Using the “T” sound in American English is hard.

Many people complain about how hard it is to learn English, and up to a certain point, I tend to agree. There are so many “wasted” consonants that are not necessary when pronouncing a word. This affects most learners, and a perfect example of this phenomenon is the use of the “T” and the “D”.

In many languages, the sound of the “D” and the “T’ is very strong, and again, In English, that’s usually the case. However, it only applies to strong syllables but not to weak syllables, though. Here is where the problem lies. 

Most students do not see the difference between a strong and a weak consonant. In simple terms, A strong syllable is the “unit” of any word that increases the “power” of its sound so it is more prominent to the ear. This only works, however, when there is more than one syllable.

 

For example:

 

Minute  /MI-nute/

Suitcase /SUIT-case/

 

Notice the bold letters and pronounce them. In these two examples, the first syllable is the strong one, hence it is the strong syllable. Okay.  What does this have to do with the pronunciation of the “T” and the “D”, though?

Bear with me. The sound of the letter “T” is very peculiar in English. For example, if the “T” is in the strong syllable, this sound is very “explosive”. There is a lot of air coming from this sound:

 

Today /TO-day/

Topic /TO-pic/

Tendency /TEN-dency/

 

You kind of exaggerate the “T” sound. I know it is hard when there is no audio help, but give it a try. Believe me when I tell you that in many languages the “T” is very dry. In English, it feels as if you were trying to spit on someone’s face (pardon the expression), but it has worked for me. I always try to project my air and saliva into the world so it sounds more genuine. 

Remember when I told you about the strong and weak syllables? Well, now here we go with weak syllables. Most of the time, if not always, the “T” sound on the weak syllables has two sounds. Actually one sound and one “silent” sound. Weird, I know.

 

In the weak syllable, the “T” sounds either like a “D” or like nothing at all. For example:

 

City /ˈsidē/

Alternative /ôlˈtərnədiv/

 

Our “muscle memory” will go for the strong “T” sound, but please notice the “T” is now a “D” sound. Actually, a very soft “D” sound, which many people confuse with a lot (including many teachers who think is an “R” sound).

Give it a try again. Say “city” /ˈsidē/. I know, I know. You are thinking about the word C.D. which is short for compact disc. However, this is not the case. remember the soft “D” sound.

 

Now, the examples below are more complex. Take a look at them:

 

Interview /ˈin(t)ərˌvyo͞o/

Advantage /ədˈvan(t)ij/

Internet /ˈin(t)ərˌnet/

 

Notice how the “T sound is in parentheses. This means that anything that is inside of it is either ignored or not necessary. Like this: interview /ˈinərˌvyo͞o/. In here I feel the “n” sound is strong, since it feels longer.

 

Say one more time: /ˈin(t)ərˌvyo͞o/. The “T” is long gone. It is silent.

 

Other examples are:

 

Mountain /ˈmount(ə)n/

Important /imˈpôrtnt/

 

Perfection is in the details, and in hindsight, I wish I had had this kind of training many years ago. I guess my experience could've been easier. I could’ve taken the short way instead of the long way. What I am trying to say is that many people including teachers opt for ignoring this at the time of teaching these little pronunciation techniques, either for the lack of time or just not enough motivation.  

Back to Blog

Related Articles

Embracing Imperfection

Many artists and performers are perfectionists to a fault, and this both propels them to glory and...

Easy Habits that Improve your Writing Skills

Writing can be a challenge and a hard task for a lot of ESL learners. Many learners are reluctant...

Will English Confuse the Baby?

Here in Boston, many of my students, coworkers, neighbors, and friends are raising multicultural...