NELS has another one day pronunciation lesson soon, so I have been busy preparing for the lesson. We are going to be looking at the sounds /s/ as in snake, /z/ as in zoo, /ʃ/ as in shower and /ʒ/ as in television. For learners of English, certain sounds can be hard to not only pronounce, but also to distinguish. When you don’t have the same sound in your native language, your ears and brain have not been trained to hear it, and therefore your mouth has not been trained to be able to make it. So, pronunciation is just a matter of training – if you can understand how to use your mouth to produce the sound, then you will be training your brain to recognise it. That’s why I always say that listening and speaking are inextricably linked – if you improve one, the other also improves. And I believe the best way to do so is to work on your pronunciation first, then if you can say it clearly, you will more likely hear it clearly. And both speaking and listening are so important in your English, whether you are learning communication and conversation, or for exam based courses like TOEIC, TOEFL and Eiken.
Anyway, as part of my research for my lesson, I became interested in the pronunciation of final ’s’ in words. Sometimes it is pronounced as a /s/, and sometimes as a /z/, and sometimes as /Iz/ (/I/ is the phonetic symbol that sounds like a short ‘i’ sound).
So, how do you know which one to use? Well, I found a pretty good website which explains.I’ll show you it in a minute. The main principle is whether the final sound before the final ‘s’ is voiced or voiceless. That is to say, do you use your voice, like when you say /z/, or not, as when you say /s/? If the final sound before the final ‘s’ is voiceless, you say a voiceless final /s/, as in ‘stops’. /p/ is voiceless, so you add voiceless /s/. If the final sound before the final ‘s’ is voiced, you add a voiced /z/, as in calls. /l/ is voiced so you add voiced /z/. Got it?
A few sounds take the /Is/ sound. They are: /s/ kisses; /z/ freezes; /ʃ/ crashes; /ʧ/ watches; and /ʤh/ changes.
You may notice that all of these words end with the same letters – es.
Why don’t you test this rule yourself? Write down the first 20 nouns and verbs that you think of, and add s to the end. Then put them into 3 categories of /s/, /z/ or /Is/ final /s/ sounds. Even better, type your list and answers in a comment to this post, so everyone can learn from you!
And check out this website for an easy to understand explanation: http://evaeaston.com/s-z-Iz-pattern.html