ESL Pronunciation s and z sounds

A really important part of teaching English as a second language is teaching ESL pronunciation. Lots of Spanish students find it difficult to know when to pronounce the  ‘z’ or ‘s’ sound for third person verbs such as:

  • Plays (z sound)
  • Stays (z sound)
  • Buys (z sound)
  • Works (s sound)
  • Talks (s sound)
  • Hopes (s sound)

Teaching students the rules can often help them see when to use the two different sounds.

Voiced sounds are when the vocal cords are used to make the sound.  If you put your hand on your throat or cheeks and make the sound ‘z’ you will feel the vibrations from your vocal cords.  When you make the ‘s’ sound you won’t feel the vibration and this is called an unvoiced or voiceless sound – there is no vibration.

The rule with when to use the ‘s’ or ‘z’ sound is as follows:

If the verb (in the infinite form) ends in a voiced sound then you add the ‘z’ sound.

If the verbs (in the infinite form) ends in a voiceless sound then you add the ‘s’ sound.

If you take the verb ‘to play’  – get your student to put their hands on their throat and say the verb out loud.  They ‘ay’ sound will give a vibration so they have to add the ‘z’ sound at the end.

If you take the verb ‘to work’ – get your student to put their hands on their throat and say the verb out loud.  The ‘k’ sound has no vibration so they have to add the ‘s’ sound at the end.

Have fun with phonetics!

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