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How To Ar-Tic-U-Late Your T's
And D's - Without Overdoing It
September 8, 2016

By Ann Utterback
Voice Specialist and Author, Broadcast Voice Handbook

Schools are beginning a new year around the country, but I’ve got a final exam for you! 

Almost everyone has difficulty articulating the /t/ or /d/ sound when that sound is tucked in between two other consonants as in the word, "expertly.” It just seems too hard to hit that /t/, and if we do try, it sounds over-pronounced. 

An artificial and over-pronounced delivery is as offensive as using sloppy articulation and should be avoided at all costs.

But if you’re really diligent, you can hit these /t/ /d/ sounds without sounding over-pronounced. 


Here’s the trick: learn to produce a /tl/ or /dl/ combination of sound smoothly and effortlessly. Let’s break it down.
  • For the /t/ and /d/ you should place the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, and then let the air explode out as you make the sound. 
  • For the /l/ sound you must quickly pull your tongue back and attach it to the same spot as the /t/ /d/, but don’t explode the sound. 
Let the sound come out while the tip of your tongue is locked in position. 

The /l/ sound is a bilateral sound, which means it comes over the edges of the tongue.


Now combine just the /t/ and the /l/ to make a /tl/ sound. 

Explode the /t/ and quickly pull the tongue back for the /l/. This gives you a little couplet to practice.

To make these two sounds together requires a LOT of practice, but if you stay at it, the sounds will begin to blend. Practice when you’re driving or have a few minutes alone. 

You don’t have to remember anything except /tl/ and /dl/ to practice.


The next step is to plug this blend into some words. Here’s a list to practice (taken from Improving Voice & Articulation by Hilda Fisher):
  • mostly                               
  • fondly
  • costly                                 
  • blandly
  • listless                               
  • friendless
  • correctly                            
  • handling
  • exactly                               
  • kindly
  • softly                                  
  • roundly
  • swiftly                                
  • soundless
  • aptly                                    
  • boldly
  • abruptly                              
  • coldly
Can you plug the /tl/ and /dl/ blends into those words easily?


If not, here’s another thing to try: Think of the word as divided right before the /t/ or /d/ so you say, "mos tly” or "fon  dly.”

Putting the cluster by itself can make it flow easier. 

Practice starting with a big break and then reduce the space until the two parts of the word are united, but you’re still able to make the clusters easily.

I said you’d need to practice diligently to make this work, so go for it!

And if you are a nut about proper pronunciation like I am, check out Kenyon and Knott’s, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English. It’s been around since 1953 and is the go-to source for pronunciation. It uses the American Phonetic Alphabet, but there’s a great chart in the front to use.
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D., is a voice specialist with more than 40 years experience and has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices, working with broadcasters, voice over artists and podcasters around the world. An author of eight books and over 50 articles on voice, her Broadcast Voice Handbook is a classic textbook offering more advice on how to improve your voice over performance.

Click for: Broadcast Voice Handbook

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Comments (4)
David Johnston
9/12/2016 at 2:53 PM
This was a great article. Even though I was a vocal performance major in college, diction is something you have to stay on top of. Your book will be an investment in my career as a voice actor. Best wishes in all your endeavors.
Pamela Wood
9/9/2016 at 3:11 PM
I really liked your article. The fact that you've been working with voice artists and have such an infinity for what you do, and a PHD, is reason enough to buy your book. Thank you for sharing this helpful information with all of us.
Pamela Wood, Professional Voice Actor.
BP Smyth, Narrator
9/8/2016 at 6:31 PM
Hello Ann,

Thank you for your input. I agree with you on all fronts, but I'm also from mid-west America. Diction is "regional". Almost all of my work is from the mid-west. I speak like they do. I'm not usually hired from the North East or the South. I don't speak like they do.
Mike Harrison
9/8/2016 at 5:19 PM
Great, Ann. I wonder if you would consider doing a lesson for /ing/. All too often, words containing (but usually ending in) /ing/ are actually ending with /een/: for example, "shopping" becomes "shop-een." It's quite noticeable and it's a glaring mispronunciation, especially for voice talent.

Another depressing tongue issue (see what I did there?) that is like fingernails on chalkboard is what is apparently prominent in New Jersey: not hitting at all the double "t" in the middle of some words. For example, "kitten becomes "kih-in." (And, in the same vein: missing the "t" in "dot com," saying instead, "dah-com.")
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