Speech sounds that present difficulty for Chinese speakers learning to sing in English, Italian, German, and French: Exercises to facilitate pronunciation

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)


Music Choral and Voice

First Committee Member

David Alt - Committee Chair


Singing involves not only music but also the communication of language text. The text expresses the literal meaning of songs and arias. Four languages are prominent in Western classical singing: English, Italian, German, and French, and the unique sound and color of each language shapes its linguistic quality. Therefore, learning to phonate the correct pronunciation of these languages becomes a central focus for students of classical singing. This task is challenging for non-native speakers, and it is especially difficult for Asian students who do not encounter in their native languages many of the basic vowel and consonant sounds found in the Western languages.Being both a Chinese (Mandarin) native speaker and a classical singer, the author has experienced a number of difficulties in learning to sing in English, Italian, German and French. The author has identified and gained facility with many unfamiliar sounds that are essential to the enunciation of these languages. It is this experience which has prompted the author's interest in this area.The purpose of this essay is to (1) identify the speech sounds that are unfamiliar as well as those familiar to Chinese speakers, and (2) develop exercises by using the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (EPA) for practicing the difficult sounds. The exercises are created for experiencing and practicing the relationship between sound and air flow and also for isolating the movement of the tongue, jaw, and lips for the articulation of difficult sounds. The exercises are of three types: (1) those using spoken sounds, (2) those using sung sounds, and (3) those difficult sounds found in combinations of words.To begin this study, the author first compares the sounds in English with those of Chinese (Mandarin) to discover the English sounds that are non-existent in the Chinese language and, therefore, unfamiliar to Chinese speakers. English was chosen for the first comparison because English is the author's second language and because English contains almost all of the sounds also found in Italian, German, and French. Unique sounds found in the other three languages that are not found in Chinese are also discussed. Consequently, two chapters deal with vowels and consonants from these four Western languages. The final chapter addresses the special topics of Italian double consonants and consonants found in clusters, or in combination with other consonants, which present unique challenges in singing.


Music; Education, Music; Education, Teacher Training

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