction of
the airstream in the mouth, but not enough
to cause any real constriction or
friction. The reason why speakers in
languages with only one liquid tend to use
that sound for a substitute for the sound
that does not occur in their language is
because of the acoustic similarity of
translated stories: How
to Have Soup | A
Sugimoto explains why he wrote the stories:
People Understand Each Other
CIC-Keiichiro Connection: A Translation
Keiichiro's Stories | Issue
15 | Home
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