Accent Reduction Tools by L2 Accent Reduction Centre
Use our accent guide to practice the difference between these sounds.
In linguistics, every sound has its own classification, depending on where it is produced in the mouth, how it is produced and whether the vocal cords are vibrating. This tip will focus on the characteristic of vocal cord vibration. Most voiceless English fricatives such as /s/, /sh/ and /f/ have voiced counterparts that are pronounced with the exact same manner and place of articulation, but the only difference is in the vibration of the vocal cords. While English has voiced fricatives such as /z/ and /v/, other languages such as Mandarin and some varieties of Spanish do not contain voiced fricatives in their inventory of sounds. If you find you have trouble differentiating between words such as “face” and “phase” or “half” and “have” in conversation, this tip will be helpful in training you to discriminate between and eventually producing these voiced variations of voiceless fricatives.
First, practice the individual sounds in isolation. Place a hand gently over the front of your throat, where your Adam’s Apple would be. This is where your vocal cords are located. First say the /s/ sound, hissing like a snake. You should not feel any vibration in your hand because your vocal cords are not moving. Compare this with its voiced counterpart, /z/. When saying the /z/ sound, you should feel a slight vibration in your hand due to the movement of your vocal cords. As a useful reminder, be careful not to accidentally include a vowel behind either the /s/ or the /z/ sound because vowels always involve vocal cord vibration and this will obscure any difference you may feel between them. Once you can successfully identify the difference between /s/ and /z/ in isolation, try including them in words, then sentences. A practice pair of words could be “bus” and “buzz”. A practice sentence could be “The bees were buzzing around on the bus.” Coming up with practice words and sentences on your own could also be a good exercise in recognizing which words require a /s/ sound and which require a /z/ sound. This same voicing exercise can also apply to many other sounds and their voiced counterparts such as /f/-/v/, /sh/-/zh/, and /th/-/the/.
Now you are well on your way to discriminating between voicing contrasts!