Speak Easy #09 – The flap

Episode description

In this episode, Suzanne and Andrew teach you a pronunciation tip that will make your English sound more natural: the flap! Take a listen and learn how, when, and why you should use the flap in your own speech.

 

Material included in the study guide

  • Transcript
  • Practice exercises
  • Bonus audio download

Transcript

Andrew:           Speak Easy #009

Hey, Suzanne.

Suzanne:         Hey, Andrew, how’s it going?

Andrew:           I’m doing pretty well, Suzanne, and I’m happy to be back here today with you to do a brand-new Speak Easy episode. It’s been a little while since our last Speak Easy episode. And, for all of our listeners that don’t know, this is the series where, Suzanne, you teach us all about natural English pronunciation.

Suzanne:         Yes.

Andrew:           And what do you have planned for us today?

Suzanne:         Yes. Well, today, we’re going to learn about when and how to make the flap sound in English. The flap sound.

Andrew:           The flap sound, OK.

Suzanne:         Yeah. I’m not talking about a tap-dancing step.

Andrew:           OK.

Suzanne:         Even though that is also called a flap, but this is something that has to with your tongue.

Andrew:           I have the feeling that this is going to be brand-new information for a lot of our listeners. It may be the sound, this flap sound, they’ve heard when they listen to English speakers talk, but maybe nobody has ever taught them about it directly. So I think this is gonna be a first for a lot of people. So I’m excited about that.

Suzanne:         Yeah.

Andrew:           Let’s start with the definition, Suzanne. I think it’s always a good place to start. Could you give us a couple more details about what the flap is?

Suzanne:         Absolutely. So, the flap is a sound that we hear quite often, and it’s almost like a little tap that you do with your tongue on the top or roof of your mouth, right? Your pallet. And it’s usually in place of a T or a double T. So when we have a T or two Ts put together that are surrounded by vowel sounds, maybe in the middle of a word or even between word boundaries, like in between words, instead of pronouncing it like a T, we pronounce it with a light tap. So in the UK, for example, they might say, like, they might say a “tuh” sound, like letter, or letter, or better, right? In a UK pronunciation.

Andrew:           Or, even, they’ll make a glottal sound in the back of their throat, a stop, right? Like a “bett-er.”

Suzanne:         Totally, they’ll say, “This is bett-er bar,” absolutely.

Andrew:           Right.

Suzanne:         And it’s not just in England. You know, we have different accents in the UK and different British sort of accents around the world that might do a different kind of a sound in that place.

Andrew:           Right.

Suzanne:         But in North America, we make this little tap of the tongue on the roof of our mouth and that’s called the flap.

Andrew:           Right. So to take those UK examples, you said that you might hear them say letter with, like, I can’t do the accent very well, everyone, I’m sorry. Letter, letter, better. But the two Ts there are very strongly pronounced, you can hear them very clearly. But in North American English, or for the greater North American accent, the broad North American accent, we really soften those two T sounds. We pronounce them with the flap, so it sounds more like letter or better.

Suzanne:         Exactly. And I think the misconception is that a lot of people think that it’s a D, that it’s a hard D sound, “ledder,” “bedder.” But it’s not quite a D and it’s not quite what we would call a reflective R sound that we say in English. So   kind of go into how to make this, actually.

Andrew:           OK, good idea.

Suzanne:         So, everyone, put the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth and sort of run it back a little bit into the flat area, right before the ridge and this is where we would make a “tuh, tuh, tuh” or a “duh, duh, duh,” right?

Andrew:           Yeah.

Suzanne:         “Tuh, tuh, tuh.” “Duh, duh, duh.” That’s just right behind the teeth, like, a little bit, maybe, like, a few millimetres behind the teeth on that flat part. Then let’s try sliding our tongue even further back to where it’s sort of floating up in the middle of the mouth, pointing up toward the middle pallet. And we’ll feel like this is an R sound, right? “Rrrrrr.”

Andrew:           Into the R zone.

Suzanne:         Yeah, that’s the R zone.

Andrew:           Sure.

Suzanne:         Now, if we kind of split the difference, in between there, to where that ridgy part starts and it kind of starts to go up a little bit higher into the dome of the mouth, this is where our flap is gonna be. This is where we’re gonna tap, really, really, really lightly. So a very delicate, delicate D, like you’re barely touching the roof of your mouth, and that’s the /ɾ/ sound.

Andrew:           OK.

Suzanne:         It almost has like a rolling R sound, right?

Andrew:           Yeah. /ɾ/.

Suzanne:         /ɾ/.

Andrew:           Yeah, it’s so strange. It’s very, very subtle, but it is there.

Suzanne:         It’s really subtle, yeah. And it’s right between the T, D area and the R area. So it’s, like, right in between there. And if you think about it, the flap is kind of like, has a little bit of percussive movement, like a T and a D and a little bit of a vibration feeling, like an R. So it’s kinda like they’re coming together to make a new sound.

Andrew:           OK. Very good. So that’s how we pronounce it, but how do we know when to pronounce the flap? In what context should we make this sound?

Suzanne:         Yeah, very good question. So we usually make this flap sound whenever we encounter a T in the written English that’s in between two vowels. So, for example, like we had in the beginning, we had letter, better, right? The “l-e” then we have that T and then another “e-r,” letter.

Andrew:           Right.

Suzanne          Kind of a schwa, but, yeah. But it’s between two vowel sounds, and so it becomes the flap. Now, we can also have a T in between two vowel sounds, in between words. Like, do you ever say, like, “Get out of here.”

Andrew:           Right, not, “Get out of here.”

Suzanne:         No way.

Andrew:           Because, you know, technically written English and spacing between words, this is kind of an invention, right? In actual speech, there’s no space in between where one word stops and the other word begins. So, all of these pronunciation features are carried across words, aren’t they?

Suzanne:         Yes, because we don’t say things in an isolated way. We make a thought, right? We speak in thoughts, and so not always in sentences, but more in thoughts. And our thoughts kind of run together, to make it cohesive, to make it make sense.

And that causes our mouth to blend the words into each other, and this is something we could add in between those words. For example, “Get out of here,” right? “Get outta here.” So I have two flaps there. “Get outta,” “get outta,” “get outta.”

Andrew:           That’s really an important point, I think, that you just made, because, as our listeners will probably know, the word get, the verb get is super, super common in English. And it’s used as a phrasal verb in so many different contexts with different prepositions and particles that often start with a vowel, right? Get out, get up, get around, get in, get under. And so in all of these contexts, you’re gonna hear that flap sound.

Suzanne:         Yes, exactly. In all of those phrasal verb-y kind of combos, that kind of compound verb, if it ends with a T, absolutely, put on, put up, right?

Andrew:           Yeah.

Suzanne:         It’s gonna have that T between two vowel sounds, like you said, it’s usually starting with a vowel sound on your preposition and then it will make you create that flap sound in there, with that T.

Andrew:           Exactly. You know, there’s a funny example that comes to mind when I think of the flap, and that’s from a podcast that I sometimes listen to. It’s a Canadian podcast called Quirks & Quarks, and it’s all about science. And at the end of the show, the host, who is an older gentleman—he’s probably in his 60s and I don’t think he’s really up to date with current pronunciation of social media—he always says, “All right listeners, you can find us on Twitter.” Twitter, Twitter.

Suzanne:         Twitter.

Andrew:           Twitter. And, actually, nobody around me, none of my friends say Twitter, everybody says Twitter. We use the flap, Twitter. Yeah, it’s funny.

Suzanne:         You hit on something very interesting, because in, I would say because of the influence the UK has on Canada, there tends to be maybe in the older generations a little bit more of an essence of British pronunciation.

And that is maybe where they might emulate or mimic that pronunciation, bring that out more, because it’s really, you know, if they were to say “letta” with the dropped R or “Twitta,” it’s a little bit weird. But just saying the Ts makes it a little bit of both, in a way.

Andrew:           That’s a great point. And, to be honest, my mom will actually pronounce the Ts, the fully T sound in many of these words.

Suzanne:         Yeah.

Andrew:           “It’s better to go to the market than to go to the shopping mall” or, “Write a letter to your sister.” And she has actually brought it up with me before, saying, “Andrew it’s not letter, it’s letter.” You know?

Suzanne:         That’s so funny.

Andrew:           She tried to correct my pronunciation about this and I had to argue with her a little bit and say, “No, Mom, this is how we talk in Canada.”

Suzanne:         This is how we young’uns talk.

Andrew:           This is how, yeah, the current generation talks. So that’s a generational gap.

Suzanne:         Yeah. And also for our listeners, just so they know, it’s not wrong if they hear both. But they can choose what they want to do going forward. If they want to do the flap or try it out in some cases, maybe, you know, at the coffee shop or in study sessions, try out the flap. But know that you’re gonna hear a few different versions and none of them are wrong. Like if you hear “letta,” “lettuh,” or “letter,” those are all three native-speaker ways of saying that word.

Andrew:           Totally. But I would say, just as an addendum to that, that the flap that we’re talking about today is the most common in North America.

Suzanne:         Yeah, for sure.

Andrew:           So that’s the one you’ll hear the most.

Suzanne:         Yeah, should we try some examples?

Andrew:           Yeah. We’ve got a couple of examples prepared here for everyone. So let’s listen to example number one.

Friend:              Hey, Betty, where did you put that letter I got yesterday?

Betty:                I think I put it on the metal table.

Friend:              Oh, great. Thanks.

Andrew:           All right. And now let’s listen to that example one more time, except this time it’s slowed down a little bit.

Friend:              Hey, Betty, where did you put that letter I got yesterday?

Betty:                I think I put it on the metal table.

Friend:              Oh, great. Thanks.

Andrew:           Suzanne, which words did you hear in that example that demonstrated the flap sound?

Suzanne:         Betty, right? Betty, Betty. The name.

Andrew:           Yeah, because the spelling is B-E-T-T-Y. But we don’t say Betty, we say Betty. Betty, no, Betty.

Suzanne:         And also letter, like we said before, letter.

Andrew:           Letter, yeah.

Suzanne:         And, also, yesterday, “yes-ter-day,” yesterday. Now, the thing here is this is a D, it’s between an R and a vowel. But if you remember what I said, this, first of all, is the unstressed syllable, day is not stressed. You don’t say yesterday, you say yesterday.

Andrew:           Yesterday.

Suzanne:         First of all. And second of all, you can make that a flap because the R is kind of pulling that D a little bit back into the inside of your mouth. And so sometimes if you say it fast, yesterday, yesterday, yesterday, your tongue will actually make a flap sound, not a D. That’s a little bit more complex, but I just wanted people to kind of see it, be aware of that and be like oh, yeah, I do hear that.

Andrew:           Right, yeah, I hear it as well. But you’re totally right, it doesn’t come to the forefront of my mind when I think of this flap sound.

Suzanne:         Yeah.

Andrew:           I wouldn’t have anticipated it to be in that word, but there it is.

Suzanne:         Yeah, just something to think about.

Andrew:           Suzanne, let’s listen to the second example.

Suzanne:         OK.

Friend 1:          Oh my gosh, Matty was going on and on about that peanut butter.

Friend 2:          I know, he was like, “Da, da, da, this peanut butter is the best nut butter ever.”

Friend 1:          Yeah, I hated it. I thought I was gonna go out of my mind.

Andrew:           And now let’s listen to it one more time, a little slower.

Friend 1:          Oh my gosh, Matty was going on and on about that peanut butter.

Friend 2:          I know, he was like, “Da, da, da, this peanut butter is the best nut butter ever.”

Friend 1:          Yeah, I hated it. I thought I was gonna go out of my mind.

Andrew:           OK, Sue, so I heard another few examples of the flap. And the first one is with the name again, just like Betty. This time we had Matty was one of the characters, Matty. So M-A-T-T-Y, but those two Ts are sandwiched in between two vowel sounds, so we actually pronounce them as a flap, Matty.

Suzanne:         Yes.

Andrew:           And also one of my favourite foods, peanut butter.

Suzanne:         Me too. Oh my gosh, me too.

Andrew:           Ah, love it, love it, peanut butter. Now, there was an interesting turn of phrase that came out, that appeared in this example, “da da da.”

Suzanne:         “Da, da, da.” Totally.

Andrew:           What’s going on there?

Suzanne:         I used this little thing here because I think if you guys need a way to practice the flap, this is a great way to practice it. By doing this kind of turn of phrase.

In this example, we have a character who is, like, explaining how their friend went on and on and on about this peanut butter. So a way of doing that, a way of explaining how people talk a lot about a topic, is you can say, “Yeah, and he was like da da da and da da da, bla bla bla.”

Andrew:           “Bla bla bla.” “Yada yada yada.”

Suzanne:         Exactly. This is a way of, like, explaining that they’re talking a lot about something. So this is also a great way to practice the flap, because our tongue is moving in and out of that little area where we make the flap sound. So I thought it was a funny thing to put in there.

Andrew:           Yeah, I love it, I love it.

Suzanne:         We also have the example of hated it, hated it.

Andrew:           Wow, hated it, yeah, there’s another multiword example.

Suzanne:         Exactly. And also outta, “outta my mind.” We have that, as well.

Andrew:           “I was gonna go outta my mind.” “Outta my mind.” This is an idiom, actually, too, right? It’s sort of means that you’re gonna go crazy, something’s driving you crazy. It’s really irritating and annoying.

Suzanne:         Yes, lose my mind.

Andrew:           Lose my mind. I could see that if somebody was going on and on about peanut butter that it might be boring to listen to, even though I love it.

Suzanne:         Yeah.

Andrew:           Who wants to listen to somebody talk about peanut butter for a long time, though?

Suzanne:         Not me.

Andrew:           So, Sue, just before we wrap it up, I thought it would be useful to give our listeners some more examples of words where they can hear the flap sound and to demonstrate the pronunciation for everyone. So do you have any words in mind that you could share with us?

Suzanne:         Yeah. Well, one thing that you’ll come into contact with, quite often is the spelling T with an ING, so if you have a root word that ends with a T, like meet and then you add an ING at the end, meeting, this is going to instead of being meeting, you’ll say meeting /ɾ/. Meeting /ɾ/. So it’s kind of that flap into the ING.

Andrew:           OK, so like meeting, meeting.

Suzanne:         Yes, meeting, letting, or fitting, or hating. These are all examples of “‑ting.”

Andrew:           Oh, that’s very interesting, yeah, because this is one of the ways that we can make nouns in English is by adding this ING. And since the I is the vowel, then you’re gonna get a lot of cases where the T that ends the word is now sandwiched in between two vowel sounds when you add the ING there. Wow, that’s really interesting, I never noticed that before.

Suzanne:         Yeah, and this also happens in some cases too with simple past, like visited instead of visited, you might say visited, visited, you might turn that T into a flap. Or wanted, yeah. So sometimes that T at the end of the word can change into a flap.

Andrew:           OK.

 

Practice exercises

The audio for the practice exercises is included at the end of the ad-free version of this

episode. To download this file, please visit the Culips Dashboard by going to www.Culips.com and logging in to your account.

  1. Let’s practice how to make the flap!

Have you ever told a story using duh, duh, duh, duh, duh?

 

  • Put the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge, or the ridge right behind your top front teeth.
  • Make sure the tongue is relaxed, meaning don’t push the tongue too hard. Just allow it to touch the ridge lightly.
  • Now, make a very delicate “duh” sound.
  • Now make them in a row: duh, duh, duh, duh, duh.

 

  1. Circle the Ts or Ds that are surrounded by vowels or by a vowel sound and an R sound. This will mark your flap. Then, practice listening and repeating with the recording.
Let itButterPut on
BatteryWittyBad apple
Had a partyBabysitterAdd on

 

  1. Practice some flap phrases. Listen to the recording of each phrase twice. Circle the spot where you hear the flap in the phrase. Then, practice using the flap by listening to the recording one more time and repeating the phrase.
Out of the boxBetter butter in a letterHad a cat and a dog
Let it out of thereI don’t know about itKeep it on the metal matter
We don’t ever laugh about itNot another otter putterHow did he get it

 

Answers

Let itButterPut on
BatteryWittyBad apple
Had a partyBabysitterAdd on

 

Out of the boxBetter butter in a letterHad a cat and a dog
Let it out of thereI don’t know about itKeep it on the metal matter
We don’t ever laugh about itNot another otter putterHow did he get it

 

Episode credits

Hosts:     Andrew Bates and Suzanne Cerreta

Music:     Something Elated by Broke For Free, Let It Go by Scott Dugdale

Episode preparation/research:     Suzanne Cerreta

Audio editor:     Andrew Bates

Transcriptionist:     Heather Bates

Study guide writer:     Suzanne Cerreta

English editor:     Stephanie MacLean

Business manager:     Tsuyoshi Kaneshima

Project manager:     Jessica Cox