Consonant sounds, the sounds we produce with a combination of our lips, teeth, and/or tongue (see figure 1), are typically characterized by several features. Those features include the way they are produced (often referred to as manner), whether or not the consonant is voiced, and where in the mouth (and nose) they are produced.

This final feature, which is often referred to as place, can differ from language to language for the same sound. The difference we hear between the /d/ produced by a native Spanish speaker and a /d/ produced by a native speaker of American English has to do with where in the mouth the sound is produced.

  lips teeth tongue palate
lips b, p, m v, f
teeth v, f ð, θ
tongue ð, θ d, t, n, ʤ, ʧ, ʒ, ʃ, g, k, l, r, ŋ
palate d, t, n, ʤ, ʧ, ʒ, ʃ, g, k, l, r, ŋ

Figure 1. American English consonant sounds produced via interaction between the lips, teeth, tongue, and palate.

The difference between a consonant produced by a native English speaker and by someone speaking English as a second language can be subtle, but native listeners can hear the difference. By placing the tongue in a slightly different place, the sound changes significantly.

Therefore, whereas in Spanish the /d/ sound is often produced with the tongue at the teeth, in English this sound is produced further back in the mouth, with the tongue raised in the front to touch the palate.

It is not always easy for speakers of English as a second language to identify where they need to move their tongue to produce a consonant like a native speaker. Luckily, a knowledgeable speech trainer has the ear to be able to tell you which consonants are being produced in a different place, and where to make a change for clearer pronunciation.

If you are interested in talking with a speech trainer to learn about how you can change your accent with one-on-one services, then sign up below for a free consultation, either in person at our Charlotte office or online.