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English Pronunciation Pod 55

Saturday Jan 23rd, 2010
English Pronunciation Podcast 55-
How Americans Really Pronounce <t> Part IV
: This podcast teaches you when
and how Americans pronounce <t> with "the glottal stop."


In this week's podcast, we're going to continue to learn how to pronounce the letter <t> with
an American accent .

In your native language, there is probably only one pronunciation of <t> . It is simply /t/.
However, as we've mentioned before,this is not the case in American English. There are actually three main pronunciations of <t> .

Listen to the following sentence, paying careful attention to the way I pronounce my <t>s:

I might be late.

Notice that when I said "might " and "late" I didn't pronounce the <t> as we might expect.
I didn't say: I might be late using the aspirated <t> /t/ we discussed in podcast 52.

Instead, I used what's known as the glottal stop.

The glottal stop involves stopping the air flow in out throat using the vocal cords. we bring our vocal cords together and close the space known as the glottis.

It almost sounds like the <t> is completely silent, completely dropped.

/ʔ/ = IPA symbol for "the glottal stop ".

"The glottal stop ", /ʔ / is very common in American and Canadian and English.
Americans use it all the time especially in informal conversation.
Learning how and when to use this sound will not only improve your pronunciation but also greatly improve your listening skills.

The focus of this week's podcast is:

  • To become aware of the glottal stop /ʔ /.
  • To learn how and when to pronounce <t> using a glottal stop/ʔ/.
  • To practice this sound in some key words and common American expressions and idioms.

When do Americans use the glottal stop?

General rule for using "glottal stop "/ʔ /:

If <t> comes before a consonant or before a pause, we may use the glottal stop /ʔ /.

For example in the previous example, I might be late. The first <t> in "might" comes right before the <b> in the word "be". Because this t comes right before a consonant it may be pronounced with a glottal stop.

Let's look at the next <t> in the word "late"

This <t> comes at the end of the sentence; it comes at a pause. And therefore this <t> may allso be pronunced with a glottal stop.

Is it always necessary to use the glottal stop in these cases?

One question I get from my private students here in New York, is whether or not it's absolutely necessary to use glottal stops before pauses. The answer is no. But be aware that Americans use it very often.

In fact, maybe you just noticed that I used it when I said the word "but".
I didn't say /bət/; I said /bəʔ /.
In addition, Americans use glottals stops before consonants most of the time because it's simply easier for us; it involves less movement of the tongue.

If this seems like a lot of theory, don't worry.
The first step is to become familiar with the rules for when to use the glottal stop.
Once you become aware of the rules, you can begin to practice it and you will begin to use it and hear it instinctively, without thinking, just like a native speaker does.

This is known as muscle memory, the ability to do something without
thinking about it.

Now let's discuss how to pronounce the glottal stop:

How to Pronounce /ʔ/:

The glottis is the space between the vocal folds in the larynx. The vocal folds are located right below your adam's apple, the bump on your throat.

View of what happens inside the throat:

Open Glottis of breathing position                   Closed Glottis of glottal stop

Rules of Articulation:

Glottis: As you vocalize, quickly squeeze the vocal folds together, closing the space, the glottis and stopping the air flow and sound. It's a fast and strong movement.

Tongue: Bring your tongue tip to the ridge as you would in aspirated <t> but don't release the air-press your tongue tip and freeze. Hold your tongue tip in place without releasing the air.
Hold your tongue tip against the ridge.

In podcast #32, we learned about "stop consonants" and "continuant consonants".
Glottal stop /ʔ/ is a stop consonant because we stop the air by pushing our vocal cords together.

In podcast #30, we learned about "voiced" and "voiceless" consonants. /ʔ/ is a
voiceless consonant
because we do not use our voice to make this sound. Our vocal folds come together very quickly but do not vibrate.

Training Exercise for /ʔ/

Building the ability to make the glottal stop requires some practice.
Let's do an exercise which will strengthen the muscles needed to make this sound.
We're going to say "hut". We will pronounce the <t> with a glottal stop

Exercise : Please listen and repeat:

hut... hut... hut...

Pronunciation Tip:

Another important aspect of using the glottal stop correctly is shortening the preceding vowel.

Vowels which come before glottal stops are shortened. Shortening the vowel before the glottal stop will make it much clearer to your listener that the final sound is a glottal stop and
not an open vowel.


date  /deɪʔ/      vowel /eI/ is shorter.

day  /deɪ/       vowel /eI/ is longer.

Exercise: Listen and repeat paying careful attention to vowel length.

date  /deɪʔ/      vowel /eI/ is shorter.

day  /deɪ/       vowel /eI/ is longer.

Exercise: Listen and repeat the following words containing /ʔ/.

what ... not ... eat ... it ... get ... out

Exercise : Listen and repeat the following American expressions and idioms containing /ʔ/.

You're right.

Let me see it.

That look is hot right now. (that style is popular and considered stylish)

Practice is Key!

The best way to learn a new sound is to practice it slowly. The secret to speaking English clearly and quickly is practicing slowly and accurately

Learning to speak English with a standard American accent is a gradual process but if you
work at it regularly and practice as often as you can, you're going to improve!

The Right Training Tools for Better Pronunciation:

It's important to have right training tools in order to improve your accent.

That's why I recommend that you check it out my English Pronunciation Course in mp3 format- Best Accent Training mp3s!

No matter what your first language is, Best Accent Training has the lessons you need
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Any questions, comments or suggestions ? Contact us at:   contact@englishpronunciationpod.com

Thank you and see you next time!


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