/f/, /t/, /d/
Having dealt with the “bilabials” /m/, /p/, and /b/, we now work our way back in the mouth – to our next three consonants /f/, /t/, and /d/.
As a consonant, /f/ is in a group of its own. Make the sound “fffffff”, and feel the position of your mouth. You should have your top teeth against your lower lip. /f/ is known as a “labio-dental” – meaning that a combination of lips and teeth are used to produce the sound.
Fortunately for us, this is one of the easier consonants to learn. If you are a native English speaker, there are no differences between Spanish /f/ and English /f/, and the rules for spelling are consistent as well. The sound /f/ is only represented by the letter “f”. Pretty easy, right?
Listen to the following words, which use the sound /f/:
What to avoid
In English, we have the occasional tendency to make the letter “f” sound like /v/, as in the word “of”. We might be tempted to pronounce the word “gafas” as “gavas”.
One way to avoid this is to imagine that the Spanish letter “f” always represents “ff” – as in “off”. This will ensure that we use the right sound, and don’t revert to the “v” sound.
There is a subtle but important difference in the way that English and Spanish /t/ sound. Listen to the following samples, and decide which is the native Spanish accent. What makes you think this?
Spanish /t/ is softer than its English equivalent. This is because it is produced in a slightly different position in the mouth. When native English speakers produce the sound /t/, it is done by the tongue tapping against the ridge of flesh behind the top teeth (known as the “alveolar ridge”). Spanish speakers, on the other hand, move the tongue a little further forward, tapping the tongue against the back of the top teeth.
Our English /t/ is also accompanied by a puff of breath, which makes it sound a lot harder. Try to avoid that.
/d/ is the sister sound of /t/, as it is produced in exactly the same place in the mouth. In fact, it has only one major difference. What is it?
/d/ is also produced as a “dental” consonant, meaning that we touch our tongue against the back of our top teeth.
What is this strange looking symbol? /ð/ is the cousin of /d/, and is pronounced in a similar way to our English “th” from “though”. However, the sound is a little shorter than our English version.
What do we mean by “cousin”? The sound /ð/ stands in for /d/ in various instances, depending on the sounds which surround it. Imagine it as a softened /d/, similar to the “th” in our English “those”, for example:
It’s often used between vowels, to a greater or lesser extent. Try to listen to the “softness” of the “d” sound in the following words:
We’ll look at this phenomenon more later in the course (these variations are known as “allophones”), when we find out exactly where and when these sounds are used.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at the consonants /s/, /n/, and /l/.