88: Why is 'tch' (as in 'watch') easier to pronounce than 'ch' (as in which)?

The 'tch' and 'ch' spelling should BOTH be pronounced as /ʧ/ (the ch sound, yet 'tch' often seems easier for non-native English speakers.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy and this is our 88th episode.

Today's topic is about the tch spelling, as in the words watch, catch, and switch. All of those words are pronounced with a ch sound (ch sound), and do not also have a t sound, despite the t of the tch. The final sound of the words attach a-t-t-a-c-h, and catchc c-a-t-c-h, are exactly the same, and neither of them have a t sound.

If you've been thinking that there is a t sound in the tch spelling, don't worry, it is probably actually helping you! It is an odd fact that many of my students cannot pronounce the ch sound (ch sound) when it's spelled ch, but can pronounce it when it's spelled tch. Before I talk about how to create the sound, however, let me talk about spelling.

The tch spelling has the benefit of being consistently pronounced with the ch sound, whereas the ch spelling has three options. You may remember from episode 85, which was about the word Christmas, that the ch spelling can be pronounced as the ch sound, as in the word chip, the k sound, as in the words chaos and Christmas, and the sh sound, as in the word chef. The tch spelling however, is much easier because you can always assume it is pronounced as the ch sound.

So what exactly is the ch sound? This kind of sound is an affricate, which means that for a tiny bit, we stop all the air from leaving the vocal tract, and then, when we release the air, we do it with friction. English has only two affricate sounds, the ch sound and j sound.

Now, I already told you that there is no t sound is the tch spelling. However, the beginning of the ch sound is very similar to a t sound. Listen to both sounds, first the t sound, then the ch sound:

(t sound, ch sound)


(t sound, ch sound)

For both the t sound and the ch sound, the front of my tongue stops all the air from leaving my mouth. For both sounds, the tip of my tongue is placed against my tooth ridge, just a bit behind my top front teeth. However, I release the sounds differently. The t sound is released with a puff of air pushing the tongue further away from the tooth ridge (t sound). The ch sound is released while keeping the tip of the tongue very close to the tooth ridge and pushing the air through a small opening between the tongue and the tooth ridge (ch sound).

Listen to the t sound and ch sound again, and notice how they are the same at the beginning, and how they are different at the end.

(t sound, ch sound, t sound, ch sound)

Now you create both sounds after me, and notice how your tongue is exactly the same for the beginning of both sounds. Then feel the difference at the end of each sound.

(t sound, ch sound)


(t sound, ch sound)

Now, let me get back to the tch spelling, and tell you a trick I've found for people who struggle with the ch sound. The most common error I hear with the ch sound is not stopping the air at the beginning of the sound. Remember though, I found that people who had that problem didn't have the problem in words that were spelled tch. It seems that seeing the letter t causes non-native speakers to try adding a t sound to the word, and stopping the air for the t sound made the ch sound better.

Here is a way to test yourself. Do you say the words witch w-i-t-c-h exactly the same as you say the word which w-h-i-c-h? The words witch and which are homonyms, and should be pronounced exactly the same!

Now if I have a student who cannot say the ch sound unless it is spelled tch, I tell that person to pronounce every word that has a ch sound the same as they were pronouncing the tch spelling. This often leads to quick success. When I practice word drills in class, I have them actually write the letter t in front of all the ch sounds to help them remember to stop the air exactly like a t sound to begin the ch sound. This helps break the habit of the old pronunciation.

So, the trick today, for all of you who struggle with the ch sound (ch sound), is to see if it is easier for you when it is spelled tch, then duplicate that sound for all words that contain a ch sound.

Here are some words to help you. I will first say a word that is spelled tch, then a word that is spelled ch. Please, repeat after me. Neither of these words have a t sound. The ch sound should for both words should be identical.

witch, which
batch, attach
itch, beach
watch, touch

Now let's practice the ch sound at the beginning of the word. The tch spelling does not exist at the beginning of words in English, but you can still pretend it's there if it helps you pronounce the words correctly.


I hope that helps you with your pronunciation of the ch sound. Did you know you can now buy individual sound downloads for only $2.00? So, if the ch sound is difficult for you, and you want the MP3 drills for this sound in the beginning, middle, and end of the word, you can now get that from Pronuncian. Or you can by the entire set of all the sounds of English for just $20.00. Right now you can take the survey on the Pronuncian.com homepage for a $10 coupon. Then you can buy the entire set of MP3s for just $10. All of your Pronuncian.com purchases support the production of this podcast, and all the rest of the Pronuncian.com content.

Remember, if you want to be updated whenever we add new content, just follow us on Twitter. We are simply username: Pronuncian. Free transcripts for this show, with links to our free online ch sound practice can be found at www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening.

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