The English language contains many consonant clusters which learners may find hard to pronounce.
In some languages, it is unusual to have 2 or 3 consonants together (consonant clusters) without a vowel sound between them. However, consonant clusters are common in English at the beginning (e.g. strong) and the end (e.g. lamps) of words.
Learners find these difficult to pronounce and may add vowels (e.g. furogus instead of frogs). This can lead to miscommunication.
Listen to these words:
Double consonant clusters at the start of words:
clothes brown black skirt sleep crown draw flag frog glass grow plant pray smile snake sports study sweet travel twenty
Double consonant clusters at the end of words:
left build marked hand drink first stamp stopped
Triple consonant clusters at the start of words:
strong scream splash spread
Triple consonant clusters at the end of words:
gifts lifts lamps builds camps
Notice how there are no vowel sounds between the consonant clusters. Note that sometimes there may be a vowel written, but it is not sounded (e.g. marked / stopped).
When words like this are introduced in a lesson, it’s a good idea to practise their pronunciation at the same time. However, you can also help learners notice and practise consonant clusters with some short activities.
1. Use a tongue twister, e.g. Fat frogs flying fast. Start by practising the clusters, e.g. f… r… f.. r.. f. r. f.r. fr, fr, fr, fr. Then ask learners to say the sentence as fast as they can.
2. Focus on some clusters. Create a table with examples. Ask learners to think of 2 or 3 more words that begin or end with the same cluster. They could also use a dictionary to discover new words. E.g.
|Start of word
|End of word
Learners can then work in pairs to create their own tongue twisters.
3. Practise saying triple clusters, e.g. scream by starting at the end of the word:
First say: ‘m’
Then say: ‘eam’
Then say: ‘ream’
Then say: ‘cream’
Finally, say the word: ‘scream’.
Learners work in pairs to practise saying other words in this way, e.g. strong, splash, spread.