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Over-nasalizing certain final consonants, e.g. 城 chéng


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I'm having trouble fixing a pronunciation problem.


People tell me that I have too much nasalization at the end of certain words. An example is 城 chéng. People hear "too much nose" in the -ng sound.


I've noticed that it's not just -ng final words. Many words that end in -n, such as chén, have the same problem.


The main advice I've gotten is to make the sound from the far back of the throat. I've improved a bit, but I can't get it quite right. Some problems I've noticed:


- It's really, really hard for me to say a final -n or -ng in any way without making it "too nosy" nasal. The tongue position doesn't seem to make a difference; I nasalize no matter what my tongue does lol. Based on lots of work with 2 native speakers, I'm pretty sure my tongue position is right, but I still nasalize too much.


- While trying to see how to fix it, I found that Chinese speakers also hear the same "too much nasalization" in English words ending in -n or -ng. So at least I know it's caused by my English.


- Fwiw, the Chinese native-speakers who've pointed out this problem to me tell me that most foreigners have the same issue/accent. I asked them to listen to some foreigners on youtube who speak very good Chinese. According to the native speakers, some of the foreigners don't have this issue, but quite a few do have it, albeit mostly lighter than I have.


- With massive physical effort to "push it from the nose to the back of the throat", I can get a sound which people tell me is noticeably better... but still not great.


- I can't hear the difference between the "too much nose" version and the "very little nose" version. I put my fingers on nose to check when practicing on my own.


Note that this isn't a problem in distinguishing between -n and -ng (e.g.,chén vs. chéng, chuán vs. chuáng, etc). I have no problems making the distinction. It's just that both end up too nasal.


Also, there's no issue in understanding. Whenever I say a word which is "too nasalized", everyone has no problem understanding. It's just an issue of accent.


Anyone else had problems with this? Any ideas how to tackle it?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the responses. It particularly made me think there has to be something else odd going on if velar nasals and alveolar nasals are 100% nasal.

I think I found what seems to be at least partially behind this feeling of "over-nasalization" I cause when speaking Chinese.

It seems it's not directly because of "-n" or "-ng", as I had assumed. Instead, it seems to be tied to tones. Or better said, to how I both consciously and subconsciously try to replicate tones.

It occurs most in certain 2nd tone combinations.

I discovered that in English, I increase nasalization on words which get a question-tone. Here's an example:

"You went to that store."
"You went to that store?"

When I say the first sentence as just a simple matter of fact, the word "store" is a flat tone and has essentially no nasal sound.

In the second sentence, when I read it with intonation to indicate incredulity, I say "store" in a tone which rises very high and has noticeable nasalization. If I really over-dramatize the sentence to indicate extreme disbelief, then "store" becomes very nasalized and I end up nasalizing "went" and "that" as well (the "-n" in "went" goes from a small nasalization to really ringing the nose lol.)

This hits on lots of issues in modern English pronunciation, background, individual variances, etc (I read some academic papers which really taught me a lot; turns out there's a huge amount of little things behind this phenomenon).

But for Chinese, what matters is that I'm basically transferring over my own English intonation when I say 2nd tones. It turns out it's in all my 2nd tones. And it becomes particularly prominent when the syllable ends in "-n" or "-ng". The same effect also pops up in a few other tone combos.

Realizing all this has been the first step. Now I'm trying to eliminate it. In testing with native Chinese speakers, it seems I'm making some decent progress by focusing on making it just a "pure" Chinese rising tone, and NOT an English question tone.

It seems to be pretty nitpicking point. I'm still pretty amazed that they could all hear what I hadn't even realized exists in my speech either in Chinese or English. But at least according to the Chinese I speak with, it really makes my Chinese sound better. So I'm going to work on it and try to get it smooth and natural. Step by little step :) :)


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