The “explosive consonants”
Earlier we said that the vowels are an important factor in hearing a “foreign” accent. But it is not only the vowels. The consonants also must be mastered.
When we say that English consonants are “explosives”, we mean that they are pronounced with a sudden release of air. It is this characteristic that marks the accent of an English speaker when they try to speak your language. You should try to speak like an American and you will be reaching for the American English way of pronouncing the consonant. It is the characteristic explosive nature of the English consonant that is the basis of so many jokes about the pronunciation of the English speaker who is learning other languages.
Pronounce the following sentence with the most exaggerated American accent that you can: “Peter, answer me! Can you talk?”
Did you exaggerate the words Peter, can you talk? If you did, the sounds that sound bad in your language are correct in English.
Most of my students are shy and speak with a low voice because they think that they do not pronounce correctly. In this way, they will never pronounce correctly because they do not exercise the pronunciation. They do not hear their mistakes; they do not feel the effort of reaching for the correct sounds, and worse of all, they begin to say, “Well, they understand me and that’s what counts.”
Don’t be afraid! You have to exaggerate the English sounds now to be able to pronounce them normally later on in your progress with the language.
What are the sounds that give away the English speaker? The explosives. And the mispronunciation of these same sounds is what makes up the foreign accent.
When you pronounce the words Peter, can you talk? in your language you probably don’t use as much force as in English. For the “p” of the word Pedro, Pierre, or Piotr, you close your lips and then you open them for the sound to come out. It is the same with the “t” of the work talk.
However, in English you have to expel a little blast of air to make the sound of the “p” and the “t”; that’s why they call the sounds “explosive”, because they make a litlle “explosion”!
The teachers of Spanish to English speakers have to teach them to NOT expel the air for these sounds. They often make them say words like “papá”, “Tomás” etc. with a lit match in front of their mouth. The student has to pronounce the Spanish correctly without blowing out the match.
Your job is the opposite. You have to be able to blow out the match (or feel the blast of air on the back of your hand) when you pronounce the explosive English sounds.