Ep04: Nasal Consonants & Vowels

Bite-size Taiwanese - Cover Art - Pronounce it like a Pro - 2500x2500
Bite-size Taiwanese | Pronounce it like a Pro
Ep04: Nasal Consonants & Vowels

In this episode, we’ve practiced the “nasal” sounds in Taiwanese.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)

What are “nasals”?

Nasals are the sounds that come out of your nose, or both your nose ​and your mouth. In Taiwanese, there are three nasal consonants (m, n, ng) and several nasal vowels.

For example, “close the door” in Taiwanese is “kuainn mn̂g”, which has a nasal vowel “-uainn” [ũ̯ãĩ̯], a nasal consonant “m-” [m], and a syllabic nasal “-ng” [ŋ̍].

Nasal consonants: m, n, ng

The three nasal consonants in Taiwanese are: “m” [m], “n” [n], and “ng” [ŋ]. For these sounds, the air only passes through the nose and not through the mouth as it is blocked by the lips or tongue.

Each of the three can appear at the beginning of a syllable (“onset”) or at the end (“coda”) in Taiwanese. The “m-” and the “n-” closely match their counterparts in English but the “ng-” at the beginning of a word may require some more practice (see Practise Tip 1 below).

Syllabic nasal consonants: m, ng

Another special thing about Taiwanese nasal consonants is the “m” and the ​​“ng” can form a syllable by itself (“syllabic nasal consonants”).

For example, a negative that means “not” or “not to want to do something” is “m̄” [m̩], and the word for “yellow” in Taiwanese is “n̂g” [ŋ̍].

Nasal vowels

Nasal vowels occur when you have air passing through both the nose and the mouth.

English doesn’t really have strong nasal vowels but when vowels are followed by nasal consonants like “-m” or “-n”, they sound a little nasally. But it’s not very strong when compared to Taiwanese or other languages such as French, where nasal vowels actually can differentiate words.

In Tâi-lô (TL), nasal vowels are written with “-nn”, like “ann” [ã], “enn” [ẽ], “inn” [ĩ], etc.

Spelling conventions

“-Onn”: In Taiwanese the closed “o” [o/ɤ], and open “oo” [ɔ] are two different vowels. However, when they’re nasalized, there’s only one version: [ɔnn], which should technically be written as “oonn”, but by convention it’s spelled with just one “o”.

“M-/N-/NG-” + nasal vowel: When a syllable begins with a nasal consonant (m-, n-, or ng-), the whole syllable including the vowel sounds nasal, so keep that humming going all the way through the vowel! For example, if you have the word spelled “mī” [mĩ], that “i” is nasalized and sounds like if it were spelled “inn”. Technically it could be written as “mīnn”, but by convention the double “nn” are not written.


Here are some tips to help you isolate the “ng” sound.

  1. Say the English word “sing” and see if you can split that into “si--ng”. Do it again, and now just hold on to that “-ng” sound. That’s the “-ng” sound we need.
  2. Now, try the word “single” and split it into two syllables: “sing--ngle”. As you end on the “ng” sound of the first syllable, hold it for a bit and slide into the second syllable. This should help you get the feeling of how “ng-” sound can start a syllable.
  3. Let’s try to apply this sound to some Taiwanese words:



(to pinch or to pick things up with a tool like chopsticks or tongs)



(the literary form of the number “5”)



(to greet, to meet, to welcome)



(unyielding, persistent)


Now let’s practice the “syllabic nasal” sounds in Taiwanese.

  1. In English, we have a syllabic “m” in a word like “pris-​m​”. You can also think of this sound as humming. Just keep your mouth closed and allow air to go out through your nose to create sounds at different pitches.
  2. Now see what happens if you pinch your nose when trying to hum. Caution: It’s Not Pleasant! You’ll see that no air can come out of either your nose or mouth, and the sound gets trapped inside.
  3. Let’s try to apply this sound to some Taiwanese words:


(not to want to)


[m̩ ɕi]

(no; not to be)


[m̩ kʰi]

(to not want to go)


(wife of father’s elder brother; aunt)



(berry; plum)


[hm̩ laŋ]


The last one “hm̂” is just similar to English sound “hmmm….” you might make when you are considering something.

Try to apply the “humming” technique, but this time use the back of your tongue to block the air and say the following words:






(far, distant)







In the last two words, there’s often a short vowel [ə] sound inserted before the “ng” sound, i.e. [tʰəŋ̍] and [məŋ̍]. This is common to make it easier to pronounce.

For words like “h​n̄g”, you have a puff of air for the “h” coming out directly from your nose just like “hmmm….”. Some people may also insert a short vowel between the “h-” and the “-ng”. If you’re having trouble with it, try the second version, where you add a short [ə] sound to make it easier to say.


In this episode we’ve provided you with some minimal pairs where you can compare between 1) a simple vowel sound, where air only passes through the mouth, and 2) the nasal version which has air passing through both the mouth and the nasal cavity.

1. Listen to these words and try them out yourself:

Simple Vowels: a, i, e, oo

Nasal Vowels: ann, inn, enn, onn

ká [ka] 假 (holiday, break)

kánn [kã] 敢 (to dare)

sa [sa] 捎 (to grab,to grasp)

sann [sã] 三 (three)

ta [ta] 乾 (dry)

tann [tã] 今 (now)

phi [pʰi ] 披 (to drape, to hang, to spread out)

phinn [pʰĩ] 篇 (measure word for pieces of writing)

ti [ti] 豬 (pig)

tinn [tĩ] 甜 (sweet)

pí [pi] 比 (to compare)

pínn [pĩ] 扁 (flat, flattened)

tse [tse] 這 (this)

tsenn [tsẽ] 爭 (to compete for)

pê [pe] 爬 (to climb)

pênn [pẽ] 平 (level, flat, even)

khe [kʰe] 溪 (creek)

khenn [kʰẽ]坑 (gorge; valley)

kôo [kɔ] 糊 (paste, to paste)

kônn [kɔ̃] 鼾 (to snore)

oo [kɔ] 烏 (black)

onn [ɔ̃] 唔 (to put a kid to sleep, as in “onn-onn-khùn 唔唔睏”)

2. Listen to other vowel pairs provided in this episode and try them out yourself:

ai - ainn

ia - iann

iu - iunn

ua - uann

ui - uinn

uai - uainn


1. Listen to the nasal and non-nasal consonants

bī 味 (flavor, odor, taste)

mī 麵 (noodles, wheat products)

ngôo 吳 (a common surname)

kôo 糊 (paste, to paste)

giâ 夯 (to carry, to take up, to raise)

ngiâ 迎 (to greet, to meet, to welcome)

luā 賴 (to falsely accuse)

nuā 爛 (soft, mushy; decay)

niû 量 (to measure)

liû 揉 (to wipe with a wet cloth)

2. Listen to the nasal and non-nasal vowels

se 西 (west)

senn 生 (to give birth to)

pi 悲 (sadness, sorrow)

pinn 邊 (side, beside)

kiànn 鏡 (mirror)

kià 寄 (to send)

uánn 碗 (bowl)

uá 倚 (close, near)

iû 油 (oil; greasy)

iûnn 羊 (goat, sheep)

3. Listen and repeat

buâ 磨 (to grind; to wear down)

muâ 麻 (sesame)

lí 你 (you)

ní 染 (to dye)

kôo 糊 (paste; to paste)

ngôo 吳 (a common surname)

ngiâ 迎 (to greet, to meet, to welcome)

giâ 夯 (to carry, to take up, to raise)

ka 鉸 (to cut with scissors)

kann 監 (prison, jail)

ke 雞 (chicken)

kenn 羹 (thick soup, a type of liquid food)

tī 箸 (chopsticks)

tīnn 滇 (full)

hia 遐 (there)

hiann 兄 (elder brother)

siu 收 (to take back; to gather up)

siunn 箱 (box, case)

kua 歌 (song)

kuann 乾 (dried food)

kuai 乖 (well-behaved, docile; tame)

kuainn 關 (to close)

n̂g 黃 (yellow)

hn̂g 園 (garden)

sng 酸 (sour)

tn̄g 斷 (cut off; not continuous)

毋 (not; to not want to)

ḿ 姆 (wife father’s elder brother; aunt)

h 茅 (a kind of grass)

Music Credit: TeknoAXE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *