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Saturday April 4th, 2009
English Pronunciation Podcast 30-
How to Pronounce Words that End in Voiced Consonants
: This podcast teaches you how to pronounce words that end in voiced consonants with a standard American accent.


In this week's podcast, we're going to learn an interesting rule of English pronunciation which can greatly improve your ability to be understood by native speakers.

Last week, we learned the difference between voiced and voiceless consosnants.

The focus of this weeks podcast is:

  • Learning how voiced and voiceless consonants affect the vowels which they come after.

As we discussed in last weeks podcast, some consonants are voiced. They involve our vocal chords. We can feel our vocal chords vibrating when we pronounce them.

For example: /z/ or /v/.

Other consonants are voiceless. They do not involve the vibration of our vocal chords.

For example: /s/ or / f/

Exercise: Hearing the Difference-

Let's Listen to the difference between "safe and "save".
Safe ends with a voiceless consonant /f/. Save ends with a voiced consonant /v./ As we discussed in last weeks podcast, /f/ and /v/ are a voiceless and voiced pair.
That means that /f/ and /v/ have the same lip and teeth position.
The position of our mouth is exactly the same for both sounds. The only difference is the difference in voicing- /f/ being voiceless and /v/ being voiced.

There's a More Subtle Difference:

One of the main differences between the words "safe" and "save" is the difference in voicing.
But that's not the only difference. There is another more subtle difference.
A difference which is a little more difficult to notice.

Exercise : Listen while paying attention to the length of the vowel in each word.

safe ... save

Which word had the longer vowel? Both words contain the same vowel /eI/ but perhaps you noticed that the vowel in the second word is longer.
This is because "save" ends with voiced consonant /v/.

Rule: When a stressed syllable ends in a voiced consonant, we make the vowel before it longer.
To put it simply, voiced consonants lengthen the vowels which they come after.
If the syllable ends in a voiced consonant, the vowel within that syllable will be longer.

Click here for a list of the voiced consonants of English.

For example: back ... bag

Both of these words are identical except for the final consonant. Back ends in voiceless /k/. Bag ends in /g/, a voiced consonant.

As a result, acoording to our rule, the vowel in "bag" will be longer.

The longer vowel acts as a signal to our listener as to which word we are saying.

This rule can be very useful when you have a sentence such as "I want that back."

If you're trying to say "back", you want to make the vowel short. If you're trying to say "bag" you want to make the vowel longer.

How this Improves your Pronunciation

Speaking this way, will greatly improve your ability to be understood by native speakers because a native speaker is not really listening to the final sound.
On an unconscious level, the native speaker is actually listening to the vowel length. When an American hears a long vowel- they're going to think "bag". But if they hear a short vowel, they're going to think "back".

In fact, Americans often have problems pronouncing final voiced consonants.
You may have noticed this, listening to native speakers, that it's often hard to tell the difference between their final /t/ and /d,/ /s/ and z/ /k/ and /g/.
Sometimes American drop final voiced sounds altogether and replace them with something known as the glottal stop which will be discussed in future podcaststs.

It's interesting to note that even Americans, native speakers, can have problems pronouncing final voiced sounds properly.
But there is a solution !
If you make the vowel longer, it will be clear to your listener as to which word you're saying. It will be clear to your listener that the word is ending in a final voiced sound .
So there will be no confusion as to whether you said "safe" or "save", "back" or "bag".

Exercise : Hearing and Saying the Difference:

You will hear two sentences. The sentences are exactly the same except for one word.
The only difference between the two words will be their endings.
The first sentence will have a word with a voiceless consonant at the end and the second sentence will have a word with a voiced consonant at the end.
Pay carefull attention to the difference in voicing and the difference in vowel length. Remember that the words that end in voiced consonants will have longer vowels.
Please listen and repeat.

Voiceless Final Consonant                       Voiced Final Consonant
                                                                                     (longer vowel)

Do want to make the bet?                        Do you want to make the bed?

I found twenty bucks on the street.                 I found twenty bugs on the street.

Looks into my ice when we toast.              Look into my eyes when we toast.  

Do you have any plants?                                    Do you have any plans?

Oh no, she's going to sink!                                    Oh no, she's going to sing!      

 Don't eat that crap! (junk food, sh*t,)                        Don't eat that crab!

Wow! Your teeth are so white!                              Wow, Your teeth are so wide!  

Use the Same "Tricks" and Methods as Native Speakers

As you can hear, lengthening the vowel before a voiced consonant can greatly improve the clarity of your speech.
It will make it much clearer to the listener what word you're saying.
In fact, I would say that lenghthening the vowel is a more reliable and easier method than voicing the consonant.
Again even native speakers have problems voicing these consonants. But by keeping the vowel long, they make it clear to their listener what word they're saying.

Start Building a Foundation with the Right Tools

Today's lesson was a somewhat advanced lesson in English pronunciation.

If you feel that you need more work and practice just learning the fundamentals, the basic consonants of English, I recommend trying Best Accent Training mp3s- a complete English pronunciation course in mp3 format. ( * comes with pdf transcripts for all lessons )

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No matter what your first language is, Best Accent Training has exercises especially for you!

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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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