3 Tricks for Advanced English Fluency

Today we’re going to share three tricks for advanced English fluency. These are ways for you to speak more clearly and more like a native. This is instantly going to improve your English skills! Here’s Luke to share these awesome hacks with you.

Let’s start today by looking at these three words:

water
eaten
but

What letter do they all have in common? Yes, the “t.”

Have you ever wondered why some words that are spelled with the letter “t” are pronounced differently than other words that are spelled with the very same letter? Let’s talk about some of the reasons why learning how to use these three different pronunciations of “t” will do wonders for your advanced English fluency.

Stick with me until the end because I’ll have a quiz to test your knowledge!

Here are four things to remember before we start.

1. Letters and sounds are not the same!

Looking at a letter can sometimes trick us into thinking that a word is pronounced a certain way. Remember that in English there are many situations where words are not pronounced the same way they are spelled.

2. Don’t get bogged down by the rules!

At the end of the day, we learn by practicing and imitating what we hear. Use the information in this video to help you understand what to listen for, but don’t get too stressed out about the rules! As time goes by, you will understand more.

3.  These patterns mostly apply to American English. They aren’t as apparent in other forms of English, such as British English.

4.  These are patterns – not rules!

We say this because there are always exceptions to a rule. I’ll do my best to point out the exceptions as we go along, but just remember that rules for grammar are not often absolute!

All right, let’s get started with three tips that are seriously going to get you advanced English fluency!

 

1. Tap or Flap

If you’ve seen this symbol (ɾ) in a pronunciation dictionary, that’s what this means. I like to think of a “tap” or “flap” as a fast, soft “d” sound. We use this flap sound when we have a “t” or a “d” that is part of an unstressed syllable and is between vowels.

I know that sounds like a lot of information, but we’re going to go through plenty of examples!

Students who are trying to improve their North American English pronunciation will inevitably come across words that are spelled with a “t” but are not pronounced with a “t” sound. For example, look at these words:

water, butter, pretty, city

American speakers don’t say these sounds with a true “t.” Instead, we say:

wa-d-er, bu-d-er, pre-d-y, ci-d-y

American English vs. British English

It’s important to remember that some varieties of English, such as British English, do not do this. They say:

wa-t-er, pre-tt-y

British speakers many times use the true “t” sound for words like this. American and Canadian English speakers use the “tap” or “flap” sound. It’s a fast, soft “d” sound. Just a little tap with your tongue against the front of your mouth. Listen to the video to hear me say it for you at 6:58.

Because North American English speakers use the “d” sound in some words that are spelled with “t,” this can create a little confusion with words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same. For example:

latter (this word means something that came after another thing, like “the latter part of the year.”)
ladder (this is a piece of equipment for climbing up a wall, a tree, etc.)

Both of these words are pronounced with a “d” sound in North American English. However, in British English, they are pronounced like they are spelled – latter and ladder.

So how do you know when to make this “tap” or “flap” sound?

1. The letter “t” is between two vowels or vowel sounds.

Did you see that all of the examples we gave had a vowel sound before and after the “t?” And notice that we are talking about a vowel sound, not a letter. You may see words like:

bottle, little, shuttle

These words have “le” after the “t” sound, but the “le” is pronounced more like “uhl.” Since this sounds more like a vowel than a consonant (l), we turn the “t” sounds into “d” sounds. (You can hear me say these words at 8:42 in the video.)

Another important thing to remember is that in English, “r” is a strange sound and can often be treated more like a vowel than a consonant. If you’d like to learn more about this, please check out my first video on “r.”

When “r” is at the end of a syllable, or at the end of a word, it can act like a vowel. That affects whether we “tap” or “flap” our “t” and “d” sounds.

“Y” at the end of a word also makes a vowel sound similar to a long “e” sound.

dirty – dir-dee
quarter – quar-der
thirty – thir-dee

2. “Tap or Flap” Happens in Unstressed Syllables

We use this “tap” or “flap” sound in unstressed syllables. All of the words I’ve given you so far have been words that had stress on the first syllable and were unstressed on the second syllable that contained the “t” sound.

PAR-dy  (party)
DIR-dy  (dirty)
BO-dle  (bottle)

Here’s a great example of this. When we say the word “Italy,” we pronounce it as “I-da-lee.” The stress is on the first syllable, and the “flap t” is in the second, unstressed syllable.

When we say the word “Italian,” we pronounce it as “I-TAL-ian.” This time, the stress is on the second syllable where the “t” is. In this case, the “t” keeps its real sound because it is in a stressed syllable. (You can hear me say these words at 10:52 in the video.) Practice saying these words and other words like them – little, waiter, better – for advanced English fluency.

“T” Can Also Become “D” Between Words

This also happens between words. Look at this sentence. (Listen to me say it at 11:16 in the video.)

What are you doing on Saturday?

You can see the “flap t” in the word “Sa-dur-day.” It’s the letter “t” between two vowels, in an unstressed syllable. But did you hear the other one? It was the “t” in “what.” Listen to it again.

“Whad are you doing…”

There’s a little tap there because of the vowel sounds before and after the “t” in “what.” Let’s do another example.

I’m meeting friends at a new Italian place.

There are three “t’s” in this sentence:

meeting – becomes “mee-ding”
at a – becomes “ad-da”
Italian – stays “I-tal-ian,” like we discussed earlier.

 

2. Glottal Stop

If you see this symbol (ʔ) in a dictionary, this is called a “glottal stop.” You really need this sound for advanced English fluency. This sound is made by ending a sound before it is completed. You do this by closing your throat, making a hard, “throaty” sound.

You’ll hear it, for example, in English expressions like “uh oh!” (Listen to me say this at 12:30 in the video.) Do you hear that hard sound at the end of “uh?” It’s made by closing off your throat and stopping the sound early.

Some of my Arabic viewers might know this sound – you use it a lot in your language so you should be familiar with it. We don’t use it a lot in English, but it’s quite common when we have a “t” sound before a syllable that starts with an “uhn” sound.

Here are some examples. (I pronounce these for you at 13:12 in the video):

We don’t say: eaten, Britain, certain, Manhattan, or fountain, with a definite “t” sound.
We tend to say instead: eat-n, Brit-n, cert-n, Manhatt-n, and fount-n.

Do you notice how the “t” sound is cut off when I close my throat? Practice by saying these words and repeating the sound! If you’re not sure how to start, begin by practicing “uh oh,” then try and build into saying those 5 sample words.

 

3. “T” at the End of Words

If you listen carefully to American English speakers, you will notice that we don’t often completely pronounce the “t” at the end of words. Three very common examples are “but,” “don’t,” and “not.”

In fact, the “t” is often a lot softer, and at times it can be hard for non-native English speakers to hear. You will probably hear American English speakers pronouncing “t” this way at the end of these words. (I pronounce them for you at 14:08 in the video.) Instead of “but,” don’t,” and “not,” we will pronounce them as:

bu
don’
no

What’s going on here, and how do you make THIS sound? We call these “unreleased t’s.”

When you make a “t” sound, you stop the air by touching your tongue to the back of your front teeth, then dropping your tongue to release a burst of air. For an “unreleased t,” we stop the air but then don’t release it by dropping our tongue. We just move on to the next word.

Try this with me. Say the word “to.” You should feel your tongue slap the roof of your mouth quite hard to say “t,” then it drops down to say the “oo” sound. Do you feel how the “t” has two parts? First you stop the air, then you release it.

When we say “t” at the end of words, we don’t often release the sound. Our tongue just kind of sits there. We don’t say “but” – we just say “bu.” Your tongue never goes down.

Some Exceptions to the Unreleased ‘”T”

Adding this can do wonders to help your English sound more natural. I did mention that I would be talking about exceptions – and yes, there are exceptions to this unreleased “t.” When there is a consonant before the “t” at the end of a word, we usually release the “t,” giving it its full sound. Here are some examples:

Pat (unreleased)          past (released)
lot (unreleased)           loft (released)
sit (unreleased)           sipped (released)

(I pronounce these for you at 15:34 in the video.)

I hope this video was helpful for you as you pronounce some of these words and that it will help you understand native speakers a little better. Just don’t get too bogged down in the details! This is just to introduce you to some things that native speakers do that you may not have noticed, or never understood why they pronounce words this way.

Maybe this video will help you if you have a goal of having a native-like accent! You’ll be well on your way to advanced English fluency with some good listening and speaking practice.

Practice Exercise!

Speaking of practice, let’s do an exercise together. I’ll say 5 words, and I want you to see if you can tell if I pronounced them with a “flap t,” a glottal stop, or an unreleased “t.” You can hear these words at 16:40 in the video.

sweater
button
forty
what
turtle

I hope these tips were helpful for you! If you’d like to get free speaking tips sent directly to your email inbox, click here to join the Go Natural English email group! Maybe you’re thinking that British English, where “t” is “t,” sounds easier to learn? You’ll want to watch this video about why you should learn the American English accent, if you have a choice.

Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you in the next video!