In this Ben Franklin exercise, you’ll study real English conversation. We’ll study everything we hear. Try this on your own to improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation!
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over how to pronounce the word THAT in a sentence.
As you probably know, in American English, there are lots of words called function words that will be unstressed in a sentence. And some of these will reduce. THAT is one of those words. In a sentence, the vowel will often reduce to the schwa sound. The final T will be a stop T if the next word begins with a consonant, or it will be a flap T if the next word begins with a vowel or diphthong.
The voiced, TH, where the tongue tip comes just through the teeth. Then for the schwa sound, the tongue tip pulls back and comes down, rests just behind the bottom front teeth, and the tongue is very relaxed. Tha-, tha-. For the T, flap or stop, the tongue tip will go to the roof of the mouth, that, that, and cut off the air flow for the stop T, or bounce back down, letting the air through for the flap T.
Let’s look at some sample sentence fragments. That my, that my. The next word here, my, begins with a consonant. So the T at the end of the word ‘that’ is a stop: that my. That I, that I. The next word here, I, has the AI diphthong. So, the T at the end of the word ‘that’ is a flap T. That I, that I. Now, let’s look at some full sentences. The movie that I saw was boring. That I, that I. Again, the AI diphthong, so the T is a flap. That I. The movie that I saw was boring. We thought that we could be there. That we, that we. So, the word ‘we’, beginning with the W consonant, the T is a stop T. That we, that we. We thought that we could be there. I know that you’re disappointed. That you’re, that you’re. So, the next word here begins with the Y consonant, so the T is a stop T. That, that, that you’re. That you’re. I know that you’re disappointed. I read that her team won. That her, that her. Here, with the word ‘her’, I’m dropping the H. So, the sound after the T, is the schwa sound, a vowel. Therefore, it’s a flap T. That her, that her, I heard that her team won.
Will the word ‘that’ always be pronounced this way in a sentence? No. Sometimes it will have the AA vowel. For example, if you want to stress the word:
>> It was easy.
>> It wasn’t that easy.
Thaa, thaa. There, I’m keeping the AA vowel. Also, in this sentence, the word ‘that’ is an adverb. And adverbs are generally content words, not going to reduce in a sentence. But you will often hear the word ‘that’ reduced. Doing it yourself will help to smooth out your speech, and will also provide some nice rhythmic contrast to the longer, stressed syllables in a sentence.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.