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[thr] ‘thr’ as in ‘three’

The two TH consonant sounds.  These sounds are paired together because they take the same mouth position.  Th is unvoiced, meaning, only air passes through the mouth, and th is voiced, meaning you make a sound with the vocal cords.  To make this sound, the very tip of the tongue comes through the teeth, th, th, thanks, th, th, this.  The rest of the mouth remains relaxed.  For the THR consonant cluster, the lips will begin to move into position for the R while the TH is being made.  Three, three.  In some cases, these sounds will be replaced with a similar sound, when the tongue does not quite come through the teeth.  Instead it presses against the closed teeth.  This will happen in an unstressed word only, when there isn’t enough time given to the word for teeth to part and the tongue to come through.  For example, ‘What’s in the car?’  What’s in the car?  The tongue isn’t coming all the way through the teeth.

Here we see the TH sound on the right compared with the mouth at rest on the left. And with parts of the mouth drawn in. The soft palate is raised for this sound. You can see the tongue through the teeth, just the tip comes through. The TH consonant sounds. Sample words: thin/this, thief/these, birthday/worthy. Sample sentence: I thought of using these Lily of the Valleys rather than those thorny roses. Now you will see this sentence up close and in slow motion, both straight on and from an angle, so you can really study how the mouth moves when making these sounds.

I, with the ‘ai’ as in ‘buy’ diphthong. Thought, tongue tip through the teeth, TH, thought. ‘Aw’ as in ‘law’, tongue up to make the T which is a D here, thought of. Using, the ‘ew’ as in ‘few’ diphthong. These, tongue tip through the teeth. Lily of the Valleys, tongue up in the L position, comes down, ‘ih’ as in ‘sit’, back up for the second L, lily, of, bottom lip up for the V sound, and again for the V sound of Valleys. Tongue up for the L, that was an L, not a TH. Rather, lips take the R consonant shape, and the tongue comes through the teeth again for the TH, one more time quickly for than. Those, ‘oh’ as in ‘no’ diphthong, and again for thorny, thorny roses, R consonant shape, ‘oh’ as in ‘no’ diphthong. Teeth together for the Z sound, then part slightly for the schwa, and together again for the final Z sound.  And now from an angle. I thought, tongue tip through the teeth, tongue up to make the D sound, bottom lip up for the V. Using, with the ‘ew’ as in ‘few’ diphthong. These, tongue tip through the teeth. Teeth together for the Z sound and tongue up to make the L. Lily, up again for the second L. Lily of, bottom lip up for the V. And you don’t even seen the tongue for the TH there because it’s so quick. Of the Valley, Valleys. Rather, mouth takes the R consonant shape and the tongue tip comes through for the TH. Rather. The tongue tip comes through quickly to make than and those, than is very short there. ‘Oh’ as in ‘no’, teeth together for the Z sound. Thorny, tongue through the teeth for the TH, tongue up to make the N, roses. R consonant shape, teeth together for the Z sound, part for the schwa, and together again for the Z sound. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

International Phonetic Alphabet symbols: [θ] (as in thin), [ð] (as in this)

See Wikipedia’s pages on these voiced and unvoiced sounds for technical descriptions and their occurrences in other langages.

[bl] ‘bl’ as in ‘blanket’

In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over a few idioms.

Today is October 31st. That’s Halloween. A couple of years ago I made a video on how to pronounce Halloween, and showed some scenes from a Halloween party, and all of my friends in costume. In the US, Halloween is a holiday in which little kids dress up in costumes and go around, house to house, and say ‘trick or treat’, in order to get candy. Trick or treat. Are you noticing how I’m reducing the word ‘or’ there, to just the schwa-R sound? Rr, rr, rr. Trick or, trick or. Now, I’ve already made a video on how to reduce the word ‘or’, I do suggest you take a look at it. Trick or treat. Trick or treat.

But sometimes, even adults will dress up in costume. Now, I find this a little odd. I’m not quite sure why an adult would want to dress up to look like a scary person or a dead person. I, personally, never do it. Now, my friends are having a Halloween party this year, and I told them I was not going to dress up because I just think it’s silly. And they said, Rachel, don’t be a party pooper. So let’s go over that idiom, party pooper. First, note that the T in ‘party’ is a Flap T. Now, you know that because it comes after an R consonant and before a vowel. Party, party. Pooper. This is a two-syllable word, stress is on the first syllable. It begins with the P consonant, the ‘oo’ vowel: poo-, poo-. Now, since that’s the stressed syllable, make sure it has some shape in it, poo-, poo-. The second, unstressed syllable is the P consonant, and then schwa-R sound, -per, -per, -per. Now that’s going to be flat and lower in pitch because it’s unstressed. Party pooper, party pooper. So, what is a party pooper? A party pooper is someone who spoils other people’s fun by not participating, or by saying, Oh, that’s stupid, that’s a dumb idea. So basically, that’s me, because I’m going to a costume party, and I’m not going to dress up. Because I just think dressing up is silly.

Another idiom that has a similar meaning is wet blanket. So this, again, is someone who will spoil other people’s enjoyment by not participating in general, withdrawing a little bit. For example: Mary had a great party last night, but her new roommate is sort of a wet blanket. Meaning, maybe she didn’t participate, she sat in the corner, wouldn’t talk to anybody, or maybe even just stayed in her room. So, let’s go over the pronunciation. It begins with the W consonant sound, where the lips will be in a very tight circle. Then, the EH as in BED vowel, we-, we-. The final T here is a stop consonant. Usually final T’s, are, unless the next word begins with a vowel. We don’t have that here. So, it’s going to be a stop. Wet blanket. What does that mean? That means I put my tongue up into position for the T, wet, wet, but I don’t release the sound. I just go into the next word. Here, the next word begins with the BL consonant cluster. Wet bl-. Make sure your tongue tip is up here for the L. Bl-, bl-. That’s how you know you’re making that sound correctly. Bl-, bl-, wet bl-. Now, the next sound. If you look it up in the dictionary, it will say it is the AA as in BAT vowel. But as you know, when the AA vowel is followed by the nasal consonant NG, it’s not really the AA vowel. It’s much more like the AY as in SAY diphthong. Bla-, bla-, blan-. Then the tongue comes up back here to touch for the NG sound, right where it needs to be for the K, so it just simply pulls away there to release. Blank-, blank-. And finally, the schwa-T sound in the unstressed syllable. Blanket, blanket. Notice I’m not releasing the T at the end of ‘blanket’. Again, I’m making it a stop T. Blanket. Wet blanket.

And one last idiom with a similar meaning, stick in the mud. Again, this is someone who spoils the fun by not participating. Rachel, why don’t you dress up for the Halloween party? It’s a costume party. Well. Because I’m a stick in the mud. So how do you pronounce this? It begins with the ST consonant cluster, opens into the IH as in SIT vowel. Sti-, sti-. Now, the next word begins with a vowel. So the ending consonant here in the word ‘stick’ will link into that. Stick in, stick in, stick in. That will help us to connect the words and make them very smooth. Stick in, stick in. The next word, the, has the TH sound and the schwa. Now, it’s unstressed. So, along with ‘in’, it’s going to be low in pitch and flat, in the, in the, in the. And finally, the word ‘mud’. M consonant, UH as in BUTTER, and the D sound. Stick in the mud, stick in the mud.So, even though I won’t be dressing up this Halloween, I’m still going to have fun. And I hope you will to. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

[fr] ‘fr’ as in ‘free’

Today we’re going to go over the phrase ‘happy birthday.’
– Happy Birthday HaQuyen.
– Thanks, Rachel.
– Happy Birthday HaQuyen.
– Happy Birthday Rachel.
– Aw, that’s sweet. Thank you.

This phrase, though just two words, can be kind of difficult. It has the ‘ur’ as in ‘her’ vowel / R consonant sound. That can be tough. Happy begins with an H. Sometimes people’s tendency is to drop beginning H’s. And it also has the TH sound. It’s very common to replace this unvoiced TH sound with the S sound. But we’re going to learn today how not to do that. Happy. Happy birthday. So, in both of these words, it’s the first syllable that is stressed. Happy. Birthday. Let’s begin with happy. It starts with the H consonant sound: hh, hh, hh. It’s quiet, it’s subtle, but you do need to let air pass through your vocal cords to make that sound. Hh, hh, ha-, ha-. The first vowel sound is the ‘aa’ as in ‘bat’ vowel: ha-, ha-, where the lips will pull up a little bit, exposing those top teeth somewhat. Ha-, ha-. And you can see a lot of tongue here, aa, as it is more raised in the back and then coming down in the front. Ha-, ha-, happy. You then have the P consonant sound which will open into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel: -py, -py. Happy. As this is the unstressed syllable, make sure it is lower in pitch and a little more subtle, a little quieter, than ha-. Happy, happy.

Birthday begins with the B consonant sound where the lips are together, bb, bb, and the vocal cords are making some sound, bb, bb, bir-. It opens into the ‘ur’ as in ‘her’ vowel sound followed by the R consonant sound. These two sounds will blend together into just one sound, rr, rr. Bir-, bir-. For that sound, the corner of the lips will come in, bir-, bir-, so the lips will come away from the face a little bit. Bir-. The tongue position, rr, rr: it’s pulled up and back a little bit, pressing against the insides of the top teeth here in the middle. The front part of the tongue then hangs down, pulled back just enough so it’s not touching anything within the mouth. Rr-th. The unvoiced TH. For this sound, the tongue tip must come through the teeth. So, rr, th, the tongue tip has to come forward. And it will just lightly touch between the teeth there, th, as you let air pass through for the unvoiced sound. Birth-, birthday. To make the D sound, the tongue tip must come back in and reach up to the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. Birthday. It will then stop the sound in that position and come down, -day, into the ‘ay’ as in ‘say’ diphthong. Birthday, birthday. Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

Happy birthday day to you. Happy Birthday dear Rachel, happy birthday to you.
– Thanks guys!
– I think I’m going to have some ‘Birthday Cake’.
– While you’re getting that, I’ll get this, and then we can swap.

Did you hear the word ‘swap’? Swap means to switch or to exchange. And then we can swap. Rachel, who was getting one kind of yogurt, wanted to swap with Kara afterwards so she could also get the other kind of yogurt. Swap begins with the S-W consonant cluster. So it will begin with the teeth together and the lips parted for the S sound, ss, ss. Then the lips will come in to make the W sound, sw-, sw-, and the teeth will part. From this tight circle for the W, the mouth will open into the ‘ah’ as in ‘father’ sound, swa-. And finally, the P consonant sound, where the lips come together. Swap, swap. Listen again.

While you’re getting that I’ll get this, and then we can swap. And then we can swap.

In New York at the moment, there are several chains of these frozen yogurt stores, where you pick your frozen yogurt. You can get more than one kind. And then there is a sea of toppings to choose from. One of my friends who was at this birthday party chose some toppings that the rest of us thought were a little bit weird. In the following exchange about that, you’ll hear two idioms that we’ll go over.

Spill the beans. Now, I’ve already done a video on this idiom, so I won’t go into detail its pronunciation. It means to tell someone’s secret to someone, or to reveal something about someone that they wouldn’t have wanted you to reveal. When I said it, the final S in the word ‘beans’, which should be voiced as a Z, sounded like an S because I’d started laughing.

The second idiom, It is a free country, or, It’s a free country. Basically this means, I can do what I want, even if it’s not a popular thing to do. It is a free country. So here, the word ‘is’ and ‘a’ both start with vowel sounds, and the words before end with consonant sounds. So we really want to link those up with the consonants that came before. It-is-a. It is a, it is a. The T here is pronounced as a D because it comes between two vowel sounds. It is a, it is a. Now, if you were to say It’s a, It’s a, make sure you get a good strong TS sound there, it’s a, where there’s a stop between the vowel and the S, designating the stop T. It’s a, it’s a. ‘Free’ begins with the F-R consonant cluster. So the bottom lip must move up to the top teeth, ff, to make that F sound. Then the lips come into a tight circle for the R, fr, free, before opening into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel, where the corners of the lips will pull wide. Free country. The K consonant sound followed by the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’, the N consonant sound, coun-, coun-. And the second syllable, unstressed, will be lower in pitch, with the T-R sound, -tr-, -tr-. Now, this can sound like a CHR sound, chr, chr. And finally, the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel sound. Country, country. It’s a free country. Let’s see the whole exchange one more time.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.
– Happy Birthday Rach!
– Thank you! This is a great birthday.

[sw] ‘sw’ as in ‘swap’

Today we’re going to go over the phrase ‘happy birthday.’
– Happy Birthday HaQuyen.
– Thanks, Rachel.
– Happy Birthday HaQuyen.
– Happy Birthday Rachel.
– Aw, that’s sweet. Thank you.

This phrase, though just two words, can be kind of difficult. It has the ‘ur’ as in ‘her’ vowel / R consonant sound. That can be tough. Happy begins with an H. Sometimes people’s tendency is to drop beginning H’s. And it also has the TH sound. It’s very common to replace this unvoiced TH sound with the S sound. But we’re going to learn today how not to do that. Happy. Happy birthday. So, in both of these words, it’s the first syllable that is stressed. Happy. Birthday. Let’s begin with happy. It starts with the H consonant sound: hh, hh, hh. It’s quiet, it’s subtle, but you do need to let air pass through your vocal cords to make that sound. Hh, hh, ha-, ha-. The first vowel sound is the ‘aa’ as in ‘bat’ vowel: ha-, ha-, where the lips will pull up a little bit, exposing those top teeth somewhat. Ha-, ha-. And you can see a lot of tongue here, aa, as it is more raised in the back and then coming down in the front. Ha-, ha-, happy. You then have the P consonant sound which will open into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel: -py, -py. Happy. As this is the unstressed syllable, make sure it is lower in pitch and a little more subtle, a little quieter, than ha-. Happy, happy.

Birthday begins with the B consonant sound where the lips are together, bb, bb, and the vocal cords are making some sound, bb, bb, bir-. It opens into the ‘ur’ as in ‘her’ vowel sound followed by the R consonant sound. These two sounds will blend together into just one sound, rr, rr. Bir-, bir-. For that sound, the corner of the lips will come in, bir-, bir-, so the lips will come away from the face a little bit. Bir-. The tongue position, rr, rr: it’s pulled up and back a little bit, pressing against the insides of the top teeth here in the middle. The front part of the tongue then hangs down, pulled back just enough so it’s not touching anything within the mouth. Rr-th. The unvoiced TH. For this sound, the tongue tip must come through the teeth. So, rr, th, the tongue tip has to come forward. And it will just lightly touch between the teeth there, th, as you let air pass through for the unvoiced sound. Birth-, birthday. To make the D sound, the tongue tip must come back in and reach up to the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. Birthday. It will then stop the sound in that position and come down, -day, into the ‘ay’ as in ‘say’ diphthong. Birthday, birthday. Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

Happy birthday day to you. Happy Birthday dear Rachel, happy birthday to you.
– Thanks guys!
– I think I’m going to have some ‘Birthday Cake’.
– While you’re getting that, I’ll get this, and then we can swap.

Did you hear the word ‘swap’? Swap means to switch or to exchange. And then we can swap. Rachel, who was getting one kind of yogurt, wanted to swap with Kara afterwards so she could also get the other kind of yogurt. Swap begins with the S-W consonant cluster. So it will begin with the teeth together and the lips parted for the S sound, ss, ss. Then the lips will come in to make the W sound, sw-, sw-, and the teeth will part. From this tight circle for the W, the mouth will open into the ‘ah’ as in ‘father’ sound, swa-. And finally, the P consonant sound, where the lips come together. Swap, swap. Listen again.

While you’re getting that I’ll get this, and then we can swap. And then we can swap.

In New York at the moment, there are several chains of these frozen yogurt stores, where you pick your frozen yogurt. You can get more than one kind. And then there is a sea of toppings to choose from. One of my friends who was at this birthday party chose some toppings that the rest of us thought were a little bit weird. In the following exchange about that, you’ll hear two idioms that we’ll go over.

Spill the beans. Now, I’ve already done a video on this idiom, so I won’t go into detail its pronunciation. It means to tell someone’s secret to someone, or to reveal something about someone that they wouldn’t have wanted you to reveal. When I said it, the final S in the word ‘beans’, which should be voiced as a Z, sounded like an S because I’d started laughing.

The second idiom, It is a free country, or, It’s a free country. Basically this means, I can do what I want, even if it’s not a popular thing to do. It is a free country. So here, the word ‘is’ and ‘a’ both start with vowel sounds, and the words before end with consonant sounds. So we really want to link those up with the consonants that came before. It-is-a. It is a, it is a. The T here is pronounced as a D because it comes between two vowel sounds. It is a, it is a. Now, if you were to say It’s a, It’s a, make sure you get a good strong TS sound there, it’s a, where there’s a stop between the vowel and the S, designating the stop T. It’s a, it’s a. ‘Free’ begins with the F-R consonant cluster. So the bottom lip must move up to the top teeth, ff, to make that F sound. Then the lips come into a tight circle for the R, fr, free, before opening into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel, where the corners of the lips will pull wide. Free country. The K consonant sound followed by the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’, the N consonant sound, coun-, coun-. And the second syllable, unstressed, will be lower in pitch, with the T-R sound, -tr-, -tr-. Now, this can sound like a CHR sound, chr, chr. And finally, the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel sound. Country, country. It’s a free country. Let’s see the whole exchange one more time.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.
– Happy Birthday Rach!
– Thank you! This is a great birthday.

[str] ‘str’ as in ‘string’

In recent month, I’ve got a couple emails from a couple people saying they hear a weird thing happening when they hear native speakers speak. They hear the TR sound sometimes sounding like the CHR sound. For example: try. Tt-ry. They say they might be hearing ch-ry, chry. Try, chry. Same with the DR consonant cluster. D-rive, drive, they might hear jj-rive, jrive. Drive, jrive. I hear this a lot myself, and I’m certain that I do myself sometimes too. To understand why these consonant blends or clusters sometimes sound that way, we need to look at some photos of the sounds.

Here we see the T/D mouth position on the left and the ch/jj mouth position on the right. You can see they have a similar tongue position, with the forward part of the tongue raised, touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. In the T/D sound, the lips are relaxed, and in the ch/jj, sound, the lips have some tension, the come away from the face, they round somewhat. Here we see the R sound on the left and the ch/jj sound on the right. You can see the tongue position is different. In the R, the tongue does not raise all the way to the roof. It presses against the insides of the top teeth and the tip of the tongue is pulled back. But in the R sound, the lips also have a bit of tension: they are not relaxed. They are rounded somewhat, and therefore, come away from the face.

Here are all three sounds. You could say, if you take the lip position of the R, somewhat rounded, and the tongue position of the T/D, where the front raises and touches the front of the roof of the mouth, then you get the tongue position, the mouth position, for the ch/jj sound. Therefore, if the speaker is making the T or D sound followed by the R sound, their lips may start to round for the R as they are making the T/D sound. And if the lips round early, which they may very well do, then the mouth position will be the same for the ch/jj, and that is why the T/D may sound like the ch/jj.

And that’s why you might hear some native speakers making a sound that’s more like jj than dd in the DR consonant blend. Drive, dry, draw. And also, a sound that’s more like ch rather than T in the TR cluster. Try, trial, trip. I do want to note that though these may be the sounds that come out, they are not the sounds that a native speaker has in mind when they’re speaking.

Let’s look at a related question. I recently got an email from someone asking about the STR consonant cluster. She says she sometimes hears the T sounding like a D. Let’s look at why that might be. The sound that comes after the T is R, and that is voiced. T and D take the same mouth position, but D is voiced, and T is unvoiced. So in other words, tt, tt, only air is coming through for the T, whereas dd, dd, same mouth movement, but this time, dd, dd, the vocal cords are making noise. Tt, dd. So, in the consonant cluster STR, what this person is hearing, is the native speaker is beginning the voice, uh, for the R, before he or she has finished the T sound. This would naturally happen as someone was speaking quickly through a phrase. String, string, I’m thinking about a T there. Sdring, sdring, there I’m thinking about a D. They really sound the same. So this is why you may hear a D sound in the STR consonant cluster. String, tt, string, sdring, dd, sdring. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

[dr] ‘dr’ as in ‘drive’

In recent month, I’ve got a couple emails from a couple people saying they hear a weird thing happening when they hear native speakers speak. They hear the TR sound sometimes sounding like the CHR sound. For example: try. Tt-ry. They say they might be hearing ch-ry, chry. Try, chry. Same with the DR consonant cluster. D-rive, drive, they might hear jj-rive, jrive. Drive, jrive. I hear this a lot myself, and I’m certain that I do myself sometimes too. To understand why these consonant blends or clusters sometimes sound that way, we need to look at some photos of the sounds.

Here we see the T/D mouth position on the left and the ch/jj mouth position on the right. You can see they have a similar tongue position, with the forward part of the tongue raised, touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. In the T/D sound, the lips are relaxed, and in the ch/jj, sound, the lips have some tension, the come away from the face, they round somewhat. Here we see the R sound on the left and the ch/jj sound on the right. You can see the tongue position is different. In the R, the tongue does not raise all the way to the roof. It presses against the insides of the top teeth and the tip of the tongue is pulled back. But in the R sound, the lips also have a bit of tension: they are not relaxed. They are rounded somewhat, and therefore, come away from the face.

Here are all three sounds. You could say, if you take the lip position of the R, somewhat rounded, and the tongue position of the T/D, where the front raises and touches the front of the roof of the mouth, then you get the tongue position, the mouth position, for the ch/jj sound. Therefore, if the speaker is making the T or D sound followed by the R sound, their lips may start to round for the R as they are making the T/D sound. And if the lips round early, which they may very well do, then the mouth position will be the same for the ch/jj, and that is why the T/D may sound like the ch/jj.

And that’s why you might hear some native speakers making a sound that’s more like jj than dd in the DR consonant blend. Drive, dry, draw. And also, a sound that’s more like ch rather than T in the TR cluster. Try, trial, trip. I do want to note that though these may be the sounds that come out, they are not the sounds that a native speaker has in mind when they’re speaking.

Let’s look at a related question. I recently got an email from someone asking about the STR consonant cluster. She says she sometimes hears the T sounding like a D. Let’s look at why that might be. The sound that comes after the T is R, and that is voiced. T and D take the same mouth position, but D is voiced, and T is unvoiced. So in other words, tt, tt, only air is coming through for the T, whereas dd, dd, same mouth movement, but this time, dd, dd, the vocal cords are making noise. Tt, dd. So, in the consonant cluster STR, what this person is hearing, is the native speaker is beginning the voice, uh, for the R, before he or she has finished the T sound. This would naturally happen as someone was speaking quickly through a phrase. String, string, I’m thinking about a T there. Sdring, sdring, there I’m thinking about a D. They really sound the same. So this is why you may hear a D sound in the STR consonant cluster. String, tt, string, sdring, dd, sdring. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

[gr] ‘gr’ as in ‘graduate’

In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over pronunciation of the word ‘graduate’.

This week’s word of the week is ‘graduate’. Graduate is the verb form: gra-du-ate. It can also be pronounced ‘graduate’, in this case it’s either an adjective or a noun. Graduate, graduate. So, for both of them the stress is on the first syllable, gra-, gra-. We begin with the GR consonant cluster. To make the G, the back part of the tongue reaches up and touches the soft palate. Gg, gg. To make the R, the tongue pulls back, so the middle part of the tongue is touching here, and the front part of the tongue isn’t touching anything. Grrr, grrr, you should be able to hold that sound out. Gra-. The ‘aa’ as in ‘bat’ vowel. To make this sound, you do need to drop your jaw, gra-, gra-. And you may lift your upper lip a little bit, exposing some of your front top teeth. Gra-, gra-. The next syllable, unstressed, has the JJ consonant sound and the oo vowel sound. Gradu-, gradu-, gradu-, du, du, unstressed, lower in volume—a little quieter. The last syllable is ‘ate’ as a verb. Graduate, -ate. So it has the ‘ay’ as in ‘say’ diphthong, you do need to drop your jaw a good bit for the first sound there, ay, ay, graduate. And finally, the T sound. This could be released very lightly, in most cases it will be a Stop T, graduate, graduate, where you bring your tongue up into position for the T, but don’t release.

And for the noun or adjective pronunciation, the last syllable has the ‘ih’ as in ‘sit’ vowel and the T. Graduate, -ate, -ate. There I’m making a Stop T, where my tongue goes up into position for the T, but I don’t release it. Graduate. You could also lightly release it to make a True T. Graduate.

I’m going to graduate school next fall.
I’ll graduate in May.

That’s it, your Word of the Week. Try it out yourself. Make up a sentence with the word, record it, and post it as a video response to this video on YouTube. I can’t wait to watch it!

That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

[kw] ‘qu’ as in ‘quit’

Today I want to work on the ‘qu’ consonant cluster, that is, the ‘kk’ as in ‘cap’ [k] with the ‘ww’ as in ‘will’ [w] W sound. I know that some people have difficulties with this sound. The key is in the lip position. Question, quick. To make the W sound, the lips have to round not just a little, but a lot, so that there’s just a tiny gap there where the lips are not touching. When I say the word ‘quick’, notice that my lips have already rounded, quick, before my vocal cords even release the air for the kk sound. Quick.

Sample words: notice the lip position. Quick, question, adequate, banquet, quiet, equate. The most common mistake in making this cluster is leaving out the W sound. So let’s look at some word pairs where the first of the word pair has the ‘qu’ cluster and the second word of the word pair simply has the kk sound. Make sure you watch the difference in the lip position. Quit, kit. Quilt, kilt. Quote, coat.

Here is the word ‘quick’ up close and in slow motion. Notice how the lips pull into this tight circle for the W sound before opening up into the ‘ih’ as in ‘sit’ vowel sound. And here is the word question. Again, notice the tiny circle of the lips. Here, the word pair ‘quit’ and ‘kit’. Quit – the tight circle of the lips. Kit, the jaw simply drops into the ‘ih’ as in ‘sit’ vowel sound. Quilt and kilt. Again, quilt, tight circle of the lips. And on kilt, the jaw simply drops. Quote and coat. Quote, the lips form this tight circle, and on coat, they simply make the ‘oh’ as in ‘no’ diphthong. And finally, ‘quite’ and ‘kite’. Quite – tight circle. Kite – simply the ‘ai’ as in ‘buy’ diphthong. There will be more videos with up-close slow motions coming.

[tr] ‘tr’ as in ‘try’

If you first started studying English in China, there’s a good chance that you learned that the TR consonant cluster should be pronounced CH. Well, that’s not quite right. In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to make an important adjustment to that concept.

I made a video a while back explaining that the T in the TR consonant cluster can sound like a CH.

You’ll hear native speakers do this all the time: try, true. But I’ve noticed with my Chinese students that they will pronounce this cluster with just the CH, and no R sound at all. But the R needs to be just as strong as the CH in this consonant cluster.

Let’s take for example the word ‘try’. Now if I replace that T with the CH, try, try, I get an acceptable pronunciation. But if I replace it with the CH and drop the R, chai, chai, then I get a different word. Now, I love a chai tea latte just as much as much as the next person. But when we’re trying to use the word ‘try’, the word ‘chai’ is no good.

When I say the word ‘chai’, my tongue tip is in the front of my mouth the whole time. It’s here for the CH, cha-, down here for the first half of the diphthong, chai. And then the tip is still here, but the front part reaches forward, towards the roof of the mouth for the second half of the diphthong. Chai, chai, chai, chai. So, we’re not getting the R. The R involves a pulliback of the tongue. So, in order to get an R sound, chr-, chr-, chr-, it has to come back from that initial forward position for the CH. Chr, chr, chry. It will then come back forward for the diphthong sound. Try. Try.

Another way to make sure that you’re making an R sound is to watch your lip position. So, the lips will need to come in to an even tighter circle to make the R in this cluster. Let’s take a look in up-close and slow motion.

First, try, with the R. See how much the lips come in to make that R sound. Now, chai, without the R. After the CH sound, the lips do not round. So, in the top you have the R position after the CH. And below you have just the position for the CH. The top position is correct to get the R sound in the TR cluster.

Now, we’ll watch from the side to try to see the tongue position. In the word ‘chai’, the tongue is just coming down from being up for the CH position. No pull-back of the tongue. In the word ‘try’, it’s harder to see that tongue has pulled back because the lips come into a more tightly-rounded position. But you can see that the tongue here at the end is coming forward for the diphthong from being back for the R.

As you practice the TR cluster, slow it down and hold out the R. Trrrrrrry. Make sure that you’re feeling and seeing the correct tongue position. Do this over and over, drill it repetitively. Eventually, speed it up so that you’re putting the R sound in at a normal, conversational pace. This is how you will turn it into habit. Other words: train, trade, truth, trouble, trust.

I hope this video has helped. That it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

[shr] ‘shr’ as in ‘shrimp’

Today I’m going to talk about the SHR consonant blend. Let’s take for example the word ‘shrimp’ and begin by looking at the lip position. Shrimp, shrimp. You’ll note that the lips are flared, sh, sh, in the SH position, shrimp. The lips then come into a tighter circle for the R. Shr-, shr-. This R will have the shape of a beginning R sound. If you’ve seen my video on Understanding the R Consonant, then you know that an R at the beginning of a syllable or word has a tighter position than the more relaxed version that happens for an R and the end of a word or a syllable. So in this blend, it’s the more tight, initial R position. Shr-, shr-, shrimp. Here we have the SH and the R sounds compared from the side. Again you can see the flare in the SH position. In the R the lips form a tighter circle. So the lips go from being flared for the SH, sh … rr, to being in a tighter circle for the R. The teeth and jaw: they don’t really move. The other main part of this consonant blend is the tongue and how the tongue moves. Now the tongue will be more forward for the SH sound, sh, sh, sh, the tip being just behind the closed or almost closed teeth. The R, however, has a pull back, shr-, shr-. And if you don’t have the tongue pulled back for that position, it won’t make the proper R sound. So if you have a problem with the R sound, watch the understanding the R sound video. Work on that sound individually before trying to do it with the SH sound.

And now a few words in slow motion to help you study the SH mouth position. The first word, mushroom. There’s the SH and the R, the vowel and the M. The next word, shrimp. Watch the lips flare out for the SH, and then come in tighter for the R before opening into the vowel. Now the word shroud. Again, the SH flared, coming in for a very tight circle on the R before opening into the vowel sound. And finally, shriek. Flared lips for the SH, tight circle for the R, opening into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel sound.

Now a list of words on which to practice. I’ll say it, repeat after me. Shroud, shrine, shrink, shredder, shriek, mushroom, dishrag, shrew, washroom, shrivel, shrub. I hope you now better understand how to pronounce this blend. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

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