How to Pronounce the "n" and "ng" Consonant Sounds
Many of my accent clients have difficulty pronouncing the “ng” /ŋ/ and “n” /n/ 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 positioning is key to pronouncing these sounds correctly.
The “n” /n/ Sound
The “n” sound 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. The tongue is fully inside the mouth - don’t let the tongue tip come out past the teeth. The “n” sound should feel more forward than the “ng” sound, since the “n” is made closer to the front of the mouth. Think of making your tongue into the shape of a bowl or cup, like you are trying to hold something inside your mouth. You should be able to see the underside of the tongue as you make this sound.
The N sound
The “ng” /ŋ/ Sound
The “ng” sound is made at the back of the mouth when 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”.
Tongue positioning just before I say the NG sound
Tongue positioning as I'm saying the NG sound
So the two tongue positions 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.
If you are still having difficulty producing the “ng” sound, try this tip: Use a mirror, and watch your tongue and soft palate as you say the vowel “ah” /ɑ/. 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”.
Here are some practice words and phrases to help you learn the difference between “n” /n/ and “ng” /ŋ/.
I need it now
Lunch starts at noon
Clean the room
It is a beautiful song
The wing of the airplane
Running is my favorite sport
Thank you for reading :) And let me know if you want help with pronouncing the "n" and "ng" consonant sounds!