The Nasal Flap in American English
Welcome to the third video of the four-video series about how to speak English with ease. If you haven’t watched the first two videos on the flap sound and the glottal stop T, then please watch those videos first - you can click here for the links or click the links in the description below.
This four-video series will focus on the T consonant sound and the many ways that the T sound can be pronounced in American English. Just as a quick refresher: Why am I talking about the T sound? Well, in spoken English, the T consonant sound can change to a completely different type of T sound, and the reason for this is to help that word or phrase to be smoother, faster, and more connected. That’s what English wants - it wants to be smooth, and the T sound sometimes gets in the way of this smoothness.
In some words and phrases, the T sound changes to either a flap sound or a glottal stop T, and we practiced those pronunciations in the earlier two videos.
This video will discuss when the T sound disappears completely from the pronunciation.
The Rule of the Nasal Flap
Confusing? Yes - absolutely! Why would the T sound disappear completely from the pronunciation? Like the word internet. What happened to the first T consonant? It’s there in the spelling - I clearly see two T letters - but only the second T is pronounced. What happened to the first one?
Let’s take a look at the IPA with the /t/ consonant in the transcription and see if we can find out what’s going on here.
The IPA transcription shows the T consonant at the beginning of an unstressed syllable, “ter”. The sound that comes immediately before it is the N consonant, and this N consonant is part of the stressed syllable, “In”. And the sound after the T is a vowel, the “er” vowel.
Aha! Do you see anything interesting yet?
We have the T consonant in an unstressed syllable, and it’s between a stressed N consonant and an unstressed vowel.
Any time the T is unstressed, you gotta be thinking that something might happen to its pronunciation. And sure enough, that’s what happens here.
When the T consonant is at the beginning of an unstressed syllable, and it comes after a stressed N consonant and before a vowel, the T sound can be dropped from the pronunciation.
The technical name for this type of T pronunciation is the nasal flap, but all you have to know is the T disappears, and basically all you do is pronounce the N and the vowel, but no T.
All of these words follow that same pattern: Stressed syllable ends in N, next is an unstressed T consonant followed by a vowel, and the T sound disappears from the pronunciation.
Native speakers don’t always follow this pronunciation rule. This one is optional. But the more common a word is, and the longer a word is, the more likely it will use a nasal flap instead of a T sound.
So when you hear a native speaker say, “my innernet is down” instead of “My internet is down” - that’s what they’re doing. They’re dropping the T sound from internet, and this makes the sentence sound more smooth, connected, and effortless.
Nasal Flap in Linking: Pronounce "can't" like "can"
This nasal flap, or dropped T, can also happen when you link words together, like in the phrase “I can’t even imagine what it’s like.”
Why does this happen to the word can’t? If I drop the T, doesn’t that make it sound exactly like can?
In one word? Yes. Native speakers sometimes drop the T in can’t, or don’t, won’t, couldn’t, etcetera, any of the N’T contractions, when that contraction links up to a word that begins with a vowel.
The IPA will tell you why this happens, and I’ll put the /t/ consonant back into the transcription so you can see what’s going on here.
The way the phrase “can’t even” links together is the T consonant naturally moves over to the beginning of the next word, even. So instead of saying
Now you have the T consonant at the beginning of an unstressed syllable, and the N consonant is part of the stressed syllable. Since the T is unstressed and between the N and a vowel, it can be dropped from the pronunciation.
So can’t even becomes
Just listen to how quickly these speakers drop the T from their pronunciation. Pay attention because it happens really fast:
Nasal Flap Practice
Let’s practice a few words and phrases that contain the nasal flap, or when the T sound is dropped from the pronunciation, and we’ll practice them up close and in slow motion. You’ll hear each word or phrase three times to help train your ears to hear the nasal flap, then you’ll have a chance to imitate in the pauses.
I can’t even imagine.
Don’t ever go there.
Speak English Like a Native: Nasal Flap Practice
Looking for more nasal flap / vanishing T practice? I’ve got you covered! You can practice the nasal flap with me in English Pro, my comprehensive online American accent training program, where you’ll have access to hundreds of practice videos and audio recordings that practice the nasal flap in words, phrases, and sentences. Check out the description below for the link to learn more about English Pro, and how we can work together during a live English class.
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