17: The 'sh' /ʃ/ and 'zh' /ʒ/ in English

Practice comparing the 'sh' (as in she) and lesser known 'zh' (as in vision).


Hello again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation podcast. This is podcast #17. My name is Mandy.

I am going to get back into some sound practice for a few weeks, because there are still quite a few sounds to study. Since it's been a few weeks, I'll review a little bit of vocabulary from the earlier sound podcasts.

Today we are going to study the voiced/unvoiced fricative consonant pair, the sh sound and the zh sound. Most students are well aware of the sh sound, the first sound is the words she and show. The zh sound is a less common sound. It sounds like (zh sound) and is in the words usual and casual.

We'll have a practice sentence for these sounds, today. It is:


Vision is usually measured with special machines.


I'll come back to that sentence later.

The sh sound and zh sound are fricatives. If you have been listening since the beginning of these podcasts, you may remember from the first podcast, which was about the voiced and unvoiced th sounds, that a fricative is a continuous sound that is created by allowing only a small amount of air to leave the mouth, which causes friction, and sound. Something special about fricatives is that we can continue to make the sound for as long as we have breath in our lungs.

I'm going to say both the sh sound and the zh sound so you can hear the friction, and so you can notice that I can continue saying the sound for a long time: (sh sound, zh sound).

Another special thing about the sh sound and zh sound is that they are a voiced/unvoiced pair. We've studied three sets of voiced and unvoiced pairs so far: the voiced/unvoiced th sounds, the t sound and d sound in episode 2, and the s sound and z sound in episode 3. We use our vocal folds for the voiced sounds, and we can feel the vibration in our throat. The unvoiced counterpart is said almost identically, except we do not use our vocal folds.

Listen to the sh sound and zh sound again. Which one is voiced and which one isn't? (sh sound, zh sound) I hope you said that the sh sound is unvoiced, and the zh sound is voiced.

So, how am I creating these sounds exactly? Do you remember where the tooth ridge is? If not, I want you to use the tip of your tongue to touch your front upper teeth. Now slide your tongue back a little bit behind your teeth. Do you feel that bump behind your upper teeth? That is your tooth ridge. You use your tooth ridge when creating the voiced and unvoiced th sounds, the s sound and z sound, and the t sound and d sound.

Let's create those sounds now. I am going to say the sound and I want you to repeat it, noticing where your tongue is.


unvoiced th (unvoiced th)
voiced th (voiced th)
s sound (s sound)
z sound (z sound)
t sound (t sound)
d sound (d sound)


Did you feel where your tongue touched, or nearly touched, the tooth ridge during those sounds? If you want reminders for those sounds, go back and listen to episodes one, two, and three again.

Now let's get back to the sh sound and zh sound. To create the sh sound and zh sound we make our lips rounded and place the tip of our tongue near the back of the tooth ridge and push air out. The zh sound is the same, except we also use our vocal folds and cause a vibration at the same time.

Korean speakers in particular have a lot of trouble with these two sounds. I often hear Korean students place the tip of the tongue too far back in the mouth, too close to the roof of the mouth. It is a subtle difference in sound, but try to keep the tip of the tongue right at the back of the tooth ridge, but not behind the tooth ridge. Repeat the sounds after me: (sh sound, zh sound).

Another problem with these sounds is that the spelling does not give many clues for when the sh sound is said and when the zh sound is said. It is another set of sounds that needs to be memorized or looked up in the dictionary if you aren't certain which sound to use.

Let's practice some words for both of these sounds.

sh sound (sh sound): she, shoe, fish, crash, special, emotion
zh sound (zh sound): massage, pleasure, usual, leisure, version

I'd also like to note that the zh sound almost never occurs at the beginning of the word.

Here is a practice sentence again to help remember these sounds. Please, repeat after me:


Vision is usually measured with special machines.



Let's repeat that again.


I will have a link to the word list practice for these sounds and an audio of just the practice sentence along with the transcripts for this episode. You can find free word lists and transcripts at www.pronuncian.com. If you purchased a copy of Pronunciation Pages or are a student of Seattle Learning Academy, you can find additional practice identifying words containing these sounds.

I would love to hear from you! If you'd like to send me comments or suggestions, please email me at podcast@pronuncian.com.

This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy, where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening everyone!