184: Pronouncing /ʒ/ the 'zh sound'

If you can say sh, you can say zh!


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 184th episode.

In our last episode, I talked about the difference between the sh sound and s sound. I hope you remember, and I hope you've been practicing, because today I'm going to move on to the zh sound, and the zh sound is closely related to the sh sound.

The s sound and sh sound in our last episode were both unvoiced sounds. Neither sound required our vocal cords to vibrate in order to produce the sound correctly. Both of these sounds have voiced counterparts, however. Those counterparts are the z sound and the zh sound.

Although the difference between voicing or not seems so small that you could think that nobody would notice if you're using voicing correctly or not, believe me, it is noticeable. So let's practice it.

First, let's review the sh sound. The sh sound is created with the front of the tongue somewhat flat toward the back of the tooth ridge. The air passes in a flat stream between the front of the tongue and the back of the tooth ridge. It sounds like (sh sound). Say that sound after me: (sh sound), she, shine, mesh.

Now I want you to say just the sh sound, and while you're saying it, place two fingers on the front of your throat. Do it with me: (sh sound). Notice that you don't feel a vibration against you fingers when you say that sound.

Now let's turn the sh sound into a zh sound by activating our vocal cords deep in our throat. It sounds like (zh sound). The difference between (sh sound) and (zh sound) is the vibration of the vocal cords. Put your fingers back on the front of your throat and say the zh sound with me: (zh sound). Feel the vibration: (zh sound).

The zh sound is a much less common sound than the sh sound. It doesn't occur as the first sound of a word (except for the word genre, g-e-n-r-e), and it seldom occurs at the end of a word. It does frequently occur in the -sion suffix.

Let's practice it now. Make sure you're voicing the sound and not just using the easier sh sound in it's place. That's not a good habit to get into and it'll make you sound less fluent.

So repeat after me, using good, voiced zh sounds:


Just so you don't think that the zh sound can only be spelled -sion, let's practice a few other patterns that also use this pronunciation, the -sual and -sure endings. Again, repeat after me.


If you like this kind of listen-and-repeat activity, you can purchase the lists for all of the sounds of English from Pronuncian.com. If you buy the book or ebook, Pronunciation Pages 2, you'll get both the practice lists and the lessons for each sound's spelling. Or you can just purchase the practice lists which you'll download as a PDF file/MP3 audio combination. This kind of practice is really helpful for achieving an American accent by allowing you to rebuild that muscle memory, and I don't know any other resource that includes as many words as we do for each sound.

That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.