Should Japanese and Vietnamese English Speakers Bend Over Backwards to Get Their Pronunciation Right?

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English

I have customers from all over the world – Brazil, the United States, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Arab Emirates – you name it!

Also, the native background of the English Harmony System’s owners is as diverse as the countries they reside in. I have Arabic and Chinese speaking customers from the States, Hindi speakers from the UK and Brazilian Portuguese speakers who live in Australia.

It just goes to show how widespread the English fluency issue is and how often foreign English speakers have developed their understanding and reading skills at the cost of their spoken fluency just because it’s a conventional wisdom that one needs to focus on reading and writing in order to become fluent.

It’s wrong, of course, and that’s what the English Harmony System does – it rearranges your English knowledge by forming natural English speech patterns so that you can speak more fluently and confidently.

Anyway, there’s one aspect the English Harmony System doesn’t cover, and I don’t touch upon it on my blog often, either. Namely, it’s English pronunciation.

Well, I actually do mention pronunciation when it comes to discussing fluency and the fact that many foreigners are trying to speak with perfect pronunciation which may actually have quite the opposite effect on their ability to speak fluently.

In other words, I’m always saying that you have to speak and pronounce English words in a way most comfortable to you, and that you don’t have to be too hung up on being perfect  ❗

But then one day I got an e-mail from one of my Japanese customers and it got me thinking if there might be more to the pronunciation aspect than I had thought.

You see, I had always assumed that once my English Harmony project is for foreign English speakers who’ve been struggling with English fluency for years, I don’t really have to focus on teaching proper pronunciation because that’s something my target audience has learnt ages ago.

Well, I do have tips on how to pronounce certain English sounds if you’ve always been struggling with them, but my advice always follows the same pattern – I tell my fellow foreigners to pronounce words in a way that suits them best and allows them to speak freely rather than trying to please others. Especially those, who think that a near-native pronunciation is a pre-requisite for English fluency 😡

But that particular e-mail from my customer made me wonder if my assumptions about pronunciation are correct because he basically said that it’s very difficult for Japanese English speakers to pronounce English words properly and they’re even struggling with FINDING a way to pronounce English words that suits them because English sounds are very distant from their native pronunciation! Some students apparently struggle with pronunciation even after years of practice, and what it means for the English Harmony project is the following.

Foreigners who I deal with, have very decent English understanding, reading, writing and listening ability, and can also speak fluently on certain occasions, but what they lack is the ability to produce instantaneous speech and use the same means of expression used by native English speakers.

I would have thought that all such foreigners surely would have acquired quite a normal pronunciation regardless of their national background.

I mean, once the person has spent literally years learning the language, even with relatively little spoken practice they would possess the ability to make themselves understood, and as far as I’m concerned, we foreigners don’t need more than that ❗

However, if some of my customers would even struggle to pronounce words and repeat phrases and engage in the dialogues in the speech exercising lessons contained in the English Harmony System, it would mean that I’d have to review the whole methodology and provide some help with learning to pronounce English words properly!

I went over the e-mail a few times – especially places where the customer said that Japanese and Vietnamese languages are the furthest from English in terms of pronunciation and that he still faces many embarrassing situations because others don’t always understand him.

I e-mailed him an answer saying that it’s indeed something I hadn’t taught about because I hadn’t realized that Asian students have these particular difficulties, and that it’s something I have to think about when making future System’s updates.

But here’s what I realized soon after my communication with my Japanese customer.

There will always be native English speakers in the States or the UK or Australia who won’t understand what you’re saying, ALWAYS ❗

Unless you have a perfect pronunciation, that is, but if you’re anything like me speaking with an accent, you’ll definitely get the typical question at some stage: “Can you say it again?” Or – “Can you repeat it?” Or even worse – they’ll pretend they understood what you said, but you’ll clearly feel that it’s not the case!

And you know what?

I also encounter situations when I’m not understood because of my accent. No matter how hard I try, there will always be someone who won’t understand a particular word or a whole sentence I’m saying, despite the fact that I come from Eastern-Europe instead of Asia!

And do you also know that even native English speakers struggle to understand each other if they come from different geographical backgrounds?

There are so many different regional English accents that you’d go mad trying to understand them all – Cockney and West of Ireland accent, South African and Southern American – all these regional accents are so distinct that it actually makes me think that ANY specific foreign English accent should receive the same respect and treatment!

So here’s the bottom line.

You don’t have to bend over backwards trying to make your English pronunciation to be very close or identical to that of a specific group of native English speakers.

No matter where you come from – Japan, Indonesia, Argentina or Russia, you don’t have to be ashamed of your accent and the way you pronounce words!

After this e-mail exchange with my Japanese student I believe stronger than ever that the whole pronunciation issue originates in trying to please some other group of English speakers who think that their English is the correct one.

But did you know that the English language has surpassed its historical native boundaries a long time ago and these days many nations on the planet can call English their native language? India and Nigeria, for instance, are the second and third biggest English speaking countries in the world, and just because English speakers from those countries have different accents doesn’t mean they should try to sound more like American or British English speakers!

Please, don’t be ashamed of your native background, and don’t let the misconception that only American or British pronunciation are correct drive you mad trying to replicate them!

So, if you’re from Japan or Vietnam, speak English the way your mouth wants, and let others worry if they can’t understand this or that specific word you said.

They can make it out from context easily, and if something presents real difficulties, they’ll ask you to repeat it, simple as that!

All right, that’s all I wanted to tell you today, and I hope it’s going to put all of your English pronunciation worries to rest!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!


English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Yash

    Hi Francisco , 

                          I m from india one of the largest country of english speaking people ..well i dont think its a very good idea to adopt a standard english accent it may hinder english learning processs,the thing is that u should be able to convey your message clearly,accent really doesnt matter in my opinion . Here in india we  speak english normally as we speak in our native language and  india is  also visited by many foreign nationals from across the world even they speak in their natural english not in american or uk accent and   they never had difficulty in understanding english that we speak neither people living here have any difficulty understanding theirs .

  • Yash

    I totally agree with robys  point of view ! 

  • Let me bring up an example.

    An Aussie goes to Asheville in North Carolina to a business trip and is checking into a hotel. His distinct accent isn’t so understandable to the receptionist and he has to ask him twice before he can understand the Aussie’s response.

    But it’s no big deal, it’s fun, right?

    Now, imagine a Chinese guy checks into the same hotel.

    All of a sudden, any misunderstandings that may occur in the check-in process are the Chinese guy’s fault. He should improve his English pronunciation!!!

    Do you think it’s fair?

    I don’t think so. Why the Aussie’s accent should be treated as superior to the Chinese accent? I don’t see any reason why it should, and as I said in the article – the English language has surpassed its native boundaries long ago. It’s an international language now, and every nation should have equal rights in terms of their accent perception.

  • Common Francisco! Can you point out where in my article I’m saying that one SHOULDN’T DO ONE’S BEST in terms of pronunciation? That’s EXACTLY what I’m saying!!!

    And I’ve never encouraged fellow foreigners to ADOPT distinct accents (as if it were to easy to do anyway!) – I’ve only used them as a comparison.The only thing we can’t seem to agree on (but actually we’re talking about different things here) is this: IF a foreigner speaks as GOOD AS HE POSSIBLY CAN but still finds that some might not understand certain words he says because of his native background, he shouldn’t GO COMPLETELY OUT OF THIS WAY trying SUPER-HARD to change his pronunciation.Yes, he should try to speak as close to a standard English pronunciation (taking into account this blog targets foreigners having studied English for years, I’m guessing 99% of those folks have already done their utmost in this regard anyway).Yes, he should try to be as understandable to natives and other foreigners as possible.But if it doesn’t work out as perfectly for him as it does for others – then what?My advice – be OK with it, and speak the way your mouth wants!

  • Sergio Rodrigues

    Allow  me to disagree a litle bit about your remarks. The problem is not to be ashamed of your accent. After all it is part of your identity. The question is  not be understood because of your acent, and it is definitely something that all english learners hava to worry  about.

  • Francisco Javier

    All I’m saying is that you should adopt one of the “standard” accents (or something close to it) because if you sound like a Cockney, a Brummie, a redneck or a Geordie very few people will understand you!

    It’s like adopting an Andalusian accent in Spain (which I speak myself). If I go to the north of the country, I might have to reduce my accent and make it more like Castilian because some people might not understand me. 

    So, if you are a learner, it’s better for you to try to sound as close to a “standard” accent as possible (say, a BBC accent or General American accent) unless you have a flair for accents and can switch between them!

  • But that’s exactly what I’m talking about here! I’m talking about regional accents, and I’m using it as a way of showing foreigners that they don’t have to be ashamed of having thick accents just because there are so many distinct regional accents! 

    So you’re thinking it’s best to have those fellow foreign English speakers of ours who struggle with their pronunciation to have worry endlessly about it and spend years of their time perfecting it?

    I’d rather suggest to do as good as they can and let others worry about the odd word they might not understand.

    Apparently it’s opinion we don’t share, and it’s fine by me; I just think it’s not fare on those fellow foreigners who aren’t so “well educated” and capable of speaking very close to one of the standard English accents.

    You see – I believe a little bit of encouraging goes a long way instead of shaming people into thinking that they are useless at their English pronunciation. It may cause different English fluency issues I’m helping people to get rid of here on my blog! 😉

  • Francisco Javier

    I’m not talking about the “broad” accents but the “standard” accents which well educated people use in  Britain, America, South Africa, Australia, etc. If you move outside “standard” accents, you might not even understand some people from your country.

    Regional accents, that’s a different kettle of fish.

  • A wide variety of accents, and they’re all clear to the ears of other speakers…

    I don’t agree with this at all, and that’s one of the main premises this article is based upon.

    The different English accents are so diverse that it is difficult for outsiders to understand, for instance, the way Irish people speak; it’s a fact. You have to live in the country for a while to get used to it.

  • Francisco Javier

    I’m sure everyone can reduce their accent well enough to be understood. It’s obvious that there are a wide variety of accents around the world but the important thing is that they are still “clear” to the ears of other speakers. 

    So, if you feel your accent is too thick, try to make it sound more like the British or American accents and then you will be generally understood. That’s more than enough.