24: The 'ch' /ʧ/ and 'j' /ʤ/ pronunciation in English

Learn about the 'ch' (as in 'church') and 'j' (as in 'judge'), English's only two affricate sounds.


Hello listeners of the world, and welcome to this week's Seattle Learning Academy American English Pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is podcast number 24. Last week we studied two stop sounds, the p sound and b sound. This week we are going to study two new sounds that are similar to stops, but are a little different: the ch sound and j sound. Some of you may have been taught that the j sound is a "soft g" sound, because the g spelling sometimes is used for the j sound. I try to give as straightforward of names as possible, so I call the first sound in the word "go" the g sound, and the first sound of the word "giant" the j sound. Although the letter g can sound like a g sound or a j sound, the j pretty much always sounds like a j sound. I hope I didn't just make that more confusing for you! Anyway, today's show is about the ch sound and j sound, and not about the g sound at all. Here's what those sounds sound like:

ch sound (ch sound)
j sound (j sound)

As always, the transcripts for this show are online at www.pronuncian.com, and I will link to the free sounds practice of today's sounds with this week's transcripts.

So, what are the ch sound and j sound, and what makes them special. In fact, there are no other sounds with their characteristics in American English pronunciation. They are special because they are affricates. What is an affricate?

Well, to put it simply, an affricate is a sound that begins like a stop, but ends like a fricative. Well, now you need to remember what a fricative is. If you listened to last week's show, the v sound is an example of a fricative. So are the voiced and unvoiced th sounds. A fricative is a sound we make when we force air out of our vocal tract with friction. English has lots of fricative sounds.

Affricates begin like a stop, because we stop all the air from leaving our mouth for a little bit, but when we do let it out, we do it with friction. Listen to the ch sound and j sound and see if you can tell how the sound starts like a stop and ends like a fricative. Also, notice that the ch sound is unvoiced, and the j sound is voiced. In fact, these sounds are a voiced/unvoiced pair. In case you forget, that means that the inside of the mouth is the same, but one sound uses the vocal cords, and the other doesn't. Here are the sounds:

ch sound (ch sound)
j sound (j sound)

Let me explain what is going on inside our mouth during these sounds. Both of these sounds begin with the tongue in the same position as the t sound and d sound, with the tip of the tongue right behind the upper front teeth. Then the sound gets released in the same place inside the mouth as the sh sound and zh sound. The area right behind the tip of the tongue is so near to the tooth ridge that friction happens.

For some people, it is easier to think of a ch sound as a t sound plus an sh sound, and a j sound as a d sound plus a zh sound. Listen to the sounds again and listen for the sound combinations.

ch sound (ch sound)
j sound (j sound)

The biggest problem I hear students make with these sounds is to not start the sound correctly as a stop. Make sure that the tongue stops all the air at the beginning of this sound.

A lot of words with these sounds are spelled t+ch for the ch sound and d+ge for the j sound. When my students see that spelling, they seem more likely to say the sound correctly, with the stop at the beginning. In fact, the t+ch sound is exactly the same as the ch sound, and the d+ge spelling sounds exactly the same as the j sound.

Compare these words: touch t-o-u-c-h, and twitch t-w-i-t-c-h: touch, twitch. The ch sound is identical for both spellings. We do not need to add a t sound for the tch spelling. It is just the ch sound.

Now compare these words: tragic t-r-a-g-i-c, and widget w-i-d-g-e-t: tragic, widget. The j sound is identical for both spellings. We do not need to add a d sound for dg spelling, it is just the j sound.

There are more spellings for these sounds than just those, but this would be a very long podcast if I got into all the spelling possibilities for every sound. I try to include words with all the common spellings of sounds in the free sound word list practice as a way to bring your attention to spellings you may not have been familiar with.

Another problem I hear with this pair of sounds, just like all the other voiced and unvoiced pairs, is that a lot of students say only the ch sound at the end of a word, even when the j sound is supposed to be there. Let's practice these sounds with some minimal pairs. If you are in a private place or don't mind people seeing you talk to yourself, please, repeat after me.


joke, choke
jump, chump
edge, etch
lunge, lunch
ridge, rich
serge, search


There you go. Hopefully now you can give more attention to these often overlooked sounds: English's only two affricate sounds, the ch sound and j sound.

I'll have a link to the free word list practice for the ch sound, j sound, along with the transcripts for this episode at www.pronuncian.com. If you haven't heard yet, you can now buy MP3 files of all the sound lists, so you can easily put sound practice on your iPod and be able to practice even when you don't have an Internet connection. You get 4 and a half hours of audio practice for just $10US. With the MP3 practice, you don't have to play each individual word, one file includes all the words for each sound at the beginning, middle, or end of the word. And you also get PDF files of the lists, so you can easily print the lists you want to practice.

As always, I'd love to hear from you! If you'd like to send me comments or suggestions, please email me at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com. I do tailor these podcasts to listeners. Tell me what you'd like me to cover, and I'll add it to a podcast as soon as I can!

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

Thanks for listening everyone!