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Saturday July 11th, 2009
English Pronunciation Podcast 43-
How to Distinguish Between the Consonants /s/ and /z/
: This podcast improves your pronunciation by teaching you how to pronounce /s/ and /z/ distinctly and correctly.


In this week's podcast, we're going to learn how to pronounce the consonants /s/ and /z/ distinctly and correctly.

Learning to hear and say the difference between /s/ as in "Sue" and /z/ as in "zoo", will make your pronunciation more accurate and will make your accent sound more like a native speaker's.

Depending on what your first language is, you may find it difficult to pronounce and distinguish between these sounds.

More specifically, if your first language is Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Portugese or Russian, you may be confusing these two sounds.

But it's important for everybody to learn the distinction between /s/ and /z/.

In podcasts #41 and #42 we learned how to pronounce /s/ and /z/ correctly and in full detail.

I recommend that you listen to those podcasts before listening to this one, if you haven't already.

The focus of this week's podcast is:

  • Learning how to hear and say the difference between /s/ and /z/ , like a native speaker.
  • Practicing the difference between these two sounds in a special training exercise.

How to Pronounce /s/ :

So let's begin by reviewing how to pronounce the sound /s/.

Tongue: Point the tip of your tongue forward to the gum ridge (bump on the roof of your mouth.) Do not touch the ridge. The sides of the tongue should gently touch the side teeth. Create a small hole for the air to flow through.
Exhale and feel the air flow over the center of your tongue.

lips: spread slightly.

Exercise: Please listen and repeat /s/:

/s/ ... /s/

The Difference Between /s/ and /z/

/s/ and /z/ are a voiceless and voiced pair. This means that the tongue position for /s/ is exactly the same as the tongue position for /z/! That's right- if you can do the tongue position for one, then you can do the other!

The only difference between these consonants is that for /z/ we also use our voice. We vibrate our vocal folds.
For a more detailed lesson on voiceless and voiced consonants see podcast #30.

If your having trouble saying /z/, remember it's just /s/ plus your voice. In order to make a /z/ sound, maintain the same position for s/ and add your voice.
Let's try this in an exercise.


Alternate between / s/ and /z/. Pay careful attention to the form of your tongue.
Remember the form and movement is the same for both sounds. The only difference is the voicing. Please listen and repeat.

/s/ ... /z/ ... /s/ ... /z/

Still Having Problems?

Here's another exercise you can try:


Say /s/. Hold your tongue in the /s/ position, continue exhaling and then add your voice.


The trick is to coordinate holding the tongue position in /s/ and vibrating your voice.

Distinguishing Between /s/ and /z/:

Now that we've learned how to pronounce /s/ and /z/ correctly, let's work on developing a clear distinction between these sounds.
So we're going to do a special training exercise to help you develop a clear distinction between /s/ and /z/.

Exercise: Listen and repeat the following pair of words.
The words are exactly the same except that the first contains the consonant /s/ and the second contains the consonant /z/.
Listen and repeat, paying careful attention to the differences in voicing.

/s/             /z//

sip         zip

see           'z"

sue          zoo

fussy        fuzzy

race          raise

peace        peas

Miss          Ms.

As you can see, the letter <s> is sometimes pronounced /z/. The purpose of today's podcat is not to explain when <s> is pronounced /z/. Today's podcast is focusing simply on developing the ability to hear and say the difference between the two sounds. In a future podcasts, we will learn how to recognize when <s> is pronounced /z/.

Mastering the distinction between /s/ and /z/ is an important part of learning to speak English clearly and correctly. To the ears of an American, these two sounds are completely different and distinct .

Learning these sounds is one more important step toward speaking English with a standard American accent.

The best way to learn a new a sound is to practice it slowly.
The" secret " to speaking English clearly and quickly is practicing slowly and accurately. Learning to speak English with a standard American accent is gradual process, but if you work at it regularly and practice as often as you can, you're going to improve!

The Right Training Tools for Better Pronunciation:

It's important to have right training tools in order to improve your accent.

That's why I recommend that you check it out my English Pronunciation Course in mp3 format- Best Accent Training mp3s!

No matter what your first language is, Best Accent Training has the lessons you need for speaking English clearly and correctly.

Best Accent Training mp3s contains all the sounds of English with step by step instructions and practice exercises.
You'll learn how to pronunce the sound of English just like a native speaker and then practice it in words and common expressions and idioms that Americans use all the time.

You'll also get all the vowels of English, all the consonants, syllable stress lessons, intonation lessons and connected speech!
Every lesson comes with a complete transcript (pdf) so you can read along if you want.

Best of all, Best Accent Training is a fast and easy download that you can put on your mp3 player and take with you wherever you go!
I specially designed it for that purpose!

Download Best Accent Training today and practice your pronunciation wherever and whenever you want to!

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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