191: The difference between 'my car' and 'Mike are'

Aspiration, of course.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 191st episode.

You might think that I've said all there is to say about the importance of understanding stop sounds and how the differences of their aspiration are especially important for linking; but no, I'm not done yet. These linking techniques contain a lot of advanced levels of detail, and we can get pretty deep into these topics.

So far, I've talked about linking the same stops, voiced and unvoiced pairs of stops, and different stops into each other. Today I'm going to explain linking vowels and stops. When thinking about inking vowels and consonants, it's easy to think that we just blend the sounds, and somewhat, we do. But, because of differences in aspiration--or the puff of air that occurs when we release stops--we can describe very tiny details that can help you achieve native-like English pronunciation and have an accent that is more easily understood.

We're getting to know quite a bit about types of sounds called stops. Let's review what we know:

1) We have 6 stops sounds
2) Stop sounds are the sounds where we completely block the air using our tongue or lips, hold the air for a tiny amount of time, then released it. The release of air is called aspiration.
3) the /t/, /p/, and /k/ sounds are unvoiced stop sounds
4) the /d/, /b/, and /g/ sounds are voiced stop sounds
5) Stop sounds have more aspiration (that's the "puff") when they are the first sound of a word than when they are mid-word or at the end
6) Unvoiced stops--/t, p, k/--have a bigger aspiration than voiced stops /d, b, g/

If you go to the transcript for this episode, you'll see a graphic that shows the difference in linking the words "my" and "car" (my car) and "Mike" and "are" ("Mike are"). These sets of words contain the same sounds and the normal transcription that we would see in a dictionary for these sets of words would match! The typically used transcription system is called "broad transcription." Broad transcription doesn't show details like a sound being held for extra time, or a stop sound having no audible release, or if the sound is fully aspirated. We need to use a special, more precise transcription system called "narrow transcription" to show these differences in pronunciation. Relevant to this episode, we can show a tiny, raised h after the fully aspirated sound when we use narrow transcription. You can see this if you go to the transcripts page for this episode. The graphics there show both broad and narrow transcription for the phrases "my car" and "Mike are."

Given the information I reviewed a bit ago, which k sound will have a bigger aspiration: the k sound in the name "Mike" or the k sound in the word "car"?

I hope you said the k sound in "car" because, according to detail #5 above, stops that begin a word (like the k sound in "car") have bigger aspirations than stops at the end of a word (like the k sound in "Mike"). So the difference between "my car" and "Mike are" is that the puff of the /k/ in the phrase with "car" is bigger. Other than that, the vowels on both sides of the k sound are blended to and from the /k/.

Let's put those phrases in sentences, so they make a bit more sense.

my + car: My car is over there.
Mike + are: Sharon and Mike are over there.

Let's do another comparison of aspiration, this time linking from a vowel into a word beginning with a voiced stop and from a vowel into a word beginning with an unvoiced stop. Which one will have a bigger puff of air? According to #6 above, the unvoiced stop will have the bigger puff.

Let's compare "my pack" to "my back." If you put a few fingers in front of your mouth when saying those phrases, you should feel more air hit your fingers on "my pack," with a p sound, than "my back" with a b sound.

Let's put these into sentences:

my + pack: I fell on my pack.
my + back: I fell on my back.

And let's do one final comparison to show differences in aspiration. Let's play with the phrase "keep off." The word "keep" has two stops, a k sound and a p sound. Which one will have a bigger aspiration? I hope you said the /k/. Why? Because the /k/ is the first sound of the word and stops at the beginning of a word have more aspiration than stops at the end of a word.

Repeat the phrase after me:

keep off

All right, keeping all of those details of aspiration in mind, let's practice. First, let's link vowels into stops. I'll say a phrase and give you time to repeat it, then I'll say a sentence and, again, leave you time to repeat it. Feel free to keep your fingers right in front of your mouth so you can feel how much puff of air is hitting your fingers with these stop sounds.


  1. try‿giving: Beth should try‿giving John a call.
  2. also‿benefit: You might also‿benefit from taking vitamins.
  3. they‿brought: They‿brought their daughter along.
  4. early‿bus: Catch the early‿bus and you'll have plenty of time.
  5. agree‿to: Will they agree‿to those guidelines?

Now I'll do the same thing with phrases that link a stop sound into a vowel.

  1. good‿evening: Are you having a good‿evening?
  2. bad‿impression: Unfortunately, he left a bad‿impression.
  3. seemed‿impossible: It seemed‿impossible to meet the deadline.
  4. rid‿of: I'd really like to get rid‿of this old phone.
  5. made‿up: Kevin already made‿up his mind.

You can practice these sentences, and more, by going to the free Pronuncian lesson associated with this topic. I'll like to it from this episode's transcript page. As with all the linking lessons, Pronuncian subscribers get twice as much practice because every free lesson has an accompanying exercise for more practice. Go to www.pronuncian.com/join for subscriber information.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.