Four sounds that are quite similar, but different in a few very important ways.
Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 109th episode.
It's still free audiobook time! Listen at the end of today's show to hear about this week's pick for a great audiobook for non-native speakers: The Giver, by Lois Lowry.
Also, a quick announcement that we are going to go to an every-other-week schedule through summer. Seattle weather is often thought of as grey and dreary and rather unpleasant. But that is only in the winter. We have beautiful warm and sunny summer weather, and instead of writing and recording every week, I'm going to cut back and spend more time enjoying the beautiful place I live. We plan to resume our weekly schedule at the end of September. I hope you all understand.
For today's show, I'm going to compare four sounds that are all really close to one another: the s sound, z sound, sh sound, and zh sound. Today's show is full of vocabulary relating to learning about pronunciation. Hopefully you're familiar with at least some of it. If not, don't worry, I'll explain everything that is necessary for understanding these sounds.
The s sound, z sound, sh sound, and zh sound sounds are all fricatives, which means we produce the sound by closing the vocal tract enough that friction, and sound, is created when we push the air out our mouth. Fricatives are continuous consonants, which means that the sound is smooth. This is in contrast to stops and affricates, where the air is briefly stopped before being released.
I can tell that the s sound, z sound, sh sound, and zh sound are continuous because I can hold the sound for a few seconds, if I want to. I'm not saying that these sounds should last for a few seconds during words; I'm only saying that it's possible.
To show you what I mean, I'm going to hold each of these sounds for a few seconds right now:
s sound (s sound)
z sound (z sound)
sh sound (sh sound)
zh sound (zh sound)
A little reminder of voiced and unvoiced pairs is in order today, as well, because knowing the difference between a voiced sound and an unvoiced soundis a key to these sounds.
In voiced/unvoiced pairs, the major difference is that the vocal cords vibrate during the production of voiced sounds, and do not vibrate during unvoiced sounds. At first, this can be easier to physically feel than hear. Let's compare the s sound and z sound, since they are usually easier sounds for non-native speakers to produce than the sh sound and zh sound.
I'd like you to put two fingers on the front of your throat. While your fingers are in place, say the z sound for a few seconds (z sound). Yes, you have to actually do it in order to feel it; you can't just pretend this, and you can't whisper it. Let's say the z sound, with our fingers in place, one more time (z sound). You should be able to feel a vibration on your fingers.
Now let's say the s sound for a few seconds (s sound). Don't add any extra sound to it. Don't say (su) or anything, just the s sound (s sound). The vibration you felt during the z sound should not be there during this sound (s sound).
Let's compare them. Say the z sound with me, then the s sound (z sound, s sound). If the feeling on your fingers is exactly the same for both of them, you are doing one or both of them wrong. These sounds must feel different. The z sound should vibrate, meaning it is voiced, and the s sound should not, meaning it is unvoiced. We call the z sound/s sound a voiced/unvoiced pair.
The sh sound and zh sound have the same difference. The zh sound is voiced, and will vibrate, the sh sound is unvoiced and will not vibrate. The zh sound and sh sound are also a voiced/unvoiced pair.
Now let's compare the two unvoiced sounds we're talking about today, the s sound and the sh sound. Listen to the difference between these sounds; I'll say the s sound first, then the sh sound (s sound, sh sound). The difference in these sounds is where the friction is created inside my mouth.
Both of these sounds rely on how close the front of the tongue is to the top front teeth and the tooth ridge. The tooth ridge is that bump inside our mouths, right behind the top front teeth.
To make the s sound, the tip of the tongue should be close to the backside of the top front teeth. The tongue is kept tense as air is pushed through the small opening between the front of the tongue and the tooth ridge, then into the top front teeth. The front sides of the tongue touch the side teeth toward the front of the mouth. That is a lot of stuff going on at once! This is because it takes a lot of friction to create the s sound!
Create the s sound with me (s sound).
To create the sh sound, the tongue is a little farther back, away from the top front teeth. The air is forced between the tip of the tongue and the back of the tooth ridge. The front sides of your tongue will touch your side teeth farther back in your mouth than where they touch during the s sound.
Create the sh sound with me (sh sound).
So remember, the s sound is more forward in the mouth, and uses more of the front of the tongue, more tooth ridge, and even the top front teeth. The sh sound is farther back, and uses the back of the tooth ridge, and just the tip of the tongue.
Say both sounds with me; I'll say the s sound first, then the sh sound (s sound, sh sound).
If you can say both of those sounds, you can also say the z sound and the zh sound (unless you're wondering what I'm even talking about when I say zh sound).
The zh sound is pronounced (zh sound). It is the sound in the words usual, vision, and measure. Can you hear it? I'll emphasize it in those words to help you hear it. (zh sound, usual, vision, and measure).
Now, think back to earlier in this show when I said that the major difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds is the vibration of the vocal cords. That means I am going to give you the same instruction for the z sound and zh sound as I gave you for the s sound and sh sound, except that I'm also going to tell you to voice the sounds.
Let's try it.
To make the z sound, the tip of the tongue should be close to the backside of the top front teeth. The tongue is kept tense as air is pushed through the small opening between the front of the tongue and the tooth ridge, then into the top front teeth. The front sides of the tongue touch the side teeth toward the front of the mouth. Don't forget to voice the sound.
Create the z sound with me (z sound).
To create the zh sound, the tongue is farther back, away from the top front teeth. The air is forced between the tip of the tongue and the back of the tooth ridge. The front sides of your tongue will touch your side teeth farther back in your mouth than where they touch during the z sound. Again, don't forget to voice the sound.
Create the zh sound with me (zh sound).
I'm going to say the s sound, then four words that include the s sound. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me:
Now I'm going to say the z sound, then four words that include the z sound:
Here is the sh sound, and four words that include this sound:
And finally, the zh sound:
All four of these lessons have a recently updated spelling and pronunciation lesson that I'll link to from this show's transcripts. You can find the transcripts by visiting www.pronuncian.com/podcast.
I also recently created a quiz to help you compare these sounds and their similar spelling patterns. The lessons for these sounds also include a link to the listening quiz to check that you are actually hearing what you think you're hearing. Become a subscriber for full access to Pronuncian's listening quizzes and additional listening exercises. Go to www.pronuncian.com/join to details.
Okay, now let me tell you about the book The Giver, by Lois Lowry, and give you the details on how you can get a free copy of this audiobook.
The Giver is a compelling novel because it is both the recipient of the Newbery Medal, a very distinguished literary honor, and is also on many banned books lists because it contains somewhat controversial themes.
The story is set in the future, in a society that is highly controlled for the purpose of achieving utopia, and ultimate harmony and tranquility among its residents. For the good of everyone, every person's future is planned out for them. The main character, Jonas, has been selected for a special position among the community, a position which causes him to question the society he was born into. The story borders on science fiction, though it does not include the high-tech inventions of most science fiction books. It's also darker in theme than last week's book, Holes, by Louis Sacher.
In case you're wondering, both Holes and The Giver are read in an American accent, and you can sample the reading of any book before you pick it for download, so you always know what you're getting.
You can get a free copy of the audio version of this book by going to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian and signing up for the free 14-day trial. Now, you don't have to choose a book I recommend! You can choose from any of their huge selection of titles. If you cancel your account before the 14 days is up, you still get to keep whichever audiobook you picked, and you pay nothing. It's a safe and free way to check Audible out, and we appreciate you going to our sponsors. Everyone wins.
That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.
I'll be back in two weeks.