CONSONANT CLUSTERS IN ENGLISH AUDIO & EXERCISES
How To Pronounce Consonant Clusters In English – The Ultimate Guide
There are SO MANY consonant clusters in English.
Some are obvious and some are hidden, that’s one of the reasons why consonant clusters are challenging for non-native speakers of English.
What is a Consonant Cluster in English? A consonant cluster is 2, 3 or 4 consonant sounds in a row. Examples of consonants clusters with 2 consonant sounds are /bl/ in ‘black’, /sk/ in ‘desk’ and the /pt/ at the end of ‘helped’. Examples of clusters with 3 consonant sounds are /str/ in ‘string’, /sks/ in ‘tasks’ and the /kst/ in ‘sixty’. Examples of clusters with 4 consonant sounds in a row are /ksts/ in ‘texts’ and /mpst/ in ‘glimpsed’.
In this post we’ll cover why pronouncing consonant clusters clearly is important for speaking clear English, we’ll talk about which consonant clusters are difficult for non-native English speakers and ESL students and how you can improve your consonant clusters. You’ll see video and there are some consonant clusters exercises with audio to do to improve your pronunciation of consonant clusters too.
Why Is Correct Consonant Clusters Important For Clear English?
There are a 3 main reasons why pronouncing consonant clusters correctly is so important for speaking clear English that people can understand easily.
1. Consonant Clusters Are Everywhere
The first reason is simply that consonant clusters are in so many English words. If you mispronounce them, you’ll be mispronouncing many, many words in English.
2. Consonant Clusters Distinguish Between Words
The second reason is that if you mispronounce a consonant cluster, it can mean another word, and this is confusing to listeners. For example, if you leave the /l/ out in ‘black’ it sounds like ‘back’ and ‘click’ becomes ‘kick’. If you leave the /r/ out in ‘free’ it’s ‘fee’ and ‘trip’ it becomes ‘trip’. As you can see consonant clusters are essential in telling one word from another in English. Mispronouncing them causes confusion.
3. Consonant Clusters Are Needed For Grammar
Correct consonant clusters are essential for pronouncing grammar markers in English. Important grammatical markers such as past tense endings and plurals require the pronunciation of consonant clusters.
For example, if a speaker leaves the /t/ sound off the end of ‘helped’ it becomes ‘help’ which means the listener doesn’t know that it happened in the past. This is confusing to listeners and can be an obvious grammar mistake.
Leaving the /s/ sound off when there is more than one of something, such as ‘I have 3 meeting’ which should be ‘I have 3 meetings’ or ‘The client are waiting ‘ instead of ‘The clients are waiting’. These are obvious grammar mistakes.
Pronouncing consonant clusters clearly is very important for pronouncing English clearly.
To give you an idea of how common consonant clusters are, take a look at this sentence.
“Access to the road was blocked from traffic yesterday because of the accident”.
How many consonant clusters can you find in the sentence above?
Let’s look at them more closely.
Consonant Clusters That Are Obvious: /bl/ in blocked, /fr/ in from, /tr/ in traffic, /st/ in yesterday, /nt/ in accident.
Consonant Clusters That Are Less Obvious: /ks/ in access, /kt/ in blocked, /ks/ in accident.
So there are 8 consonant clusters in that sentence. Would you have missed any of those out? Are they easy for you to make?
Maybe you got the obvious ones but not some of the less obvious ones.
You can see that consonant clusters are very common in English words. This means that pronouncing consonant clusters and blends clearly is very important for speaking clear English that other people can understand easily.
Common Consonant Clusters Problems
What Are Common Consonant Clusters Problems?
The most common problems with pronunciation of consonant clusters is that speakers leave a sound out in a cluster, for example when pronouncing the word ‘six’ they might say ‘sik’ instead of six /sɪks/ or for the word ‘success’ they might say ‘suses’ instead of ‘success’/səkˈses/. This process of leaving out a sound when pronouncing clusters and consonant blends is called consonant cluster reduction.
Another common problem is that speakers might add a vowel in between the consonants. For example, they might say ‘puh-lease’ instead of ‘please’ or they might pronounce the word ‘desks’ like ‘de-suh-kus’. This is something that speakers of Arabic speakers and speakers of Chinese should check that they aren’t doing.
Less common problems for pronouncing consonant clusters includes changing the order of the consonant sounds, for example when pronouncing the word ‘six’ they might say ‘sisk’ for ‘six’.
Another less common problem for pronouncing clusters is adding an extra sound into the cluster, for example. ‘sikst’ for ‘six’.
Let’s look at difficulties that non-native English speakers have with pronouncing consonant clusters in more detail.
There are two main problems that learners have. These are:
1. Common Consonant Clusters Problems – A Spelling Problem
The most common pronunciation problem of consonant clusters occurs because English is not a phonetic language. Many ESL speakers mispronounce some consonant clusters in some words, because the consonant cluster is not made clear by the spelling of the word.
This is the most common problem with consonant clusters, as it affects almost all learners of English. Let’s call this – Consonant Clusters – Spelling Problem.
See examples below.
Which non-native English speakers are likely to experience Consonant Clusters – Spelling Problems? Any non-native speakers of English can experience this problem, even advanced learners. I meet many advanced level speakers who mispronounce words like ‘executive’ and ‘access’.
See some consonant clusters examples in the video below.
You’ll see some non-native English speakers mispronouncing the consonant clusters in the word “expect” and “access”.
Consonant Cluster Reduction Example In ‘expect’.
The speakers in this video are good at pronouncing consonant clusters. They can easily pronounce 2 and 3 consonants in a row.
The problem is they haven’t realised that the letter ‘x’ in the word ‘expect’ should be pronounced as the consonant cluster /ks/.
They leave out the /k/ and pronounce it as ‘espect’, it should be ‘eks.PECT’ or in the IPA it’s /ɪkˈspekt/.
The stress should be on the second syllable:
Consonant Cluster Reduction Example In ‘access’.
And in the word ‘access’, these speakers haven’t realised that the letters ‘cc’ make the consonant cluster /ks/.
They leave out the /k/ sound in the /ks/ cluster so they pronounce it as ‘ases’ instead of ‘akses’.
They also use the wrong stress. They all put the stress on the second syllable. It should be on the first syllable of ‘access’ /ˈæk.ses/.
So they say the word ‘assess’ instead of ‘access’.
2. Consonant Clusters – Articulation Problem
Consonants clusters are mispronounced because the consonant cluster does not exist in the speakers first language. The problem is that it’s physically challenging to make the consonant sounds needed one after the other. So let’s call this “Consonant Clusters – Articulation Problem”.
Which non-native English speakers are likely to experience Consonant Clusters – Articulation Problems?
Many speakers of Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cantonese and some Chinese speakers have difficulty pronouncing some consonant clusters in English.
Listen to consonant clusters examples of speakers from these language backgrounds below, leaving out a sound in the cluster.
This happens because clusters like these don’t occur in their first language. At the moment, it’s challenging for them to make one consonant sound next to another.
Watch to the videos below. Can you hear the problem with consonant clusters when they say the words ’66’ and ‘left’?
Consonant Cluster Reduction Example In ’66’.
These speakers speak languages that don’t have consonant clusters.
Listen to them say the word 66 – sixty six.
They leave out the /s/ in the /ks/ cluster in ‘sixty’ and they leave the /s/ sound off at the end of the word six.
So it sounds like – sikty sik – instead of – sixty six.
Problems like these make many words in English unclear to listeners.
Consonant Cluster Reduction Example In ‘left’.
Listen to this speaker saying the word ‘left’.
Can you hear the problem?
She leaves off the /t/ in the /ft/ consonant cluster.
It should be ‘left’, or in the IPA it’s /left/, with a clear /ft/ cluster at the end of the word.
How to Improve Consonant Clusters In English
If you are aware that you sometimes leave a sound out in a cluster, don’t worry! With practise and training, you can correct this problem.
Improving pronunciation of consonant clusters will dramatically improve the clarity of your English.
The consonant cluster activities below will help you become more aware of how to pronounce consonant clusters in English more clearly.
The key is to check you are pronouncing each sound in the cluster without adding a vowel in between.
So to improve your consonant clusters, follow these steps:
1. LISTEN CAREFULLY
Listen more carefully to your own pronunciation and identify which clusters you have difficulty pronouncing (Or purchase a Speech Active English Pronunciation Assessment and we will do this for you.
2. FEEL EACH SOUND
Become more aware of your pronunciation of consonant clusters. Try to consciously feel each consonant sound you make. This is all about mouth movements! Each sound has a mouth movement and you need to check you are making that mouth movement and not leaving it out. Use the voice recorder tool below to understand more about consonant clusters, both the ones that are obvious from spelling and the ones that are not.
3. SLOW DOWN
When you slow down you have more time to feel your pronunciation and mouth movements.
4. BREAK IT UP
It’s likely that you can pronounce each sound in the cluster correctly. The problem is when you put them close together.
So, take the time to break the word or cluster up into steps. This will help you master making more than one consonant in a row.
Practise the words below with the voice recorder and consonant cluster audio MP3. Feel each sound in the cluster.
Most people require specialised training to correct their clusters. While this page will help you become more aware and understand your problems with consonant clusters, it’s likely you’ll need more training, practise and support.
Join a tailored Speech Active Pronunciation Course to master consonant clusters and speak English clearly and with confidence.
Why Final Consonant Clusters Are So Important
Pronouncing clusters and consonant blends correctly at the ends of words is particularly important for clear English.
This is for a few reasons. The main reason is that the sounds in clusters in many English words differentiate that word from other words. Another way to say this is that if a person leaves a sound out of the cluster, it means something else.
at vs act, fat vs fact, light vs liked, missed vs mixed, ascent vs accent,
The other reason, as I’ve mentioned is that word endings are where we mark many grammatical markers in English.
Final Consonant Clusters Examples For Grammar.
Regular past tense endings require adding the sound /t/ or /d/.
Examples of past tense cluster endings are: /kt/ in locked, /st/ in passed, /ft/ in laughed, /pt/ in shopped
Third person often requires adding /s/.
Examples of third person cluster endings are: she kicks, he lights, she packs, he lifts,
Plural endings often require adding /s/.
Examples of plural cluster endings are: locks, facts, desks, banks
If you’re not pronouncing consonant blends / clusters in English clearly then it will sound like you have poor grammar in your spoken English. You’ll be leaving off important endings for the past tense, plurals and other grammar markers too.
To a listener, this can be confusing and it can sound like obvious grammar mistakes.
English Consonant Cluster Exercises
Let’s start with consonant clusters that many non-native English speakers mispronounce. The problem is usually because of the spelling – the speaker just isn’t aware that a consonant clusters is required and what sounds to make to pronounce the words correctly.
So, improve your English pronunciation by checking and correcting your pronunciation of these words with clusters below.
With Voice Recorder & Audio Files
access & accent – access /ˈæk.ses/, accent /ˈæk.sənt/
quality & quantity – quality /ˈkwɒ.lə.ti/, quantity /ˈkwɒn.tə.ti/
expect & expire – expect /ɪkˈspekt/, expire /ɪkˈspaɪ.jə/
exaggerate & executive – exaggerate /ɪɡˈzæ.dʒə.reɪt/, executive /ɪɡˈzek.jə.tɪv/
access & accent
quality & quantity
expect & expire
exaggerate & executive
Consonant Cluster Examples With Words Endings With /t/
With the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)
Practice these out loud with good cluster endings.
/ft/ final consonant clusters: soft /sɒft/, left /left/, lift /lɪft/
/st/ final consonant clusters: fast /fa:st/, list /lɪst/, post /poʊst/
/ct/ final consonant clusters: act /ækt/, fact /fækt/, picked /pɪkt/
/pt/ – hoped /hoʊp/, helped /helpt/ script /skrɪpt/
Consonant Cluster Activities – To Avoid The Articulation Problem
For speakers of Asian languages such as Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Cantonese and some Mandarin speakers, improving pronouncing clusters is challenging but really important.
Practise the clusters with the audio file and recording tool below.
Check you are making both sounds in the cluster. For example, in ‘soft’, feel the /f/ sound before you make the /t/ sound.
soft left lift
fast list post
act fact picked
hoped helped script
Consonant Cluster Activities – To Avoid The Articulation Problem
Other Consonant Cluster Endings
/sk/ final consonant clusters – task /ta:sk/, desk /desk/, disc /dɪsk/
/sp/ final consonant clusters – crisp /krɪsp/, lisp /lɪsp/, wasp /wɒsp/
Examples of regular past tense cluster endings: looked /lʊkt/, watched /wɒtʃt/, pushed /pʊʃt/
task desk disc
crisp lisp wasp
Past Tense Clusters
looked watched pushed
Difficult English Consonant Clusters
Consonant clusters with 3 consonants are often particularly challenging for learners.
Let’s look at some consonant clusters with 3 consonants in a row.
We’ll start with final consonant clusters (in other words, consonant clusters at the ends of words) because for many people, these are often the most difficult English consonant clusters to pronounce.
Final Consonant Clusters With 3 Consonants
It helps to break it up. For example for the word ‘asks’ it helps to think of the word in two sections – ‘as’ and ‘ks’. Practise these two sections and then smoothly join them together, without adding a vowel in between.
asks – practice as ‘as-ks’
tasks – practice as ‘tas-ks’
desks – practice as ‘des-ks’
discs – practice as ‘dis-ks’
acts – practice as ‘ac-ts’
ducts – practice as ‘duc-ts’. See more help on pronouncing /ct/ endings here.
Consonant Clusters At The Start of Words With 3 Consonants
strong & strange – check your /str/ cluster
script & scrunch – check your /skr/ cluster
squint & square – check your /skw/ cluster
spray & sprint – check your /spr/ cluster
Consonant Clusters With 4 Consonants
Which words have 4 consonants in a consonant cluster? There are a number of words with 4 consonant sounds, luckily most of them are not common words.
Did you know that native speakers are actually quite lazy with pronouncing words with 4 consonants in a cluster. We often gloss over one sound. We don’t like 4 consonant clusters either!
texts – /teksts/ – to pronounce it perfectly, break it up and practise it as ‘teks-ts’ and then smoothly join them together. Actually many native speakers will pronounce it as ‘teks’ in natural speaking.
sixths – many non-native speakers will gloss over the ‘th’ and pronounce it more like ‘siks’ or ‘sikth’ in their natural speaking.
twelfths – don’t worry if you can’t make ‘th’ correctly – you can easily skip the ‘th’ in this word and no one will even notice! Luckily we don’t need to use this word very often. So you can cheat, and pronounce it like – ‘twelfs’.
tempts – practice as ‘temp-ts’ – make sure we can hear /p/ before /ts/.
The Most Difficult Consonant Clusters In English
In my experience the most difficult consonant blends or consonant clusters of all time are the /θs/ in months/mʌnθs/ and the /θr/ in three /θri:/.
The good news is that for most learners, correcting ‘th’ is not a high priority. Mispronouncing ‘th’ doesn’t negatively affect your speech clarity as much as other areas.
See more on improving your ‘th’ sound here: How To Pronounce the ‘th’ Sound
So, for most people, improving your word stress, vowel sounds and word endings will be more important and a higher priority than correcting ‘th’.
Perfecting your pronunciation of ‘months’ and ‘three’ will take practise. Many advanced learners will require quality specialised training and practise materials to correct their ‘th’ and master ‘th’ consonant clusters.
If you are happy to take a short cut to pronounce these I suggest the following:
months – /θs/ consonant cluster
When pronouncing the word ‘months’ just omit the ‘th’ here. Many learners make the mistake of omitting the /s/ sound in their effort to pronounce the ‘th’. If you are saying “4 month” this is an obvious grammar mistake to listeners as you’ve left off the plural /s/ sound.
If you omit the ‘th’ and say ‘mons’, no one will notice.
three – /θr/ ‘thr’ consonant cluster
If you have difficulty pronouncing the sound ‘th’ in clusters like in the word ‘three’, it’s most likely you are pronouncing this word more like ‘tree’ or ‘sree’.
Honestly, in most instances this won’t be a big problem for your listeners. For most non-native speakers, improving other areas of your English pronunciation will be more important for speech clarity.
For an easy cheat, you can go with ‘tree’ for ‘three’.
I would recommend focusing on improving other areas of your English pronunciation, such as consonant clusters, word endings, word stress and diphthong vowels. When you are confident that areas are sounding great, then move on to correcting ‘th’ and ‘th’ clusters.
How Are Consonant Clusters Shown in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)?
The IPA in the dictionary is a fantastic tool for learners wanting to improve their English pronunciation skills. The IPA will tell us the exact sounds in each cluster.
So even if you don’t know every IPA symbol, it can still be a very useful tool to find our exactly what sounds you should be making in words with consonant clusters.
See these examples below.
These are words that non-native speakers often mispronounce. They often miss a sound in the cluster. See the IPA and look at how it shows you each consonant that you should be making.
This post is been for non-native English speakers looking for help with consonant clusters in English, in this guide, we’ve covered: typical consonant clusters problems and why they occur, how to improve pronunciation of consonant clusters, consonant clusters activities and exercises with video and audio MP3.
I hope this has helped you better understand consonant clusters and blends in English. I hope it’s given you a good idea of the best way you can correct you pronunciation of consonant clusters for clearer English.
Here are some other articles that I’ve written that might help you.
English Word Stress Exercises: videos, audio and voice recorder exercises to help you improve your word stress and emphasis in English.
Checklist For Choosing Accent Reduction Training.
Would you like more help with your English Pronunciation? Contact us on +61 411 295 828 or email [email protected] to find out more about our English Pronunciation Courses.
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Keep up the great work on your spoken English.
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All the best
English Pronunciation Consonant Clusters
Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPath) and CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.
Georgie is the creator the world’s leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student and presents regularly at Universities.
If you’ve ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you’ll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence.