Compare s/z sounds to sh/zh sounds
s/z sound and sh/zh sound illustration
Sound voicing and articulation
The s sound and sh sound are alike in that both sounds are unvoiced. This means that the vocal cords do not vibrate during the production of the sound. In contrast, the z sound and zh sound are voiced and do include vibration of the vocal cords during the sounds. Since non-native speakers often substitute one voiced sound for another voiced sound, or one unvoiced sound for another unvoiced sound, it is often helpful to practice sounds in those pairs.
All four of these sounds are continuous consonants that are articulated by forcing air to pass between the front of the tongue and the tooth ridge. This similarity in production requires precise placement of the tip of the tongue in order to differentiate between sounds.
The s sound and z sound are produced when the front of the tongue is placed close to the front of tooth ridge. The tongue is kept tense as air is pushed between a small groove along the center of the tip of the tongue and the front of the tooth ridge.
In contrast, the sh sound and zh sound are produced with the front of the tongue more flat and farther back in the mouth. The friction occurs between the back of the tooth ridge and the front of the tongue. The air is pushed through wider area instead of through a small groove.
Comparing s sound and z sound to the sh sound and zh sound
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