Five tenths of a mile. Did you hear it? Can you say it? Jeff Buckley can.

If this is your first time at Sing Better English, welcome! Join the conversation. We’re talking about this. If this is your 14th time at Sing Better English, welcome and thanks for travelling with us. Jeff Buckley’s going to help us relax.

Now that we’re all together, let’s talk about consonant clusters. In the Avengers clip here you heard Emma Peel, John Steed and the mystery caller each say five tenths of a mile. Can you say five tenths of a mile smoothly? From beginning to end? Including the word tenths? Some of you will find the nths at the end of tenths tricky to pronounce.

If your first language is Japanese, you expect a consonant to be followed by a vowel. The numerous consonants clustered together at the end of the word tenths may feel wrong to you. You will be tempted to put a vowel somewhere in the middle the consonants, to break them up. Don’t do it!

If your first language is Arabic, you will be surprised to see more than two consonants together. You will be tempted to add a vowel between the consonants. Don’t do it!

If your first language is Spanish or Portuguese, n-t-h-s will seem like far too many consonants all in a row, with no vowels to separate them. It looks unnatural and impossible. It isn’t. You will be tempted to drop a consonant – probably the or the h. Don’t do it!

A lot of non-native speakers panic at the thought of consonant clusters in English. Don’t do it! Panic will make your jaw tense.  When your jaw is tense it’s easy to make mistakes in English. Relax instead. Slow down. Sing along with Jeff Buckley.

Listen to Jeff singing The Twelfth of Never. Twelfth has l, f and then th, one after the other. Does that sound daunting? You’ll hear Jeff sing the word twelfth at (.20) and at (2.46). Doesn’t he sound relaxed?

The word twelfth, with its cluster of lfth at the end, sounds smooth and easy in the mouth of Jeff Buckley. Try singing along with him a few times to practice. A few consonants in a row are not a problem when you take them slowly. It’s better to go slowly and get it right than to panic and get it wrong. If you ever feel unhappy at the thought of consonant clusters, slow down, relax and think of Jeff Buckley.

© Sing Better English, 2014


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