How to pronounce “T” like an American
Students often approach me with the goal of improving their pronunciation and/or reducing their accent. The truth is, this goal takes time, focused practice, and plenty of experience listening to and using the target language. There are , however, a few expert tips that can go a long way toward improving your pronunciation.
Such is the case with pronouncing the letter ‘T’. Here are some tips for pronouncing this letter like a native speaker.
Flatten the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your two front teeth. Create a bowl-shaped seal using the sides of your tongue to trap the pocket of air inside your mouth. Release this puff of trapped air by pressurizing it to the front and then releasing the tip of your tongue from behind your two front teeth, pushing the air forward. This should create an articulated “tuh” sound. Depending on the vowel that comes after this sound, it may sound like “tah,” “teh,” “tee,” “tih,” “toh,” “tuh,” or “too”. This is the basic “T” sound, and it usually occurs at the beginning of a word.
Here are some examples for you to practice:
But did you know that native speakers often do not articulate the standard “T” sound? Here are some other sounds “T” can make:
When “T” transforms to “D”
When the letter ‘T’ is positioned between two vowels, or between a vowel and the letter ‘L’ or ‘R,’ it makes a quick, soft “D” sound. Although in the mouth the “D” sound is formed exactly like the “T” sound, the key difference is that “D” is voiced and “T” is not. You can note this difference by placing your hand on your throat and practicing each sound: “Duh” and “Tuh”. You should feel vibration in your voice box for the letter ‘D,’ but no vibration for the standard “T” sound.
Here are some examples of T’s that are actually pronounced as D’s:
By the way, this is a key difference between the American and British accents!
When “T” is simply a stop of air.
When “T” comes at the end of a word (and the next word does not begin with a vowel), native speakers shape their mouths as though to form the “T” sound, but simply stop the air rather than releasing it to articulate any sound.
Here are some examples of T’s that fit the description above:
When “T” simply disappears.
If you thought the above two pronunciations seemed strange, wait until you hear this one: Sometimes, the “T” sound disappears entirely. This often happens when the “T” comes right after “N,” and when the speaker is talking quickly.
Here are some examples of T’s that are not heard at all:
Speak like an American native.
If your aim is accent reduction, focusing on your “T” sounds is a great place to start. This will also help to improve your listening skill, since you will be able to recognize words with “T” in them even though you don’t hear the standard “T” sound.
...And, as always, practicing on Verbling with a native speaker is the best way to get you there!