Accent improvement for Indian Speakers – the sounds of p, t, ch and k

English accent improvement for Indian speakers
In American or European English, the sounds of p, t, ch and k are pronounced somewhat differently than an Indian speaker is used to these pronunciations. The English sounds  of p, t, ch and k are ‘aspirated’ at the beginning of a syllable that has the accent. For example –  pin, tin, chin, kin are supposed to be aspirated.

Now, what in the world is an aspirated sound, you may ask?

The aspirated sound is the pronunciation with an initial release of breath air. For example h, as in hurry, is aspirated. Also, the rule is equally noticeable in English sounds like pit or kit where a puff of breath is clearly audible in the pronunciation of p and k sounds.
You can try pronouncing “pit” out loud and hold your hand in front of your mouth, or a lit candle if you need a more dramatic effect. You will feel a puff of breath, or see a flicker of the candle flame, that accompanies the “p” of “pit,” because it’s automatically aspirated in English. That is, of course, if you are pronouncing it with American accent.

In Indian speakers, the speakers with Indian accent, the required aspiration is missing by habit. This is because we are used to our speaking habits based on Hindi, Sanskrit or other mother tongues from India. In Indian English p, t, k are well-known to be unaspirated. If no flicker of candle flame in the above experiment, then you need some practice!

In other words, the American “p” sound is much harsher than Indian sound where a speaker tries to pronounce it quietly without accompanied burst of air. The same distinction applies for t, ch and k sounds.
The Indian speakers don’t have this problem with many other aspirated sounds, included the pronunciation of h, as in hurry.

The Indian speakers can overcome this pronunciation habit, the lack of aspiration, by repeatedly and consciously practicing the correct sounds of p, t, ch and k.

Now, Unless you are student of language, and I am not either, you will not notice some of the finer differences highlighted below. However, you already know this from your practice, or from listening to the American speakers. Here are some finer details on the rules of aspiration that are worth practicing:
There’s no aspiration if an ‘s’ comes before the consonant in the same word: pan vs. span, tan vs. Stan, can vs. scan.
There’s no aspiration before unaccented syllables: backup, dipper, master, thicker.
Aspiration is optional when an accented syllable ends the word: dump, thick, wait, watch.
There no aspiration when an unaccented syllable ends the word: setup, bucket, logic.

Bottom-line, put that puff of fresh air into your speech when pronouncing the aspirated sounds, especially the sounds of p, t ch and k. And don’t forget, a bad breath may diminish the acquired benefit of this American pronunciation, however!

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