(American) "T" is for Trouble
A "T" is not a "T"--at least when it comes to American English pronunciation. Indeed, one of the reasons the American "T" can be difficult is that it can be pronounced
in different ways depending on the word and the speaker's accent. Here are a few examples:
Aspirated "T": This is the most common pronunciation of the American "T." It's the sharp, crisp sound you hear at the beginning of words like "time," "talk," and "table." To make this sound, you need to release a burst of air as you say the "T." Try saying the word "time" and feel the air leave your mouth after the "T" sound.
Held "T" before N: In some accents, the "T" sound is held before an "N" sound, creating a subtle pause. You'll hear this in words like "button," "mountain," and "written." To make this sound, you need to release the "T" sound very softly and hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth before saying the "N" sound. Try saying the word
"mountain" and notice the brief pause between the "T" and "N" sounds. If you pronounce the "T" like a "T" you will sound British!
The "Flap T": This sound is also known as the "tap" or "alveolar flap." It is produced by quickly tapping the tip of your tongue against the alveolar ridge (the bumpy ridge behind your top front teeth). This sound is commonly heard in words like "butter," "city," and "water." If you want an easy way to do this, you can substitute the "D" sound for the "T" but it won't be perfect. But sometimes "good enough" is good enough!
Silent "T": In some words, the "T" sound is silent and not pronounced at all. This is often the case when the "T" is in the middle or at the end of a word, especially when followed by an "S" sound. You'll hear this in words like "listen," "fasten," and "often." To make this sound, simply skip over the "T" sound when saying the word. Try saying the word "listen" and notice that the "T" sound is not pronounced.
As you can see, the American "T" can be pronounced in several ways, which can make it confusing for non-native speakers. But don't worry, with practice, you'll get the hang of it! Keep in mind this list is far from complete; we'll cover the other "T" sounds in a future post.