Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Speech Training: My fuzzy daughter - Voiced vs. Unvoiced Sounds

My inspiration for this entry comes from my husband (a non-native English speaker) who continues to tell me every time our 2 1/2 month old daughter starts to cry that, "she's a litte fuzzy today."

"Fuzzy?" I picture our daughter with a beard and hairy legs before I switch to 'English trainer' mode and try to decipher what he meant to say. "Fuzzy or fussy?" The answer is clear.

This mistake is a very common one among native and non-native English speakers alike. The words are almost identical. The only difference is whether you use your voice on the s/z sound or not. 'S' is an unvoiced sound, whereas 'z' is a voiced sound.

These two types of sounds are very similar and can easily be confused. Generally speaking, the position of the lips and tongue are the same in order to produce the sounds. The only difference is whether you use your voice.

Here are some other consonant pairs that can lead to the same confusion (the voiced sound is listed first in each pair):

b-p, d-t, g-k, th(this)-th(thank), v-f

One way you can practice voiced and unvoiced sounds is by creating minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are pairs of words that are identical except for the one sound you are trying to practice. ‘Pat’ and ‘bat’ are an example of a minimal pair that helps to practice the ‘p/b’ distinction. You can create minimal pairs for any sounds you would like to practice. For more information on minimal pairs, see my earlier post.

Two other ways you can tell the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds are:
1. Put two fingers over your voice box and make different sounds. You will feel your vocal chords vibrate during voiced sounds.
2. Put the palm of your hand in front of your mouth. You will feel an explosion of air when you make unvoiced sounds.

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