Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tricks of American T sound - Flap T

I have a series on American English vowel sounds, but I think it’s important to speak about consonants as well. I would like to begin with the 'T' sound. If you have learned British English the American T sound can be very tricky for you as it can change in several ways. First of all I would like to speak about Flap T.  In American movies you can often hear the 'D' sound rather than the 'T' sound (like in water, or city). It is one of the characteristics of American English and it’s accepted even in formal speeches, however some teachers (even from the States) consider Flap T as lazy speech, but they’re not right at all. You can hear Flap T everywhere.

Before starting, I would like to tell you two main important things:

- You have to learn the rules when Flap T can be pronounced. You may not change the 'T' sound whenever you want. 

- These rules are not mandatory, to pronounce the "true" 'T' sound is not a mistake. You can use the "true” sound T and you will still be understood, but American people probably will say Flap T (or soft D sound). That’s why it’s more important to recognize than to produce if you are a non-native American English speaker.
Generally I show Rachel’s videos and Mandy’s learning material at first. Now will I introduce you to someone else. Her name is Jennifer. You can read her blog here , and you can watch her Youtube video channel here. In my opinion, Jennifer’s video lessons are the best lessons that cover the “true” T sound or Flap T. However, even though the video quality is not the best, I  still chose her videos. I guess that the limitations were strict when Jennifer made and uploaded these videos to Youtube 5 years ago.

Her lesson 13 is entitled ‘Pronunciation of T’ (the „true” T and the flap T)

Part 1

In part 1 she introduces the "true” T as in talk, to, terrible, talk, true, stop, return. She explains that the "true” T occurs at the beginning of the words (alone or with other consonants – st, tr, str) or in the middle of the words at the beginning of a stressed syllable. She shows how the "true” T must be pronounced, including main characteristics of the "true” T sound
- you need to stop the airflow,
then you release the air in puff,
      - the "true” T is an unvoiced consonant (no vibration with your voice cords, but there is vibration in the 'D' sound).

She shows you how to check if you pronounce the "true” T correctly. She closes part 1 with exercises to practice the “true” T sound (group 1 – words begin with T, group 2 – words begin with TR, group 3 – words begin with ST or STR, group 4 – |true” T can be found in the middle of the word beginning a stressed syllable).

Part 2

In part 2 Jennifer introduces another way how Americans pronounce T. They pronounce “wader” instead of water. It is called Flap T. They also pronounce Flap T in “little”. What happens to the T in these words? It is pronounced as Flap T.
How should you pronunce flap T?
- it is a very quick stop, 
it is voiced,  
there is no puff of air.

What is the difference between the "true” T (Matilda) and the Flap T (Natalie)? Jennifer explains. The difference is between the stress. As you could see in part 1, when t is in the middle of the word and a stressed syllable begins with the sound t it will be a "true” t, like in Matilda. So the "true” T is stressed. But when the syllable begins with an unstressed T, it will be pronounced as a Flap T (or soft D sound) like in Natalie. A flap T is unstressed.
It’s very interesting that she uses the symbol /ɾ/ in her lesson, but she shows the symbol /t̬/ as well. I have to add that even American dictionaries (such as Webster's dictionaries) don’t always indicate when flap T can be pronounced. I can mention one exception, but there can be other ones as well. It is Longman’s Dictionary of American English that uses the symbol /t̬/.

Part 3

In part 3 Jennifer also gives some exercises showing the situations when flap T is pronounced:
         Group 1 – flap T is between two vowels,
         Group 2 – flap T is with an ɚ sound either before it, after it or before and after it,
         Group 3 – flap T is spelled with double T,
         Group 4 – flap T is before an unstressed L sound
         Group 5 – it’s between two sounds

I recommend you watch all these videos and you’ll get to recognize flap T. Jennifer also emphasizes that it’s more important for non native speakers to understand than produce flap T.
Well, that’s all about Jennifer right now. Of course, Rachel also has a lot of interesting videos about flap T that I recommend you watch.
The Flap T – American English pronunciation
And using Flap T tolink the words


In addition, if you want to have a complex knowledge of 'T' sounds, you should visit lessons on Mandy’s site (Consonant Stop: t sound /t/, or The American English 'T' sound Allophones) . From these lessons you can also find several other interesting lessons if you begin to discover Mandy’s She also provides audio podcasts such as Pronouncing "Seattle"   , or American 'T' sound as a quick 'D' sound.

Note: I deleted broken links in July, 2017.

Well, I think it’s enough for now about “true” T and Flap T sound. I know that you’ll need a lot of time to go through all these materials I recommended, but believe me it’ll be worth it.

Kate was very kind to review this blog post. She’s still searching for new students on her Italki profile.  Her comment:
"This was so interesting to read!  Because I'm a native speaker, it's easy for me to know when to pronounce it as a 'T' and when to pronounce it as a 'D'  I learned a lot :)"



1 comment:

  1. wow ! this teacher is amazing , i really enjoyed watching her lessons . . so easy and clear . .
    thank you so much Attila for this one , i really like it .