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Solution to English Pronunciation ProblemSolution to a Common Pronunciation Problem

Pronouncing Consonant Clusters

I find that many of my students of American English have problems pronouncing consonant clusters. In this article I will explain what consonant clusters are and why you might be having this pronunciation problem.

  

I’m sure you have encountered English words with consonant clusters. Consonant clusters are groups of 2 or 3 adjoining consonants and they are fairly common in American English. Clusters can occur at the beginning of words, (word initial) or at the end of words (word final). In the table below I list some commonly used consonant clusters and some sample words.  

 

 

Word initial clusters

Example words

Word final clusters

Example words

pl

plane

ths

months

br

bright

sts

tests

spr

spray

cts

facts

str

strong

skd

asked



When non-native English speakers try to say consonant clusters they typically do one of two things:

1. They insert vowel sounds between the consonants in the cluster, OR

2. They delete one of the consonant sounds in the cluster 

 

You probably do these things yourself when you pronounce consonant clusters. That’s because you are producing syllable types that you are familiar with from your native language. Let me explain what I mean.

 

In most world languages a syllable consists of: 

  • A consonant and a vowel (the CV pattern) 
  • A consonant, vowel and consonant (the CVC pattern) 

 

Words that contain consonant clusters such as in the English word ‘strong’ (CCCVCC) are not present in most world languages.  I want you to take a minute to think about the syllable patterns you use in your native language. Does your language allow for clusters of two or three consonant sounds together in a syllable? Probably not! And if this is true there is a good chance that you are applying the syllable patterns you know (CV or CVC) from your native language when you pronounce syllables with consonant clusters. 

 

 

Let me give you an example of what happens. In Japanese the most common syllable type is CV so a 2 syllable word might follow this pattern: CV-CV. Now, when Japanese students encounter 2 syllable English words with consonant clusters such as ‘stressful’ (CCCVCC-CVC) they have a tendency to insert a vowel sound between the consonants in the clusters and pronounce the word as ‘sturessuful’. This word would sound very strange to an American listener. 

 

 

Here is another example. Because word initial consonant clusters with /s/ are not allowed in Spanish and Portuguese, speakers of these languages tend to insert a vowel sound before the /s/, pronouncing ‘sports’ as ‘isports/esports’, and ‘study’ as ‘istudy/estudy’. While Americans will understand these words, the mispronunciation is often distracting and bothersome to the listener. 

 

You can use the mini-lesson below to learn one strategy that Americans use to pronounce consonant clusters.

 


Featured Learning Resource: LearnEnglish

 

 

This week’s featured English pronunciation website is called Learn English. I am recommending this resource because I think that the voice quality is excellent. The female speaker has great American English intonation and it’s fairly easy to hear the stressed and reduced syllables in each word.

 

When you go to the website, click on ‘English Only’. Then use the up and down arrows to find a category of words you want to practice. Click on any word to hear the pronunciation. The category called phrases/sentences contains commonly used phrases so it is especially useful. Try it! 

 

Click on the image to go to the site now.

Learning Resource - LearnEnglish

 

 

Mini Lesson: How Americans Pronounce Consonant Clusters

 

As I mentioned in the article above, consonant clusters are common in American English. English has syllables with a CCV pattern as in the word ‘play’, a CCCV pattern as in the word ‘stray’, or even a CVCCC syllables as in ‘months’.

 

 

Since most other languages don’t have consonant clusters, these are often difficult for non-native English speakers to pronounce. But, the truth is that even native English speakers have difficulty with some triple consonant clusters. So how do we say them? Well, in some words we delete one of the consonant sounds. This happens most often when the middle consonant is a /t/, /k/ or /th/ sound.

 

Here are some examples:

 

 

Word

Omitted sound

Americans say

tests

/t/

tess

tourists

/t/

touriss

months

/th/

monts

asked

/k/

ast

facts

/t/

fax

 

 Click 'Play' to hear the correct pronunciation:

 

 

 

Here is an activity you can do to practice deleting triple consonant clusters.

 

The bold word in each sentence has a triple consonant cluster. Read each sentence aloud and delete the correct consonant sound from the bold word. Use the information in the table above to help you.

  1. Everyone takes tests at the end of the semester.
  2. Washington DC has lots of tourists.
  3. There are 12 months in a year.
  4. Susan asked me for a favor.
  5. The police were looking for the facts.

Click 'Play' to hear these sentences pronounced:

 

 

If you apply these strategies your American English pronunciation will sound much more natural!

 

Insight: Add a new Heteronym to your vocabulary – ‘REFUSE’

Heteronyms are two words that are spelled identically. The way the words are pronounced indicates the meaning. This week’s heteronym is: refuse.

When you say the word ‘refuse’ the syllable stress changes the meaning of the word. When the major stress is on the first syllable the word is a noun. When the major stress is on the second syllable the word is a verb. Here are two examples: 

 

1. The city collects the REfuse on Friday mornings. 

(‘Refuse’ is a noun-the stress is on the first syllable) 

2. Jennifer reFUSES to go the dentist. 

(‘Refuses is a verb-the stress is on the second syllable) 

 

Click play below to listen to the audio:

 




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