This video is the first part of a series in which I’ll discuss how to pronounce difficult words in English. I chose these words based on the words my clients often mispronounce, and as requested by some of my viewers.
Word #1: Milk
We’ll start with the word milk, as in, I like to drink milk every morning. This word may be challenging because of the Dark L sound, ul. I have another video on how to pronounce the Dark L sound, and if you’ve watched it, I talked about how the back of the tongue is the most important part of making a good Dark L. The back of the tongue should be low, and it should lift up slightly towards the back of the mouth as you say the Dark L. You should also feel tension in your throat and tongue - the tension is from pulling the tongue up just a bit. The Dark L might feel like you’re making it in the throat instead of the mouth - it’s a very low sound. Ul.
One viewer asked me about the tongue tip for the Dark L. I said in my previous video that the tongue tip should come up to the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth, like this: Ul. The viewer asked if native speakers always do this with the tongue tip. The answer is no - native speakers may also say the Dark L by keeping the tongue tip down, either neutral in the mouth or pushing against the back of the bottom teeth. I do both. I think it’s easier to learn how to make a good Dark L sound with the tongue tip up - this gives your tongue something to push against as you tense the back of the tongue. Ul, Ul. But you can also use the back of the bottom teeth as well. Ul, Ul. It depends on where the Dark L occurs in the word and the other sounds that surround the Dark L.
The thing to focus on when making the Dark L is the back of the tongue - it is low and tense, and pulls up slightly. The placement of the tongue tip is secondary.
Now, back to milk. Here is a close up of my mouth when I say this word. It’s difficult to see my tongue, but notice how my tongue flattens for the IH vowel, and then tenses and narrows as I say the Dark L. Then the back of my tongue goes up for the K sound.
I’ll pronounce it with my tongue tip up, and my tongue tip down. Milk.
Word #2: Girl
The next word is girl, as in, The girl goes to elementary school. Here’s another word with the Dark L sound, and to make it more difficult, there’s also an ER sound. Let’s focus first on the ER sound. Say the word green. Now, hold out the GR cluster - GRRRRR. The back of the tongue is up for the G sound, then it slides back to make the ER sound. Keep the tongue up, and push the sides of the tongue against the inside of the back teeth as you say ER. GRRRRR.
Now the Dark L. Here is an example of when I would place the tongue tip up to the roof of the mouth for the Dark L. You should feel the tongue change its shape for the Dark L. It will go from pulled up and back for the GRRR to pulled down and tongue tip up for UL. And don’t forget about the tension in the back of the tongue for the Dark L.
Here’s a close up of my mouth when I say girl. My lips round and push out and my tongue is pulled up and back for GRR, then the back of my tongue drops and my tongue tip comes up for the UL. Girl.
Word #3: World
The next word is world, as in, I want to travel the world. Here’s another word with the ER + Dark L combination. Let’s start with the first part of the word, were. You already know this word. It’s the past tense of the verb “to be”, as in, You were right. Make a good ER sound by pulling the tongue up and back, and pushing the sides of the tongue against the inside of the upper teeth. Were, were. Now, when you transition from ER to the Dark L, your tongue should change its shape like it did for girl. The tongue is pulled up and back for were, then it’s pulled down and tongue tip can either come up to the roof of the mouth or not for the Dark L. In this word, it might be easier for the tongue tip to come up to the roof of the mouth because the next sound is a D, and the tongue tip comes up for the D sound anyway.
Here’s a close up of my mouth as I say world. The back of the tongue is hidden, but my tongue pulls up and back for ER, then changes shape for the Dark L, the back of my tongue drops and the tongue tip comes up for the D. World.
Word #4: Million
The next word is million, as in One million dollars. Another word with the Dark L - notice a theme here? But with this word, the Dark L is in the middle of the word, at the end of the first syllable, mill.
Let’s first talk about how many syllables are in this word. Million. Just two - mill, yun, mill, yun. Million. The transition between the two syllables is where most of my clients have difficulty.
Start by saying the first syllable, mill, and hold out the Dark L. Your tongue tip can come up to the roof of the mouth, like this. Mill. Or it might push against the back of the bottom teeth, like this. Mill. Then as you transition to the second syllable, yun, you should feel the tongue change shape for the /j/ sound. The middle of the tongue comes up and the sides of the tongue touch the roof of the mouth. The tongue is curved in a U shape to allow the airflow to travel along the top of the tongue. Yuh, yuh.
If you say this word slowly, you will hear a small EE sound as you transition from mill to yun. Mill-ee-yin. Now speed it up to get rid of the EE. Million, million.
Here is a close up of my mouth as I say million. Again, you can’t see the back of my tongue, but notice how my tongue tip touches the back of my bottom teeth as I say mill, then pulls back into my mouth for yun.
Word #5: Clothes
The next word is clothes, as in, I washed my clothes yesterday. The difficult part of this word is the L + TH + S combination. The tongue really needs to move fast to say this word! There are two ways you can say this word. I’ll start with the easier way. Clothes can also be pronounced as close - the same way you would pronounce close, like in, Close the door. Lots of times, native speakers will drop the TH sound when it comes between a consonant and an S sound in order to make their speech sound more fluent. Close. You can use this pronunciation if it is easier for you.
The harder pronunciation includes the voiced TH sound. Clothes.
Here’s a close up of my mouth as I pronounce the harder pronunciation of clothes, with the voiced TH. Notice how my tongue tip comes up for the L, down for the OH, then the tip comes out for the voiced TH and quickly pulls back in for the Z.
Word #6: Months
The next word also includes a TH sound between two consonants. The word is months, as in, There are 12 months in a year. There are two ways to pronounce this word as well. I’ll start with the easier pronunciation. Munce. Munce. Many native speakers will drop the TH sound because it occurs between a consonant and a final S, in order to make their speech more fluent. Munce. Munce. You can use this pronunciation if it is easier for you.
The harder pronunciation uses the voiceless TH sound. Months. Months. I’ll show a close up of my mouth when I say the word months with the TH sound.
Here you’ll notice that I change the tongue placement of the N sound. Normally, the N is made with the tongue tip fully inside the mouth, but in the word months, my tongue placement is nearly in the same spot as it is for the TH. The placement changes because my tongue is anticipating the next sound, the TH sound. So the N is made at a place that is closer to the TH sound - this makes it easier to say. So the front of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge and the back of the front teeth for the N, and the tip is out. Then I easily say the next sound TH, then the tongue pulls right back in for the S.
One important note about the word months. It is perfectly OK to drop the TH when the word month is plural, like months. But when the word is singular, like in this sentence, I went there one month ago, you always need to pronounce the TH sound.
Word #7: Vegetables
The next word is vegetables, as in, Eat your vegetables. If you look in a dictionary, you’ll notice that there are two pronunciations for this word. Vegetables and veg-e-tables. Vegetables is 3 syllables, and veg-e-tables is 4 syllables. I have never really heard a native speaker use the veg-e-table pronunciation - at least not that I can remember. So for you to sound the most natural, you should pronounce it as three syllables - vegetables.
The first syllable is vedge - and this receives the primary stress. The second and third syllables - tuh-bles - are unstressed. Tuh-bles. Tuh-bles. And I use the True T for the second syllable, tuh. You’ll notice that in the transcription, the voiced consonant J is used in vedge. But when native speakers say this word, oftentimes the voicing on that consonant is gone, and it becomes the voiceless CH. Either the J or CH is OK to use in this word.
Here’s a close up of my mouth as I say vegetables. This word also has a Dark L, but for this word, my tongue tip doesn’t come up for the Dark L. It pushes against the back of my bottom front teeth, then the tip quickly makes the S sound.
Word #8: Comfortable
The next word is comfortable, as in, This chair is really comfortable to sit in. Let’s first talk about how many syllables are in this word. Comfortable. I say it with 3 syllables. But if you look in a dictionary, you’ll notice that there are two pronunciations of this word. Com-fer-tu-ble as 4 syllables, and comfortable as 3 syllables. The more common pronunciation is comfortable as 3 syllables, so that is the way that you should pronounce it.
The first syllable, comf, has the stress. And the next two syllables are unstressed, ter-bul, ter-bul. I use the True T for the ter syllable, and then the Dark L at the end. And for the Dark L, the tongue tip can come up to the roof of the mouth or stay down and touch the back of the bottom front teeth.
Here is a close up of my mouth as I say comfortable. You can’t see the back of my tongue, but it retracts to make the K sound, then my mouth closes and my lips come together for the M. My front teeth quickly touch the back of my bottom lip for the F sound, then my tongue tip comes up for the True T, then the B sound, and my tongue tip is down for the Dark L at the end.
Word #9: Three
The next two words are numbers. We’ll start with the number three. Three. The difficult part of this word is the THR cluster. Thrrr, Thrrr. Let’s break it down. Start with the voiceless TH sound - this TH receives the full pronunciation with the tongue tip out. Then the tongue pulls in quickly for the ER - and remember to pull the tongue up and back, and push the sides of the tongue against the upper back teeth to make a good R sound. Thrrr. And my lips push out slightly as well. Thrrr.
Here’s a close up of my mouth as I say three. My tongue tip comes out for the TH, then quickly pulls back in for the R, then my lips spread as I say the EE vowel.
Word #10: Thirty
The last word is the number thirty. Thirty. This word has the TH+ER cluster, like three, but it also has a T sound. The T in thirty is most commonly pronounced with a Flap T, which is similar to a light D sound. I’ve discussed the flap in previous videos, and I’ll put the link below in the description. To make the flap, the tongue tip quickly touches the roof of the mouth. Thirty. Thirty.
If you use the True T sound, like thir-tee, people will understand you, but you won’t sound natural - it will stand out as being different from the way native speakers say the word. So you should pronounce it with the flap.
Here’s a close up of my mouth as I say the word thirty. My tongue tip comes out for the TH, then quickly pulls back for the ER, then the tip comes up to the roof of my mouth for the flap, and my lips spread for the EE.
Thanks so much for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!