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Saturday March 28th, 2009
English Pronunciation Podcast 29-
Introduction to the Consonants of English
: This podcast teaches you the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.


In this week's podcast, we're going to learn about voiced and voiceless consonants.

Learning the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants will make your pronunciation more accurate and will make your accent sound more like a native speaker.

Many of the consonants of English can be divided into two categories: voiced and voiceless.

*Today's podcast will not cover all the consonants . Future podcasts will cover specific consonants in greater detail.
But before doing that, it's important to understand the difference of voiceles and voiced consonants.

The focus of this weeks podcast is:

  • Learning to hear and say the difference between a voiced and a voiceless consonant
  • Practicing these differences in some key words

So let's begin by explaining what exactly voiced and voiceless consonants are.

Simply put, voiced consonants involve our voice, the vibration of our vocal folds; voiceless consonants do not involve our voice.

Exercise : Hearing and Saying the Difference:

Let's try to hear and feel the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.

Place your fingers on your Adam's apple.The Adam's apple is the bump on the front of your neck. This is the area where your vocal folds are located.

Now say the sound /s/, like in the word "see". .../s/

Now do this again but say the sound /z/ like in the word "zoo". .../z/

Notice how you can feel vibrations on the sound /z/ but not when you say /s/. This is because /s/ is a voiceless consonant and / z/ is a voiced consonant. We use our vocal folds to say /z/ but not to say /s/.

What's interesting is that /s/ an /z/ have exactly the same tongue position but the only difference is that /s/ is voiceless and /z/ is voiced . Even more interesting is that many voiced consonants in English have a voiceless partner and similarly, (most) every voiceless has a voiced partner.

For example, let's look at the consonants / f / and / v/.

Make the sound /f / like in "fun" or "fan" while touching your vocal chords.

Please listen and repeat /f/.

Now put your teeth and lips in the exact same positon as /f/ but add your voice.

Please listen and repeat.

As you can see, the result is a /v/ sound. This is because / f /and /v/ have the same lip and tooth position. Their only difference is the vibration of the vocal folds in / v /.

Let's alternate between / f /and / v /.

I recommend that you use a small mirror to see how the position is the same for both consonants. The only difference is the vibration of your vocal folds.

Please listen and repeat. /f/ ... /v/

Why is this Important for my Pronunciation?

It's important to master the differences between voiced and voiceless consonants because many students of English often make a voiced consonant sound voiceless or vice versa, a voiceless sound voiced. This is just one of several factors which can result in an accent. It can also be quite confusing to the listener.


Here's a list of the consonants of English divided into voiced and voiceless pairs.
(*This list only contains consonants which have a voiced or a voiceless partner)

Let's practice saying each pair while we gently touch our vocal folds to feel the vibrations or the absence of vibrations. The tongue and lip position will be the same for each pair- the only difference will be the voicing.
(Main spellings are in < >

Voiceless Consonant         Voiced Consonant

/p/                                                 /b/

/k/                                                 /g/

/t/                                                  /d/

/f/                                                   /v/

/s/                                                  /z/

/ʃ/ <sh>                                  /ʒ/ <usually spelled<s> but has a few spellings

/tʃ/  <ch>                               /dʒ/ <g> <j>

/θ/ <th>                                 /ð/    <th>

Now let's do the same exercise except with words. I'm going to say a pair of words. The words are exactly the same except for one consonant in each word. The first word contains a voiceless consonant. The second will contain its voiced equivalent.

If you look in the mirror when you say each pair, there should be no difference in what you see. They should look exactly the same.

Exercise: listen and repeat the following pairs of words, paying careful attention to voicing.

Voiceless Consonant         Voiced Consonant

pie                                              buy

could                                          good

tie                                                die

fan                                              van

Sue                                             zoo

cash                                          casual

cheap                                         jeep

teeth                                          teethe

As you can see, some consonants are more difficult than others to pronounce. This is because your native language may not have the consonant or because the consonant may not appear at a specific point in a word.(beginning, end or middle)

Depending on your native language, certain consonants will be more challenging than others.

Future podcasts will focus on specific consonants in more detail.

Hearing and saying the difference between the voiced and the voiceless consonants is often quite challenging. It often takes a lot of practice until you can hear and pronounce the difference.

But with practice you will get it!
Practice the sounds of English slowly and repetitively and you will begin to hear a difference in the way you speak.
Repetition is key! Doing is key.
Accent reduction isn't a thinking activity; it's more of a doing activity.

You want to slowly and carefully practice the sound of English again and again until they become automatic,until they become muscle memory- The ability to do something automatically without thinking.

Think of dancers, athletes, musicians, singers: how do they get so good at what they do? They practice over and over again until it becomes automatic and they can do it naturally.

The same is true with English pronunciation and accent reduction!

The Right Tools are important:

In order to reach this skill level, it's important to have good training materials. You need the right tools to accomplish your goal.

That's why I recommend Best Accent Training mp3s-a complete English pronunciation course in mp3 format. ( * comes with pdf transcripts for all lessons )
Best Accent Training gives you step by step instruction for pronouncing all the sounds of English cleary and correctly just like a native speaker!
You'll find all the vowels, all the consonants, syllable stress, intonation and connected speech. It's all there! And best of all, it's in mp3 format.

Download Best Accent Training onto your mp3 player and take it with you wherever you go!

Any questions, comments or suggestions ? Contact us at:  contact@englishpronunciationpod.com

Thank you and see you next time!


After practicing with Best Accent Training daily,
I can say that my English communication has improved 100%. "

- Domingo Ponce Rodriguez- - Marketing Manager USA (Spain)

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