English Pronunciation Made Easy: 3 Native Secrets to Understanding and Pronouncing the “T” Sound (with Audio)

3 secrets thumbDo you have problems understanding native speakers? Could you use a little help from an experienced American teacher?

Give me 10 minutes and you will learn 3 simple rules that will drastically improve your ability to understand native speakers. Listening along will really help. (right click on arrow to download Audio)

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First, let’s test your listening with a short paragraph filled with variations of the “T” sound. I’m going to read through the words quickly at first, pronouncing the words naturally, and then a second time slower, with standard textbook pronunciation. There are 41 examples of these three T sounds in this paragraph. I want you to test your listening comprehension the first time we go through it (no text).

How did that go?  If you understood the entire paragraph the first time, congratulations! Maybe a different lesson on pronunciation would be a better use of your time (unless you’re curious about the rules behind it).  If you didn’t understand 100%, keep reading (and listening).  This is an important lesson, and your English will never be the same.

Now I’m going to read the same paragraph two times. First, my natural American pronunciation (again), and second with the “standard” textbook pronunciation. Please read and listen both times. Just so you know, this doesn’t feel natural, so forgive me if this doesn’t flow that well (*The Second Time).

I thought it’d be better to write it out in a paragraph because we tend to not understand a lot of things listening to it. Before we talk about anything, we all know that it is fun learning Real Life English, on the internet with an international site and community that integrates English into your life and lets you learn interesting things along the way to inspire and motivate you to try your best. It’s a really interesting way to learn in today’s world, and if you want to get ahead with your English and make it a convenient part of your life, I can’t imagine a better way to learn.

Why People Don’t Understand the “T” Sound

The “T” sound is everywhere in its many forms, and whether people know it or not, it’s one of the most common pronunciation and listening comprehension difficulties for English learners around the world.

As an American, non-natives generally don’t understand me when I speak at my normal speed (even a lot of advanced students). I normally have to slow down for people to understand me.

The 3 variations of the “T” sound that we’ll talk about today are a very important reason why. I’ve helped several of my students learn this lesson, and today I’m going to show you how it’s done.

I’m also including some important videos that can deepen your understaning. Let’s do this! Here are the “3 Most Confusing ‘T’ Sound Rules Explained.”

1. The Omission of the “T” sound in “INT” Words

This rule is pretty simple once you understand it, and it will be a big help.

A lot of “INT” words in the English language totally omit the “T” sound. Some of the more common “INT” words that I pronounce with this sound are words that have INTER in them. For example, “internet” is pronounced “innernet,” and international “innernational.”

This is a particularly important sound because a lot of languages, especially romance languages have cognates that are hard to understand.

[leadplayer_vid id=”5384B512B9F26″]

Internet = Innernet

 International = Innernational

Intermediate = Innermediate

Integrate = innegrate

Interesting = inneresting

Exceptions: Internal, Intensify, Integrity, interject, Intuitive

gonna wannaAn extremely common (but more complicated) example of this is the words “want to,” which are pronounced “wanna.” This happens with “going to” as well, which becomes “gonna.” Both of these are often considered a colloquial contraction (or a sound morph).

Want to = Wanna

Going to = Gonna

Note: Native speakers often eat/omit the “G” in “going,” so when we run the words together in speech it becomes the same “goin’to,” and like “wanto,” the “nt” becomes a “nna” sound.

Let’s end by highlighting the rule in this paragraph (yes, we will read it again!)  

We all know that it is fun learning Real Life English, on the internet with an international site and community that integrates English into your life and lets you learn interesting things along the way to inspire and motivate you to try your best. It’s a really interesting way to learn in today’s world, and if you want to get ahead with your English and make it a convenient part of your life, I can’t imagine a better way to learn.

Read more about colloquial contractions, “gonna and wanna.”

 2.    The “Stop T” Sound

 When a word ends in “T,” the pronunciation of the final “T” sound is often inaudible, or cut off.  The back of the throat cuts it off.

Hat, What, Fat, Pete, that, feet 

Can’t, Doesn’t, Shouldn’t, Won’t (All “n’t” Contractions)

Let’s go through that paragraph again and illustrate the examples. I have to speak slower on this sound so I don’t make the American D sound (rule #3):

Before we talk about anything, we all know that it is fun learning Real Life English, on the internet with an international site and community that integrates English into your life and lets you learn interesting things along the way to inspire and motivate you to try your best. It’s a really interesting way to learn in today’s world, and if you want to get ahead with your English and make it a convenient part of your life, I can’t imagine a better way to learn.

This one is a surprise to most people, and although it’s simple to understand and listen for, it may be the most difficult of all of these to pronounce. Most English learners actually have to learn to make a new sound in their throat.

One thing to keep in mind, as we’ll talk about below (in #3, the “American ‘T’” Sound) is that when this word is followed by another word that ends with a vowel (i.e. Cat and Dog), then the “T” of cat becomes a “D” (“Cad an’ Dog”).

[leadplayer_vid id=”52CE9DF4982B5″]

 3.    The American “T” sound (also known as “Tap” or “Flap T”)

Let’s start with a little text to illustrate this point:

I thought it’d be better to write it out in a paragraph because we tend to not understand a lot of things listening to it. Before we talk about anything, we all know that it is fun learning Real Life English on the internet with an international site and community that integrates English into your life and lets you learn interesting things along the way to inspire and motivate you to try your best. It’s a really interesting way to learn in today’s world, and if you want to get ahead with your English and make it a convenient part of your life, I can’t imagine a better way to learn.

In American English (as well as Canadian, and lot of other accents) whenever you have a “t” sound in between two vowel sounds, the T becomes a soft “d.” Observe the following words.  Lets look at a few examples. Vowels sounds in red, the “Flap T” sound is underlined.

Better, Later, Auto, Peter, Totally, British

The first important thing to keep in mind is that the letter doesn’t necessarily need to be a vowel. Here are a few words that employ the the same rule as above, but while they aren’t spelled with vowels on both sides, they employ the vowel sound on both sides.

Daughter, Seattle, Beatles

Even though the “T” in daughter isn’t surrounded by vowel letters (A,E,I,O,U), it employs the American D/Flap T sound (and sometimes British). Because the “gh” is silent,  the “t” is still the “au” for a vowel sound,(“dah-der”). The same is true for “Seattle” and “Beatle,” as the  “L” in many “le” words oftentimes carries the “ul.”

Remember, it’s not the spelling the determines the pronunciation, but the sound. The word “Pete”, for example, has a hard “T” sound, but if you add an “r” to say “Peter,” the “T” becomes an American “D.”

The second important thing to note is that this same rule applies with words we run together. The best way to illustrate this is with an example.

If I say the word cat alone, the “T” does not acquire a “D” sound, but if I say “Cat AND Dog,” the pronunciation becomes “Cad-an-dog.” This happens all the time.

Cat and Dog = “Cad-an-dog”

Fat and Tall = “Fad-an-tall”

The final variation of the “flap T” sound is that the above tendency (with separate words like “cad-an-dog”) also happens with words that end with an “n” sound.  As mentioned above, Americans regularly eat/omit the final “G” on “ing” ending words, and with a lot of other words that end with an “n.”

For example “I’m working tomorrow” is often pronounced “I’m workin’ domorrow” in American English.

I’m working Tomorrow = “I’m workin’ da-morrow”

I’m going to college next year = “I’m goin’ da college next year”

Variations: Neglect our, R Sound (better to), “Inda-the Wild”

[leadplayer_vid id=”5384B5F542384″]

How to Make These Sounds a Permanent Part of Your English

Even though the great majority of English schools don’t teach this, it’s very clear that these sounds permeate the English language, and even more in American English.

A lot of grammarticians say that some of these sounds are not correct English, but that’s complete nonsense. Well, if that’s true, then almost everything you hear in songs, movies, and TV is incorrect English.

So, how much of this should you learn? If you’re serious about your English fluency, it is absolutely essential for you to listen and understand.

First of all, learning to understand these sounds will make a huge impact on your listening comprehension.

Do you need to pronounce these sounds in English? Not exactly, but it would definitely help your fluency.

To pronounce the “T” sound phonetically with these words is correct, and people will understand.  I tell my students that the first and most important thing is to listen and understand.  When you open your ears to these sounds, you will start to understand a lot more, and this tends to naturally influence your pronunciation.

But, if you want to play around with pronunciation and learn to imitate native speakers, this will probably facilitate a higher level of fluency and even impress native speakers.

If you want to learn more about Powerful Native Pronunciation Secrets, we have a few simple and easy to understand videos that condense the very best of Real Life English’s methodology into a simple and easy to digest format.

I’ll also link a few more articles on pronunciation below, and I would love to invite you to join tens of thousands of English teachers and learners just like you in our famous RealLife English World Community. We also have an amazing podcast that we’re pretty proud of. Take care! 

More Texts on Pronunciation:

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17 Comments

  1. Arthur Mendes on April 29, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Amazing post, Justin. Since I first learned about these silent sounds through the blog I can't stop thinking how I've never noticed them before. I don't have serous problems with listening, probably because of context, but I have no idea if I would naturally speak that way.

    • Justin Murray on April 29, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Thank you, Arthur! I really appreciate your nice words. Yeah I know that your English listening is already pretty awesome. But start paying attention and playing around with it in your speaking and it might help you! Thanks again.

  2. SFina Karlina on April 30, 2013 at 1:00 am

    nice article. thank you for sharing it with us! ^_^

  3. Ethan on April 30, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Awesome article, Justin! Not enough people know about these strange pronunciation rules in English, but we use them all the time, so they are crucial to learn.

  4. Carolina Dantas on May 1, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I just loved it! Thank you Justin! I really liked it! I had been telling my students (and myself!) that some words such as "better" usually have a "r" sound.. Now I can see the difference! I also loved the way you've read the paragraphs in at least 2 different ways, so we can really comprehend it. Thank you.

    • Justin on May 7, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Thank you for the comment, Carolina! I’m glad you liked it. Yeah, it’s something that most English teachers and learners overlook, and academia still hasn’t formulated a good approach to learn it. I’m glad it helped! Abraço

  5. Ana on May 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I’ve understood everything!!! I’m so proud of myself! It took me a lot of effort to get this level of comprehension, I mean, hours and hours of TV shows, movies and YouTube stuff! LOL

    Thanks, Justin! Awesome article, as usual!

    P.S. I love Rachel’s English Channel.
    P.S.2 My writing still sucks, but it’s a work in progress.

    • Justin on May 7, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      Hey Ana, Thank you for your nice comment. It sounds like you’re doing great with your English (and your writing actually looks pretty good!) Thank you for commenting! Abraço

  6. Marcio Guerguen on May 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    It's great to wait and see your lecture, You can explain in the easy way and pinpoint all the details, A long tme ago , I really can't remember when , I had some trouble with the word 'automatically', I noticed our teacher said that, but when I was tried, I failure and turned in the chame of the class, in my home, I had a shot in home, listen hundreds of time and repeat, but the sound didn't came out, so when I became more relax, I notice this words didn't have the "T" in it. from this day up to now, when I heard this word I laughed myself for my mistakes!

    • Justin on May 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Hey Marcio, I’m glad the article was a help. That sound is difficult for a lot of people, and I had no idea about it until I started to teach. All the best!

  7. Wagner Sodré on January 2, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Wow, I'm impressed, amazing article. Honestly, it's my favorite now!
    A must-read text! Thank you very much Justin!

    • Justin on January 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks so much Wagner for your nice comment! I’m really glad you liked it. We’ve got a lot more stuff like for 2014.

  8. Nancy Valente on May 31, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Fantastic!!!!!! Wow, you're a wizard! I'm so lucky to have you as a teacher! Well, yeah I understand you, but it's not easy to imitate your pronunciation. Way to go, Rinpoche!!! Thanks a lot! I wish you enough <3

  9. asmaa on January 20, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    awesome !!!!

  10. Abhimilek Ekka on January 21, 2015 at 10:34 am

    what a lesson! just what I was looking for. You are awesome man. Thanks a lot.

  11. asmaa on January 25, 2015 at 11:30 am

    what a great article!!! thanks a lot 🙂

  12. Thao HP Tran on March 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Thank all guy so much!!!

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