Pairs like 'sock' and 'shock' are obvious; 'sour' and 'shower' might not be.
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 183rd episode.
The s sound and sh sound are both unvoiced fricatives that often cause problems for non-native English speakers. It's the similarity between these sounds that causes the trouble, both in a British accent and an American accent. A little practice and muscle memory building can go a long way toward helping you create both of these sounds clearly and accurately.
To practice comparing individual sounds, minimal pairs are very helpful. Minimal pairs are two words that have the same pronunciation except for one sound. For instance, sock and shock are minimal pairs. The only difference between the sounds is the first sound: an s sound in sock and an sh sound in shock.
Before we practice minimal pairs, though, let's talk about how to create these sounds. Both sounds are created by forcing air between the front section of the tongue and the tooth ridge. The tooth ridge is that bony area behind your top front teeth.
The s sound is created with the tongue farther forward, and the tip of the tongue is closer to the top front teeth. A narrow stream of air passes over the tip of the tongue through a front-to-back groove along the front of the tongue. It sounds like (s sound). Say that sound after me: (s sound), see, sign, mess.
The sh sound is created with the tongue back slightly farther in the mouth. The tongue is flatter, causing the air to pass in a flat stream between the front of the tongue (not the tip of the tongue as for the s sound) and the back of the tooth ridge. It sounds like (sh sound). Say that sound after me: (sh sound), she, shine, mesh.
When you're comparing the s sound to the sh sound, think of the air passing over the tongue in the shape of a string for the s sound: the flow of air is rounded, or circular. The air passing over the tongue during the sh sound is shaped more like a ribbon. That is, it's flat.
Let's practice using some minimal pairs. Sometimes minimal pairs are easier to compare when the spelling of the words is similar, so let's start with some words where the only difference is only the letter s or the letters sh in the spelling. Repeat the following words after me:
Now let's practice some words whose spellings are more different, but are still pronounced the same except for the s sound or sh sound:
Because I really want you to understand the idea that words can have very different spellings and still have quite similar pronunciations, let's repeat that second set of words again.
A more complete set of minimal pairs to practice exists as an exercise in our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2, which you can purchase as a physical book on Amazon.com or as a physical or digital ebook from Pronuncian.com. Both the physical version and downloadable version come with MP3 audio so you can listen and repeat as much as you like. Every time you repeat words correctly, you're rebuilding the muscle memory necessary to make permanent improvements to your speech.
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.