3 Secrets to Pronouncing Consonant Sounds the
Did you know that there are 24 different
consonant sounds in American English? No wonder English
learners have such trouble articulating these sounds!
When you make these consonant sounds your mouth
narrows and the air flow is obstructed by your tongue, teeth
and lips. There is a lot of action happening in your mouth
when you pronounce consonants so let’s talk more about
When you make any consonant sound there are
three things that you need to be aware of - the
Voicing. These are the 3 'secrets'
for making English consonant sounds correctly that you need
Place: Where is the air flow obstructed
in your mouth, at the teeth, at the lips, behind the
tooth ridge, at the roof of the mouth, at the back of
The Manner: How is
the air flow obstructed, is it stopped, partially
stopped, does it pass through the nose or through the
Voicing: Do the
vocal chords vibrate or are they relaxed?
Read on and I’ll give you some examples of
place, manner and voicing.
When you pronounce English consonants you stop
the airflow in different places in your mouth. Some of the
places where you stop the air are: at your lips, with your
lips and teeth, at the gum ridge, and at the roof of your
When you make some English consonants you
completely block the air with your lips or tongue and then
release it. These types of consonants are called stops and
- /p/, /b/, the air is
stopped at the lips
- /t/, /d/, the air is
stopped behind the gum ridge
- /k/, /g/, the air is
stopped at the back of the throat
When you make other English consonants you
constrict the air flow before it continues through your
mouth and nose. These type of consonants are called
continuants. Continuant consonants include
/s/, /z/, /f/, /v/, /r/, /l/.
Some consonants will cause your vocal chords to
vibrate when you say them. These types of consonants are
called voiced consonants. Other consonants
will not cause your vocal chords to vibrate when you say
them. These are called voiceless
Non-native English speakers often have problems
telling the difference between voiced and voiceless
consonants. They also have trouble pronouncing the /r/
sound, the /f/ and /v/ sounds, the /s/ and /z/ sounds and
/n/ and /ng/ sounds.
Mini Lesson: Minimal
One method that pronunciation teachers use to
help students learn to hear and pronounce different vowels
and consonants is called minimal pairs. In minimal pair
activities students are presented with a pair of words that
have one different sound that is typically difficult for
students to differentiate.
Look at the two columns of words below. What is
the one sound that is different in each pair? ….That’s
right, the words in column A have the /n/ sound, the words
in column B have the /ng/ sound.
Click the Play button below to listen and
repeat each pair of words.
Now say each pair of words on your own. Can you
tell the difference between each pair of words?
Here is a minimal pair listening discrimination
exercise for you to take. I will say one word from each
pair. You listen and choose the word I said. I will say
seven words in all. The answers can be found below. *
Click the Play button below to listen, then
choose the word you hear me say.
*(Answers: 1. rang, 2. kin, 3. thin, 4.
wing, 5.sung, 6. things, 7. sinning)