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Speak English Like a Native! Linking with Flap T /ɾ/ and Stop T /ʔ/

 

(Video Transcript)

 

Speak English Like a Native: Linking with the Flap T /ɾ/ and Stop T /ʔ/

Do you feel like your English is a bit…choppy?  

 

Slow?

 

Or bumpy?



Then you might be missing these two vital sounds of American English: The Flap T and the Stop T. Both of these T sounds are super important to sounding natural in American English - every native speaker uses them in every conversation - and you should, too!

 

In this video, you’ll learn how to pronounce the Flap T and the Stop T, and you’ll learn how to use them just like a native speaker to smooth out your spoken English.

 

I’ve been teaching American English pronunciation since 2007, and in these past 17 years, one area has always been challenging for my students: how to link words and phrases together using the T consonant. Why? Because the T consonant is not always pronounced like a T, like this

 

T, T, T



You’ve got the flap T, like in water, the stop T, like in button, the True T, like in time, and then sometimes the T sound disappears completely, like in the word wanted.

 

And to make things more confusing, we’re only talking about the pronunciation of the T consonant, not the spelling. You’re always going to see the letter T in the spelling of these words, but as I just demonstrated, that letter T is pronounced differently depending on the word, the sentence, and the speaker’s preferences.

 

But, have no fear. In this video, you’ll learn the pronunciation rules of the two most common variations of the T consonant, the Flap T and the Stop T. And then you’ll have tons of practice using the Flap T and Stop T in words, phrases, and sentences. 

 

The Flap T /ɾ/ in American English

Let’s start with the Flap T, also called the Flap or the Tap. Other languages have the flap sound in them, too, so you might already be using this in your native language. However, in American English, the flap can represent the T or D sounds in certain words and phrases. 

 

Like in the word water. This word is spelled with the letter T, but it’s not usually pronounced with the T sound. 

 

waTer

 

That’s not very natural. The most natural pronunciation uses the flap, which is like a quick D sound:

 

Water

 

How to Pronounce the Flap T

To make the flap, the tongue tip quickly bounces against the alveolar ridge, which is the bumpy ridge on the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. The flap doesn’t fully stop the airflow - that’s why it’s not a true D consonant. It’s a quicker D, and it just shapes the voice as the voice exits the mouth.

 

The Rules of the Flap T

Here are the rules of when to use the flap in American English:

 

When T or D come between vowels and the second vowel is unstressed, the T or D can be pronounced like a flap. You can think of this like a mathematical equation: Stressed vowel + T or D + unstressed vowel = flap.

 

This applies to words that have an R-colored vowel in them, like the words party and border.

 

In both of these words, the T or D come between the letter R and a vowel letter, but remember that we’re talking about the pronunciation of the word, not the spelling. So the T in party is between the AR R-colored vowel and the EE vowel, and the D in border is between the OR R-colored vowel and the unstressed ER vowel. 

 

The flap also appears in many past tense -ed words, like hated and added, and in words that end in -ing, like cutting and getting.

 

Another important point about the flap is that it never begins a stressed syllable. The flap is only found in unstressed syllables. So if you have a T or D at the beginning of a stressed syllable, then it will almost always be pronounced as the True T or D; not the flap.

 

These rules also apply when linking phrases together, and here’s where many non-native speakers struggle with the flap.

 

In the phrase “a lot of stuff”, the final word “lot” ends with a T consonant. Now take a closer look at the sounds that surround the T consonant, and you’ll see that the T is between vowels, the AH in “lot” and the uh in “of”, and the word “of” is typically unstressed in this phrase. Bingo! You have the rules of the flap! So the T in “lot” is almost always pronounced as a flap, and that sounds like:

A lot of stuff

 

It’s not the True T:

 

A loT of stuff

 

If I use the True T, that will break up the flow of my speech, and that’s when my speech might start to sound choppy, slow, or bumpy.

 

So you use the flap to smooth out the connection between the final T and the next syllable:

 

A lot of stuff

 

When to Use the Flap T

You have to pay attention to two things in order to determine if you should use the flap:

 

Number one: Pay attention to the sounds that surround the T or D consonant. If the T or D are between vowels, then right away you should be suspicious that they might be pronounced as the flap.

 

If so, then the second thing to pay attention to is the syllable stress. You must identify where the syllables are in the word or phrase, and if the T or D begins an unstressed syllable, then they will most likely become the flap.



So now you know how to pronounce the flap and how it’s different from an actual D consonant. You also know the rules of the flap, and how the rules apply to both a T consonant and a D consonant, both within words and when linking sentences together.

 

Flap T /ɾ/ Pronunciation and Linking Practice

Now, let’s practice the flap. In this video, you’ll have the chance to practice the flap with me in words and sentences. I’ll say each word or phrase at my normal speaking rate, and I’ll loop each recording five times in a row to help you with your practice. But if you want even more flap practice - more complex words, more sentences, and recordings in slow motion - then join my Youtube channel to access the Members Only practice videos. I upload new practice videos every month, and by becoming a member of my channel, you can access all of those videos right now. Just click the join button below to learn more.

 

Words:

duty

daughter

brighter

attic

Beautiful 

 

Phrases/Sentences:

It's my duty to ensure your safety.

Their daughter enjoys reading.

The sun makes things brighter.

They found treasures in the attic.

She painted beautifully.



Words with -ed and -ing ending:

Decided

Loaded

cutting

Voted

getting

 

Phrases/Sentences:

I decided in five minutes.

He loaded the car.

Stop cutting the line!

We voted at home.

She’s getting on my nerves.

 

Awesome - nice work! Now you know all about the flap and you’ve practiced it in words and sentences. The flap happens everywhere in spoken English, so if you only have time to master one sound from this video, make it the flap. It’s one of the best ways you can improve your pronunciation to sound more natural to a native speaker.

 

How to Pronounce the Stop T /ʔ/

But let’s not forget the second most important sound, the stop T. This sound is also sometimes called the glottal stop or the glottal stop T; I use all three terms interchangeably.

 

The Stop T is made with the vocal cords. It’s the same sound you make when you say the phrase “uh oh” or when you cough or clear your throat *ahem*.

 

You should feel something moving in your throat. That movement is the vocal cords, closing together and stopping the airflow and the sound.

 

So if you’re making the Stop T correctly, you won’t hear anything. It’s really the absence of sound.

 

 Uh-Oh

 

It’s that quick pause between those two words:

 

Uh-Oh

 

And it has an abrupt, crisp, sharp quality.

 

Uh-Oh

 

So you’re not just stopping your voice, like this:

 

Uhhhh-ohhhh

 

That doesn’t have the right quality. The stop T is sharp and abrupt, and the vocal cords come together quickly:

 

Uh-Oh

 

The Stop T is a glottal stop. Glottal means vocal cords, and stop means the air and voice are stopped when you say it, just like how the T consonant is a stop consonant in English. The airflow is stopped when you say it. 

 

The glottal stop occurs in other languages as well, but in American English, it can represent a T consonant in certain words and phrases. 

 

The T is still there; it’s not a dropped T. Many non-native speakers think that words with the stop T simply don’t contain a T sound, but that’s not true. The T is still there; it’s simply shifted to the throat. It’s a totally different way of pronouncing the T sound, but it’s important to remember that the stop T is not absent or dropped from the pronunciation. It’s just made with the vocal cords, not the tongue.

 

The Rules of the Stop T

The rules for when to use a stop T instead of a True T are a little more complicated than the rules for the flap T, but I’ll do my best to make things as easy to understand as possible.

 

The first rule of when to use a stop T instead of a true T is: 

 

When T is between vowels, and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable that contains an N consonant at the end, the T typically becomes a stop T. You can think of this like a mathematical equation: Stressed vowel plus T plus unstressed vowel plus N equals stop T.

 

This happens in a word like button, where the T is between the UH vowel and an unstressed schwa vowel, and the syllable with the unstressed schwa vowel has an N consonant at the end. When you pronounce this word using the stop T, the schwa vowel is dropped from the pronunciation and that second syllable only has the N consonant in it. 

 

Button is the more natural pronunciation. BuTTon, with the true T and the schwa vowel, is understandable, but it’s just not the way that the majority of native speakers pronounce this word. It’s almost always going to be button. 

 

The second rule of when the True T becomes the stop T is this:

 

When T is at the end of a syllable or at the end of a word, and it links up with another consonant, it typically becomes the Stop T.

 

You can think of this like a mathematical equation: Vowel plus T plus consonant equals Stop T.

 

This happens in a word like KitKat, where the first syllable “kit” ends in a T consonant and it links up with the next syllable, “kat” which begins with a consonant. Bingo - now you have a stop T in that first syllable. 

 

KitKat, not KiTkat.

 

This also happens when linking sentences together, and here’s where many non-native speakers struggle. Look at this phrase, sit down. The first word, sit, has a vowel and then a T consonant, and the next word, down, begins with a consonant. This phrase will almost always be linked using a stop T in the first word, sit. 

 

Sit down, not SiT down.

 

If I use the True T, that will break up the flow of my speech, and that’s when my speech might start to sound choppy, slow, or bumpy.

 

So you use the stop T to smooth out the connection between the final T and the next word:

 

Sit down

 

When to use the Stop T

You have to pay attention to two things in order to determine if you should use the Stop T:

 

Number one: Pay attention to the sounds that surround the T consonant. Ask yourself, is the T between vowels and the second vowel is part of a syllable that has a final N consonant? If the answer is yes, then take your analysis one step further and move to the second consideration, the syllable stress. If that second vowel with the N ending is part of an unstressed syllable, then right away you should be suspicious that the T might be pronounced as a Stop T.  

 

Or, if the T links up with another consonant, and especially a stop consonant, then you should be suspicious that it might be pronounced as a Stop T.

 

So now you know how to pronounce the Stop T and how it’s different from a True T consonant. You also know the rules of the stop T, and how the rules apply both within words and when linking sentences together.

 

Stop T /ʔ/ Pronunciation and Linking Practice

Now let’s practice the Stop T in words and sentences.  I’ll say each word or phrase at my normal speaking rate, and I’ll loop each recording five times in a row to help you with your practice. But remember, if you want even more Stop T practice - more complex words, more sentences, and recordings in slow motion - then click on the Join button below to learn how you can become a member of my YouTube channel and access the Members Only practice videos.

 

Words:

Button

Rotten

Kitten

Footnote

Outlaw

 

Sentences:

She buttoned her coat.

The fruit was rotten.

The kitten played with yarn.

He added a footnote.

The sheriff chased the outlaw.



Nice job! Mastering the Flap T and Stop T is hard work, but with practice, you can do it. If you want even more practice with linking using the Flap T and Stop T, then check out English Pro, my online accent training program. You’ll receive training in all areas of the American accent, including the Flap T and Stop T, plus you can attend weekly live English classes and work with me, one-to-one, in the class. Check out the description for links to learn more about English Pro.

 

Don’t forget that I also have a free Sounds of American English Guidebook, where you’ll learn how to pronounce every sound of American English with audio recordings, pictures, MRIs, IPA charts, and more. It’s a fantastic, free resource that will really help boost your American English pronunciation skills, so check out the links in the description below.

 

Thanks for watching everyone! If you found this video helpful, please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to my channel for more pronunciation tips. That’s a fantastic, no-cost way that you can show your support and let me know that you liked this video and want me to make more just like it. You can also leave a comment below to let me know what techniques have helped you with your pronunciation of the flap T and Stop T, and I'll make sure to cover them in future videos. Keep practicing, and I’ll see you next time!

Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent

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