[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.

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