Consonant clusters and speech clarity

You stand up and declare- “I have sik members in my team.”,

when you actually mean- I have six members in my team.

Well, you should not be surprised then, by the looks you get on saying what you said instead!

You clearly skipped a deserving consonant sound from the word “six” (/siks/) and that ended up changing the entire meaning of your message.

Here is what it warrants

Speech clarity hugely depends on the way we articulate speech sounds (vowel and consonant sounds). These sounds are known as the smallest unit of spoken language.

To enable our global audience to understand our speech in English, we must make sure that these speech sounds are free from the influence of our first language.

I have already touched upon vowel sounds for speech clarity in my earlier blog. Let us now focus on another set of speech sounds- Consonant sounds.

Any letter apart from a,e,i,o,u is a consonant with a sound distinct to it. These sounds are produced by partly or completely stopping the flow of air breathed out of the mouth.

One of the trickiest forms that these consonants take is the notorious consonant clusters. When two or more consonant sounds appear next to each other in a word, they form a consonant cluster. E.g. Black, Scooter, Sixty

The non-native speakers of English sometimes tend to-

  • skip a consonant sound altogether from the cluster

        E.g., Black/Back

  • add an unwanted vowel sound in between the cluster

       E.g., Scooter/Sakooter

  • swap the sounds

       E.g., Ask/Aks, Desk/Deks

These types of articulation errors in consonant clusters can lead to:

a) change in the meaning of the word

Black- Skipping /l/ from the cluster /bl/, will change the word to ‘back’.

b) errors in grammar

Clients– Skipping /s/ from the cluster /ts/, will change the word from plural to singular.

When you say- “Our client are happy with our services.”, you can end up confusing your listener (all clients or just one of them?).

c) wrong pronunciation

Scooter- Adding an unwanted vowel to the cluster /sc/, changes the pronunciation of the word to Sakooter, taking away the meaning of the word.

– Swapping the clusters in Desk to Deks leaves it meaningless.

Given below is the list of some consonant clusters that you can use for practicing:

Steps to follow

 i) More than the spellings, focus on the sounds these clusters are generating.

        E.g. – Siks-ty/Sixty

                – Skw-int/Squint

                – Eg-zact/Exact 

 ii) Break the clusters down, articulate each section slowly, and then smoothly join them together.

        E.g. Task, String, Bursts 

Different types of consonant clusters:

  • 2 consonant sounds in a row 


           /bl/ in black

          /sk/ in ask, task, desk, scooter

          /ks/ in access, accent

          /kw/ in quality, quantity

          /gz/ in exaggerate, executive

         /ft/ in soft, left, lift

         /st/ in fast, stiff, post

        /kt/ in act, fact, picked

       /pt/ in hoped, helped, script

       /sp/ in crisp, lisp, wasp

       /kt/ in looked, watched, pushed

       /fr/ in from, frame, frantic 

  • 3 consonant sounds in a row


      /str/ in string, strong, strange

      /sks/ in tasks, desks, masks, discs

      /kst/ in sixty

      /kts/ in acts, ducts

      /skr/ in script, scratch, scrunch

      /skw/ in squint, square

      /spr/ in spray, sprint

      /ksp/ in expect, expire 

  • 4 consonant sounds in a row


      /ksts/ in texts

      /mpst/ in glimpsed

      /ksths/ in sixths

      /fths/ in twelfths

      /rsts/ in bursts

      /mpts/ in prompts, attempts, tempts

      /lpts/ in sculpts

Now practice the clusters in the following sentences-

  • Access to the office building was blocked from employees yesterday because of the breakdown of electrical service. 
  • He was brought to task for his lack of enthusiasm towards work. 
  • Speech clarity is of utmost importance. 
  • Immigrant job seekers must work on their language skills. 
  • Interview with the client is scheduled for Thursday 
  • The product presentation was a success.

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