Australian English mnemonic word alternatives!

Absolutely not!

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I found it - it’s about 2/3 down the page under The Five Vowels in Detail. I know quite a few Americans (mostly West Coast & Central) and Canadians. None of them say “buy” that could rhyme with “ah” hence my question

Maybe this is stating the obvious but it makes sense to employ reading hints which phonetically match the sounds as closely as possible - the less subconscious incorrect phonetic associations I have to correct for, the better.

American English doesn’t have a close enough sound so you have to compromise with the diphthongs of “hey” /hej/ and “go” /gou/ to approximate へい /he:/ and ごう /go:/. Australian English has sounds which line up much closer with Japanese, albeit using different phonemes - the pure vowels of “hair” [he:] and “gore” [go:] are phonetic dead ringers for へい [he:] and ごう [go:]. What works for Aussie English really well just doesn’t work for American English speakers, and what works kind of ok for American English in some cases is a needless compromise bordering on liability for Australian English speakers. (More on that shortly.)

Here’s an example of where using my own accent gets me a way stronger mnemonic association: 証 (on reading: しょう; meaning: evidence, proof). The WaniKani reading mnemonic talks about presenting evidence to the shogun. Fine. Except that “shogun” has been anglicised in other dialects of English to sound like “show-gun”, not “shore-goon”, so it’s not a natural correspondence. On the other hand, “sure” sounds exactly like しょう… and evidence/proof is something you have to be “sure” about. So that’s a meaning and pronunciation hint rolled into one there - bargain!

Another recent one: the on reading of 忘 (forget) is ぼう, which sounds like “bore” or “boar” to me. WaniKani’s reading mnemonic is based on the word “bowling” - not a strong association. My Aussie English mnemonic was about forgetting stuff that bores me. Boredom, forgetfulness - much stronger. Again, it hints a rough meaning and pronunciation in one go.

Then there’s どう for 同 (same)… it even looks like a big steel door! WaniKani’s reading hint of “doughnut”, not so much.

Now for that liability thing: with Australian English, some of the mnemonics which work ok-ish in North American English are utterly misleading for me because of that pesky three-to-one vowel merger. Time for more linguistics!

The standard “newsreader”-type American English accent merged three of its low-ish back vowel sounds into one single sound in the “cot-caught” merger and the father-bother merger. All of those vowel differences are preserved in Australian English - the vowels in cot and caught and father all sound different for me.

One of my recent kanji mnemonics was for さ but the mnemonic revolved around “saw”. “Saw” to me sounds like そう, not さ. So to remember “saw” for さ I have to remember it’s the US English version of saw not the way I actually pronounce saw which would be そう.

So which kanji was it? No idea. Can’t remember - and there’s the liability. Mnemonics that don’t create a strong association aren’t effective. And having to translate phonetic hints through phoneme-merged varieties of English or compensating for other accent-hopping shortcomings just makes the association weaker and less direct.

In short, Australian English can get a much less compromised sound and meaning association for certain readings using a different set of words. An indicative hint is nice, but the actual literal pronunciation means having so much less to think about…

I should mention that none of this is should be seen as a dig at the WaniKani writers who do an utterly fantastic job at creating memorable mnemonic stories to get those pesky kanji and readings sticking in my brain, and a lot of the reading hints work just fine for Australian English. I came for the kanji but I’m staying for those charmingly weird mnemonics! :smiley:


Thanks! If memory serves, NZ English is undergoing a vowel merger that’s making “beer” and “bear” homophonous, and even when they’re different there’s a centralising glide which makes it a more distant correspondence than our simplified version of the “air” phoneme. You should be all good with “ore” though! :slight_smile:

100% agree that yoinking mnemonics directly from Japanese (e.g. らく to link 楽 to 落 via “the pleasure of falling blossoms” or “musicians falling down the stairs”) is a good way to go, especially when a word like “rack” doesn’t really fit… or does it…


…tortured on a rack…

…still better than Penguin-san’s 落語…

(makes more sense if you know しろくまカフェ)


That is HILARIOUS. I don’t suppose that most readers will quite get what you are saying.

… Years ago I was so frustrated at this phrase 'throw another shrimp on the barbie… thinking ‘who was the rule 3-ing idiot who said this?’ when I found out it was paul hogan I was like… rule 3… I guess I just have to let this one go… Fair enough…


it doesnt sound like door?

Don’t we just ignore the ‘r’

To be fair, he was paid to say it by advertising executives. Like, it’s certainly not something that he habitually says.

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Also a kiwi, I find Maori loan words make for great mnemonics due to the similar pronunciation. E.g. ocean = かい because kai (food) comes from the ocean


That’s a really good one! If I’m not mistaken Maori shares a couple of sounds in common with Japanese which English doesn’t have, like the tapped r [ɾ] and the version of the wh [ɸ] sound which is all lips and no teeth.


That is a good one! I do use te reo words as well on occasion. Also some vocab is just pretty similar - Awa v kawa for river


Fellow Australian here.

My most frustrating reading mnemonic is: かく.
かく does NOT sound like “cock” for an Australian.

I agree with you about the おう sound. I could never understand why “doughnut” or “saw” was used. thanks for the explanation. mystery solved.


Maybe “cark” might work? (Status: carked it.)


When in Japan last June I was told my English had very little accent too. I do try to speak clearly when speaking to people in other countries but my Australian accent is strong enough I’ve had Americans state that English is obviously not my first language (it is).

@quollism what part of Australia are you from? Some of your suggestions don’t work for me at all?


Perth (claimed by certain scamps not to be part of Australia). I’m curious to know which suggestions don’t work for you and how they don’t work.

Americans are somewhat notorious for having trouble placing/understanding accents from outside the USA, but presumably your accent is quite broad (or cultivated) to make them think English isn’t your first language. That said, even if you don’t fit the image of a stereotypical white Australian, it’s a very strange thing to tell someone.

Ha I also use some Maori words in my mnemonics, including this one. There’s some similar vocab like paperbagchild mentioned, and Japanese vowel pronunciation is almost the same!

(Sadly I never learned to actually speak Maori though, I just remember a few words my nana always said and from school. One day when I move back I will though.)


Well turns out WK was mucking up some of my vowel pronounciations!

I’d converted to pronouncing へい like ‘hey’ etc. Argh, at least I’ve caught it now and can quickly unlearn.


… How do you pronounce “hey” in Australian English?

Hmm, not Australian, but the way I say “hey” is like “hay” and very different to へい. I think mostly I just need to keep reminding myself “right this is the mnemonic but say it in a Japanese accent” :sweat_smile:

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I don’t think it’s really that different though. Obviously sounds in general from English to Japanese don’t map perfectly, but “hey” sounds pretty close to へい to me. It’s not like if you pronounced あ like the ‘a’ in “apple” (in American English at least), which would be very wrong.

Oh ok! It sounds very different to me and I say them differently. Happy to disagree! :slight_smile:

At least to me, I would pronounce へい more like “airy” without the R.

I guess whatever gives the best approximation for the individual right? We’re all starting from a different accent.