The Letter L

Many English learners are able to say the L when it’s before a vowel, but don’t say the L properly when it’s after a vowel.

The L should not sound like a W; if you’re moving your lips to say the L, you’re doing it wrong. Your tongue has to make the L, your lips need to stay still, and relaxed. A way to check this is to say “L” while lightly holding your hand against your lips. If it feels like you’re kissing your hand, you’re not saying an L, you’re saying a W.

To say the L, lightly touch the top of your tongue against the top of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. Hold it there and make the sound for a moment; L is a long sound.

L is always made the same way, whether it’s at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. If you can say the L at the beginning of words, then this list of words will help you train yourself to also say the L properly when it’s after a vowel.

The L is pronounced the same way in all these words:

let, gullet, gull
light, polite, pull
Lee, vocally, vocal
Lee, fully, full
lint, violent, vile
lean, ethylene, ethyl
lies, civilize, civil
loon, balloon, ball
lack, shellac, shell
lure, howler, howl
lure, dealer, deal
smiling, smile
pillage, pill
belly, bell
mileage, mile
fully, full

Here are some sentences to give you practice saying the L:

Lana likes looking at love letters.
Lars’ lady Linda likes living large.
Lucy looked longingly at the lilacs.
Lee-Anne’s luck lasted life-long.
The lima-bean flavored licorice looked lousy.
Lillian licked her lips and looked lustully at the luscious looking lemon loaf
Eleven long caterpillars looked like larval lepidoptera.

Keep your lips and cheeks relaxed

In American English, most of the work is done by the tongue. The lips have to work for some sounds. The cheeks never do any work.

Check to see whether you’re tensing up muscles in your cheeks. Your cheeks need to be completely relaxed when speaking American English; if they aren’t relaxed, the sound won’t be right.

Also make sure your lips stay relaxed except for the sounds that require your lips to do something.

How to say the unvoiced th

Th makes a voiced or unvoiced sound, depending on the word. The only difference is that one is voiced, and the other is unvoiced.

To make the unvoiced th sound, exhale through your mouth (do not hum).  As you’re exhaling, slowly bring your tongue towards your teeth, until your tongue is lightly touching your teeth, and you can feel air moving against your tongue.  Since it’s unvoiced, it’s a quiet sound.

This is a soft action; don’t do anything forceful when saying the th. Also the th is not a short sound; make it somewhat long. (The th is a sound that is possible to hold continuously, as long as you have air in your lungs.)

Some sentences to practice the unvoiced th sound (“the” has a voiced th, but all the other examples of th in these sentences are unvoiced):

The athlete ran three thousand meters to the north.

 

I think the thin thief ran north with the cloth underneath his arm.

It is his thirteenth birthday today.

You can clean your teeth with a thin toothpick.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month of November.

Bite through the turkey thigh with your teeth.

Thousands of thimbles protected his thumb through thick and thin when he was handling the thistles.

Through thick and thin, the two remained loyal.

How to say the voiced th

Th makes a voiced or unvoiced sound, depending on the word. The only difference is that one is voiced, and the other is unvoiced.

To make the voiced th sound, open your mouth slightly, and make a vowel sound. As you’re making the vowel sound, slowly bring your tongue towards your teeth. When the sound changes, and your tongue starts to vibrate, you are making the th sound. The tip of your tongue will be between your teeth, almost touching your teeth.

This is a soft action; don’t do anything forceful when saying the th. Also the th is not a short sound; make it somewhat long. (The th is a sound that is possible to hold continuously, as long as you have air in your lungs.)

Some sentences to practice the voiced th sound: (“with” has the unvoiced th sound, but the other examples of th in these sentences are all voiced.)

Their mother was gathering the clothing together.
They’ve had a lot of bother with the weather.
They’d rather gather those berries with their mother.
There’s their brother, together with their father.
Therefore they’d rather go together.
They should ask their father or their mother.
There is another feather over there.
They’d rather bathe with their clothing on.

Flap T

Often in ordinary American speech the T sounds like a D. This happens when the T is after a vowel or an R, and before an unstressed vowel. It also happens in some other cases. It’s optional to use the flap T, but sounds much more natural than a regular T.

These pairs of words sound the same in ordinary American speech:

catty caddy

latter ladder

waiter wader

waited waded

fated faded

Examples of words where the T is usually pronounced like a D:

Metal

Whatever

Butter

Party

Seventy

Eighty

City

Sometimes the next word changes a stop T to a flap T, for example:

“What” Here, “what” ends in a stop T

“What about” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, and “about” ends in a stop T

“What about it” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, “about” ends in a flap T and “it” ends in a stop T

See if you can find the flap Ts in this text (The answers are at the bottom):

Ball Lightning, from Wikipedia:

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as “globular electricity” during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire in 1916. He was sheltered in a small cottage when he “noticed, with what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches (15–30 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body.”

R.C. Jennison

Jennison, of the Electronics Laboratory at the University of Kent, described his own observation of ball lightning:

I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.

Here are the words that have a flap T, in the order they appear in the text:

British, reported, electricity, cottage, noticed, what, that, 15, 30, cm, diameter, at, it, quite, that, water, creating, cottage, part

University, seated, metal, 539, Washington, 1963, little, cm, diameter, 50, cm, distance

Eating food or foot?

In English, Ds are almost always pronounced the same. A D at the end of a word is usually pronounced the same as a D in the middle or at the beginning of a word. For example, the D in “feed” is the same as the D in “feeding” or “feeds.” The D in “head” is pronounced the same as in “heading.” Both Ds in “headed” are pronounced the same. Both Ds in “did” are pronounced the same. The D in “dog” is the same as the D in “food.”

These words all sound different:
oat owed
pat pad
port poured
pot pod
quit quid
route rude
short shored
slight slide
sought sawed
tent tend
tight tied

An exception to this is for some verbs in the past tense, ending in ed, the D sounds like a T. For example diced, tasked, wiped, and watched.

In English, D is a voiced sound:
Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Give “The” Some Time

“The” is a very common word, and a good word to practice. Read some text, and focus on “the.” To make “the” sound good, it alway needs to be said slowly. “Th” in any word will sound better if you let it have some time. Also, the vowel in “the” is the most common sound in American English, and in “the” it is a very long sound. So practicing “the” will help you get used to making vowels long.

Usually the vowel in “the” is the same as in “hut”, “luck”, and “but”. If “the” is before a word that starts with a vowel sound, the vowel in “the” is the same as in “heat”, “feel”, and “feet”. Here’s more about that vowel. Both these vowel sounds need to be long; the longer you make them, the more American you will sound.

Here’s some random text to use for practice: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archosaur

Can or Can’t?

Americans usually don’t pronounce the T if it’s at the end of a word. This is called the stop T. But we don’t simply remove the T; we change the way the word is pronounced, and we can usually hear whether someone is saying can or can’t. Here is how to pronounce the stop T:

The sound that comes before the T gets cut short abruptly. The n in can’t is almost not even pronounced. The o sound in boat is very short. The vowel in flight is very short. It’s a tense, short sound. The loudness, or volume, of the sound needs to stay constant until the abrupt ending of the word. For some words it helps to stick your tongue against the roof of your mouth as if you’re going to say the T.

 

Silent Letters

There are lots of silent letters in English. Some of the silent letters follow patterns. Here are a few of the more common patterns:

If a word starts with k and the next letter is n, the k is silent. For example knee, knit, and knot.

If a word starts with g and the next letter is n, the g is silent. For example gnat, gnaw, and gnome.

If a word starts with p and the next letter is s, the p is silent. For example psalm, psychology, and pseudonym.

If a word ends in mb, the b is silent. For example bomb, comb, and thumb.

 

 

Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Many pronunciation problems can be solved by learning about voiced and unvoiced sounds.

Voiced sounds use your vocal chords, unvoiced sounds don’t. All vowels in English are voiced. Unvoiced sounds are not very loud. If you put your hand against your throat while talking, you’ll feel the vibrations from your vocal chords when you’re saying voiced sounds, but you’ll feel no vibrations when saying unvoiced sounds. When you whisper, the sound you make is unvoiced.

The difference between the Z and S sounds is that the Z is voiced, the S is unvoiced. (In written English, sometimes the S makes the S sound, and sometimes it makes the Z sound.) Here are some examples:

Z, S:
zip, sip, zoo, sue, razor, racer, rays, race, phase, face

Similarly, the main difference between the D and T in English is that the D is voiced, the T is unvoiced:
drip, trip, dry, try, fried, fright, feed, feet, seed, seat

Often students make mistakes if a word ends in a voiced sound. For example, if a word ends in D, the D should not be pronounced like a T; a D at the end of a word should be pronounced the same as a D at the beginning or in the middle of a word.

Here are more pairs of letters where the main, or only, difference is that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced:

B, voiced, P, unvoiced
blob, plop, beer, peer, back, pack, robe, rope, mob, mop

G, voiced, K, unvoiced
grab, crab, god, cod, mug, muck, lug, luck, rag, rack

V, voiced, F, unvoiced
view, few, vine, fine, invest, infest, save, safe, wave, waif

J,voiced, CH, unvoiced
gin, chin, jive, chive, jello, cello, edge, etch, ridge, rich, badge, batch

TH: th is used for two sounds, one that is voiced, and one that is unvoiced.

Some examples of words with voiced TH: this, that, other, the, and bathe

Some examples of words with unvoiced TH: theory, thorn, with, month, and bath