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Consonant Clusters | English Pronunciation Lesson

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Native English speakers speak with the goals of:

  • efficiency (meaning they say the most they can in the shortest amount of time); and
  • using flow and music in their speech.

Something that may interfere with these goals of efficiency and music in English is the appearance of consonant clusters. This is when three (or even two) consonant sounds appear together in a word.

Example

The word “spring” [sprɪŋ] begins with a consonant cluster, the three consonant sounds [s] [p] [r].

  • spring”

When consonants clusters appear at the end of a word in English, they can be difficult to say, even for native English speakers. In order to make the pronunciation of these words with consonant clusters easier, and more efficient, native English speakers unconsciously:

  • delete the middle consonant sound; or
  • transform a sound to use less movement of the tongue.

 

Example

If I were to say the fraction number as it is spelled,

  • one-fifth [fɪfθ] as in “1/5 of a pizza pie”

that would require me to say two consonant sounds together, which are difficult and inefficient to say as a group:

  • “fifth” [fɪ]

This requires just too much uncomfortable movement from my tongue.

  • “fifth” [fɪ]

Therefore, to speak more efficiently and with more rhythm, the native English speaker unconsciously deletes the “f”[f]  sound and says simply:

  • 1/5 –> “one-fith” [fɪθ]

So,

  • “one-fifth” 1/5 [fɪfθ] –> “one-fith” [fɪθ]

Got it?

Let’s practice deleting and transforming consonant sounds in consonant clusters.

Listen and Repeat

Notice which sounds are being deleted or transformed.

  • clothes [klowðz] –> “clodz” [klowdz]
  • “Put some clothes on.”
  • fifth [fɪfθ] –> “fith” [fɪθ]
  • “A fifth of you didn’t do your homework.”
  • breakfasts [brɛkfɪsts] –> “breakfas” [brɛkfɪs]
  • “Your breakfasts are getting cold.”
  • gifts [gɪfts] –> “gifs” [gɪfs]
  • “We got so many Christmas gifts this year!”
  • acts [ækts] –> “acs” [æks]
  • “He acts like a fool around her.”  (Notice how I deleted the “h” in “her” for connected speech).
  • months [mʌnθs] –> “monts” [mʌnts]
  • “It’s been months since we’ve seen each other.”
  • rests [rɛsts] –> “ress” [rɛs]
  • “I hope she rests after her exams.”

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