The letter ‘n’ represents the /n/ sound in English. It is sometimes called a ‘nasal’ sound. ‘Nasal’ is related to your nose. If you put your thumb and finger on the bridge of your nose you can feel some vibration in your nose.
Other sounds in English which are ‘nasal’ are /m/ (represented by the letter ‘m’) and the /ŋ/ sound (represented by ‘-ng’ like in ‘sing’ and ‘ring’).
/n/ is an interesting sound. When it is grouped with other consonant sounds it can change. For example, the word ‘information’. Here, /n/ changes into a /m/ sound. So, we really say “imformation” /ɪmfəmeɪʃən/. Sometimes native English speakers can get confused recalling the spelling for words like ‘information’. Is it ‘i-n-f’ or ‘i-m-f’?
The reason why /n/ changes to /m/ here is because the /m/ sound is closer to the /f/ sound (represented by the letter ‘f’). Try saying /n/ /f/, /n/ /f/, /n/ /f/ repeatedly. Then say /m/ /f/ repeatedly. You can feel that it is easier for your mouth to move from /m/ to /f/.
Sometimes when talking on the phone, listeners can get confused with /n/ and /m/ sounds because they sound very similar. This is why when people spell their names, they say for example ‘Tan, that’s T, A and N for November’. If they don’t say this, the listener might think it is an ‘m’!
But, where else does the /n/ sound change /m/? A lot actually. Let’s take a look below when /n/ is before /p/ /b/ /m/ /f/ and /v/:
- In Paris – “Im Paris” /ɪmpærɪs/
- In Brazil – “Im Brazil” /ɪmbrəzɪl/
- In Morocco – “Im Morocco” /ɪmmərɒkəʊ/
- In France – “Im France” /ɪmfræns/
- In Vietnam – “Im Vietnam” /ɪmvɪətnæm/
Here, when you move from /n/ to the next sound you are almost making a /m/ sound. Why? Because it is easier to move from /m/ to those sounds than from /n/. The /m/ sound is stronger with /p/ /b/ /m/ and /f/ though.
You can listen to the pronunciaiton below. Can you hear the difference?
Why is this important for teaching?
When teaching your students pronunciation, features like this might be useful to help them connect English sounds more effectively. It will also help them to produce the English sounds more fluently because you are helping them move from one sound to the next more easily. So next time you get students to repeat some dialogue from your textbooks and you see /n/ with the sounds /p/ /b/ /m/ /f/ and /v/ then get that /m/ sound in!
Download the poster below for your classroom!
In our next blog we will look at other ways the /n/ sound changes.