Schools are beginning a new year around the country, but I’ve got a final exam for you! I usually save this challenge for the last articulation goal I present to clients working on articulation, so get ready to work.
Almost everyone has difficulty articulating the /t/ or /d/ sound when that sound is tucked in between two other consonants as in the word, “expertly.” It just seems too hard to hit that /t/, and if we do try, it sounds over-pronounced. An artificial and over-pronounced delivery is as offensive as using sloppy articulation and should be avoided at all costs.
But if you’re really diligent, you can hit these /t/ /d/ sounds without sounding over-pronounced. Here’s the trick: learn to produce a /tl/ or /dl/ combination of sound smoothly and effortlessly. Let’s break it down.
For the /t/ and /d/ you should place the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, and then let the air explode out as you make the sound. For the /l/ sound you must quickly pull your tongue back and attach it to the same spot as the /t/ /d/, but don’t explode the sound. Let the sound come out while the tip of your tongue is locked in position. The /l/ sound is a bilateral sound, which means it comes over the edges of the tongue. (For more on the /t/ /d/ sounds, see this post on /t/ and /d/ production.)
Now combine just the /t/ and the /l/ to make a /tl/ sound. Explode the /t/ and quickly pull the tongue back for the /l/. This gives you a little couplet to practice.
To make these two sounds together requires a LOT of practice, but if you stay at it, the sounds will begin to blend. Practice when you’re driving or have a few minutes alone. You don’t have to remember anything except /tl/ and /dl/ to practice.
The next step is to plug this blend into some words. Here’s a list to practice (taken from Improving Voice & Articulation by Hilda Fisher):
Can you plug the /tl/ and /dl/ blends into these words easily? If not here’s another thing to try: Think of the word as divided right before the /t/ or /d/ so you say, “mos tly” or “fon dly.” Putting the cluster by itself can make it flow easier. Practice starting with a big break and then reduce the space until the two parts of the word are united, but you’re still able to make the clusters easily.
I said you’d need to practice diligently to make this work, so go for it!
And if you are a nut about proper pronunciation like I am, check out Kenyon and Knott’s, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English. It’s been around since 1953 and is the go-to source for pronunciation. It uses the American Phonetic Alphabet, but there’s a great chart in the front to use.