Many of my clients have difficulty pronouncing the NG song /ŋ/ and N /n/ sun consonants, especially my clients who speak Mandarin Chinese. The NG and N sounds are two of the nasal consonants in English (the M /m/ is the third nasal consonant). My clients tell me these sounds are difficult to pronounce because they sound very similar, and my clients will often mix them up. However, the tongue positioning of NG and N is very different, and the correct tongue placement is key to pronouncing these sounds correctly.
How to Make the N /n/ Sound
The N sound, like in the word now, is made when the front and sides of the tongue come up to the roof of the mouth and touch behind the front teeth and along the inside rim of the teeth. Think of making your tongue into the shape of a bowl, like you are trying to hold something inside your mouth. You want the tongue to touch all around the front and sides of the roof of the mouth. The tongue is fully inside the mouth - don’t let the tongue tip come out past the teeth.
You should be able to see the underside of the tongue as you make this sound. The N sound should feel more forward than the NG sound, since the N is made closer to the front of the mouth. NNN, NNN, now.
How To Make the NG /ŋ/ Sound
The NG sound, like in the word sing, is made at the back of the mouth. The back part of the tongue comes up and touches the soft palate, the soft, squishy part at the very back of the roof of your mouth. The tip of the tongue remains down and forward, and it may rest behind the bottom front teeth. The mouth is open, and the jaw drops down. This sound should feel like it is made farther back in the mouth compared to the N. NG, NG, sing.
So the two tongue placements are very different: The N is more forward in the mouth, and it is made with the front and sides of the tongue as they come up to touch the top of the mouth behind the upper and side teeth. The NG is made at the back of the mouth when the back of the tongue comes up to make contact with the soft palate.
Trick to Pronouncing the NG Sound
If you are still having difficulty saying the NG sound, try this tip: Use a mirror, and watch your tongue and soft palate as you say the vowel AH. You should see the soft palate rise up in the mouth. Then alternate between AH and NG - you should see the soft palate and the tongue move apart for the AH and then come together for the NG. “Ah - ng - ah - ng - ah - ng”.
Practice Words and Phrases
Here are some practice words and phrases to help you practice the N and NG sounds. I’ll read the sentence, then show a close up of my mouth as I say the words. Pay attention to my tongue placement.
First you’ll see the slow motion of the word now, with N in the initial position of the word. Watch for my tongue tip to come up at the beginning of the word. Here is a still frame of my tongue placement when I pronounced the N. Tongue tip is up, and you can see the underside of my tongue.
Here is the word now in a sentence: I need it now.
Now the word noon, with the N sound in the initial and final position in the word.
On the left is my tongue placement for the initial N sound, and on the right is my tongue placement for the final N sound. You can’t see the tongue very well with this word because my lips are rounded for the OO vowel, but the tongue tip is up for both N sounds.
Now you’ll hear noon in a sentence: Lunch starts at noon.
Now the word clean, with N in the final position. Tongue tip is up for the N.
Now you’ll hear clean in a sentence: Clean the room.
Now for the NG sound in song. And in English, the NG sound only occurs at the end of a word or syllable - there are no words that begin with an NG sound. The mouth is dark for the NG sound because my tongue has pulled back into my mouth. Notice the tongue tip is down.
Now you’ll hear song in a sentence: It is a beautiful song.
Now for the word wing. You can see my tongue a bit more for this word because the IH vowel in wing is a front vowel, and is made towards the front of the mouth. Notice the back of my tongue is pulled up, and the tip is down.
Now you’ll hear wing in a sentence: The wing of the airplane.
And now the word running, which has an N sound in the middle and an NG at the end.
On the left is my tongue placement for the N, and on the right is my tongue placement for NG. Notice the difference in the placement of the back of the tongue and the tongue tip.
Running is my favorite sport.
Thanks for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!