In contrast to vowels – which rely upon an open, vocal tract in their proper expression – the consonants of the English language perform at their best when constrained by the partial or complete closure of said vocal tract. Consonants are aggressive sounds that can be quite comical when a tutor is attempting to demonstrate these sounds for their students; as I do frequently. I always imagine the caricature of a Prussian captain barking (or rather spitting) out his military commands; moustache twerking erratically from side-to-side, while his feet goose-step and his arms pendulate as if a grandfather’s clock finally found its urgent mission. I confess my students have great hilarity with this matter of articulation.
What’s extra interesting is the fact that all of the various parts of this vocal tract get into the action of consonant sound formation. The consonant “p” is formed by closing the lips, followed by a sudden opening of the lips with a soft explosion of air. Try it. The consonant “t” is pronounced with the front of the tongue placed at the back of one’s teeth. The consonant “k” is formed at the back of the tongue. The consonant “h” happens in the throat. The consonants “f” and “s” are produced by pushing air through a constricted channel formed by the lips, tongue, and teeth. And the consonants “m” and “n” require nasal channeling. (Thanks to WIKI for that bit of information.)
There are more consonant sounds in the English language than there are actual consonant letters. In establishing a visual, written representation of these additional sounds, academics have ingeniously devised pairings of consonants; like “th”, “sh”, “ch”, “ck”, “gh”, “ng”, “sc”, “ti”, “ph”, “wh”, “ci”, “rh”, “wr”, and “qu”. (Who’d’ve thunk it?) Most have but one sound, but a few have a few: like the “th” in “think”, and the “th” in “these”. And what about the “f” consonant that sounds just like a “ph”, as in “phone”? The English language certainly has its moments of linguistic despair.
Depending upon a student’s native language, consonant tutoring can range from simple and intuitive to complex and foreign. And any real attempt to define consonant sounds by rule will always be met by exceptions. This leaves the tutor with only one, real option: practice, practice, practice.
I am not posting any downloads for consonants. In effect, they are what they are; even when in pairs. Rather, I will be placing a variety of consonant exercises on the Pronunciation page. The practice that a student will engage with when dealing with consonants is really all about pronunciation.