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I work in an aerospace corporation in China and I have gone through lots of business negotiations with officials and executives from abroad. Most of them are impressed with my pronunciation, but I still want to get better.

I wonder if a native speaker can easily hear the difference between ŋ and n. I always pronounce ŋ the same way with n.

  • "I always pronounce ŋ the same way with n." -- Is this only in English? I'm confused because I think 龍 (Lóng) "dragon" has the /ŋ/ in it. – Damkerng T. May 25 '14 at 12:24
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    I don't know Chinese, but I believe that there are only three permissible consonant endings in Mandarin: -n -ŋ -r. How can you speak any Chinese, let alone have an impressive pronunciation, and claim that Chinese doesn't have an -ŋ sound? – CocoPop May 25 '14 at 13:08
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    I speak English and Mandarin but I don't know phonetic notation. I believe the English "ng" sound is the same as the Chinese one. Compare (Mandarin) fēng and (English) song. – starsplusplus May 25 '14 at 13:59
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    The alveolar nasal /n/ typically assimilates to the point of articulation of a following consonant, so we find /n/ realized as the velar nasal [ŋ] before the velar consonants /k/ and /g/. So in connected speech, we find the /n/ in ran quickly is [ŋ] rather than [n]. – snailcar May 25 '14 at 14:26
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    The word ending -ing has two pronunciations: /in/ and /iŋ/. The latter is the prestige pronunciation, and when /in/ is used instead it is sometimes (but erroneously) referred to as "g-dropping". Because of this association, you'll occasionally find people who use /ŋ/ as a hypercorrect version of /n/ in other contexts. – snailcar May 25 '14 at 14:30
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Yes, native speakers can tell the difference.

But, Mandarin has both of these sounds:

/ŋ/ is the sound that is written with ng in Pinyin (e.g. at the end of 龍 lóng).

/n/ is the sound that is written with n in Pinyin at the beginning of syllables (e.g. at the start of 南 nán). In some places in China, this is also the sound at the end of 南; in other parts of China, n is pronounced as a nasalised vowel when it comes at the end of a word.

So if you can speak Mandarin, you can surely say both of these sounds.

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    +1 Fantastic! You must be a linguist. Actually, my southern dialect makes no difference between them, which impedes my mandarin pronunciation. – Kinzle B May 25 '14 at 22:48
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    @ZhanlongZheng Interesting! I'd read that the sounds were merging in Taiwan, but I didn't mention this because I imagined it wasn't relevant to you specifically. What variety of Chinese do you natively speak, out of curiosity? – snailcar May 26 '14 at 0:00
  • I was born in Yongzhou, south of Hunan province, but our dialect is much more like that of Sichuan province. @snailplane – Kinzle B May 26 '14 at 0:38
  • @ZhanlongZheng: if I was a linguist I might have known that some dialects don't distinguish these! – Max May 26 '14 at 6:19
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Yes, a native speaker can hear the difference between /ŋ/ and /n/.

Of course, depending on the context, they may (automatically) ignore it, if one doesn't make any sense.

The sound in sin (/n/) is not the same as the sound in sing (/ŋ/).

If you're pronouncing this the same way:

  • /ŋ/ involves the the back of the tongue, the same part that you use to make the /k/ and /g/ sounds.
  • /n/ involves the tip of the tongue, the same part that you use to make /t/ and /d/ sounds.
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  • I agree. Context can solve it, but I feel hard to pronounce ŋ. And I cannot hear the difference. – Kinzle B May 25 '14 at 12:35
  • @ZhanlongZheng it's something that you might need to work at. I can't distinguish or articulate tones, but I suppose I don't have the need to do so. Do you know which one you're actually making, then, since you can't hear the difference? – jimsug May 25 '14 at 12:41
  • It is much easier to pronounce /n/ for me. It's almost the same as that in Chinese. Even if I try to pronounce /ŋ/ the way my textbook told me to, I'm not sure I do it right. – Kinzle B May 25 '14 at 12:48
  • If what you say, "In Chinese, there is no /ŋ/" is how you interpret it, then two words in Chinese would not be distinguished by /ŋ/ and /n/ and it would be natural for you to "cannot hear the difference". Being able to "hear the difference" requires a lot of practice on minimal pairs. You're training your mind to develop new neural pathways of recognition, which in this case works at biological speed, so progress is measured in months or longer. – CoolHandLouis May 25 '14 at 15:15
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    No but I study the science of learning. I can tell you how to get somewhere or a phone number and you can learn it immediately. But learning balance, dance, sports, piano, languages, etc requires a lot of high repetition practice. Being able to pronounce things is like learning a dance of the tongue and vocal system. Hearing is the same. Just like piano, start slow and practice daily. Eventually it becomes habit and no longer "difficult". Look up resources on what it takes to acquire foreign accents. Even if that's not your ultimate goal, it will have some good info on mastering pronunciation. – CoolHandLouis May 25 '14 at 15:47
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http://www.pronuncian.com/Lessons/Default.aspx?Lesson=19

When you pronounce /n/ as in sin, kin the tip of your tongue is at the t-point of your palate above the teeth. When you pronounce /ng/ as in sing or king your mouth is opened wide, your tongue is not raised , your throat is wide open as in a long /a:/ and when pronouncing /n/ or /ng/ some of the airstream passes through the nasal cavity.

Wikipedia has an article about Velar Nasal, but I find it totally confusing. In any case you can pronounce the sound /ng/ alone and hold it in the same way as you can hold the pronunciation of a long /a:/ . When you pronounce /a:/ your throat is wide open and the airstream passes without any hindrance. When you pronounce /ng/ you have a narrow passage in your throat, but I can't describe how it is done. I hoped to find something useful about the articulation of /ng/ on the Internet, but I did not find anything useful.

Edit: Here's another video about /ng/. Perhaps it helps. For me this demonstration is didactically helpless. She talks a lot, but you see nothing. But as it seems, the back of the tongue seems to form a narrow passage in the throat. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qhTSVdjVf14

Edit 2: Now I have found a diagram of the tongue position.The tongur is draw babck a little to form the narrow passage in the back of the mouth cavity.

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  • My textbook told me to raise the back of my tongue to stop the flow of air from getting out of mouth, is it true? – Kinzle B May 25 '14 at 13:58
  • When I pronounce /ng/ my tongue is not raised. But I have the impression that the tongue goes back towards the throat a little. Perhaps this produces the narrow passage in the throat necessary for /ng/. – rogermue May 25 '14 at 14:11
  • Would some of the airstream come out of the mouth as well? – Kinzle B May 25 '14 at 14:18
  • Now I have found a video. At least you can hear the sound clearly and frequently, but they have no diagrams showing what really happens in the mouth room and the throat. And a good description of the articulation is lacking too. Pronouncing the sound alone is not enough for speakers who don't have that sound in their mother tongue. As to the airstream I think it passes through nose and mouth or the access to the nasal cavity is simply open. Link to the video: rachelsenglish.com/videos/how-pronounce-ng – rogermue May 25 '14 at 14:36
  • Google "How to pronounce the ng-sound in English sing?" then you get a lot of youtube-videos. – rogermue May 25 '14 at 14:59
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I studied the problem in front of the mirror. The room back in your mouth can be open, you see the uvula above the back of the tongue, eg when you say aaa. When you say g, the back of tongue goes up pressing against the uvula; you get a feeling for this movement of your tongue when you say several times aaa g aaa g aaa g. When saying g one can get a feeling for the occlusion produced by the back of the tongue. Say the g slowly and softly, then one can feel the occlusion back in the mouth. When saying ng the tongue makes a similar movement as in g. Try to say g ng g ng g ng. Perhaps this way you get a feeling for the things that happen in the back of the mouth.

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