If clicks do sound like exotic noises to you, it might surprise you to know that there’s nothing especially difficult about making click sounds in speech—they’re easily mastered by toddlers who still struggle making truly difficult sounds like s and z. And it might really surprise you to learn, as found in a recent study by Melissa Wright at Birmingham City University, that as an English speaker, you likely riddle your own speech with click sounds, using them much more frequently and systematically than just the occasional “tsk” of disapproval. If that’s so, why on earth do the African clicks sound so strange to English speakers, to the point of being un-language-like?It's a good post, and that might be an easy thing for toddlers to learn, but as a grown adult, it is devilishly tricky to master even the three basic click sounds in Zulu and Xhosa. Especially the "q" sound, which involves popping your tongue off the roof of your mouth. During a vacation in Eastern Cape once, it took me hours of practice to just be able to make the noise right, let alone stick it in a word with anything approaching accuracy.
Feb 23, 2012
Xhosa is hard to say
Over at The The Crux, Julie Sedivy has an interesting breakdown of how clicks are used in both African languages and English: