Let’s talk about an error in English Pronunciation that is extremely common for people who are learning to speak English fluently. Chances are, you probably make this error and don’t even realize it.
We need to talk about what we call, voiced and voiceless English Sounds. This is most likely a new term for you so let me explain what I mean.
Go ahead and touch your throat and say these sounds: /b, d, g/
Do you feel the vibration in your throat? That vibration is caused by the vocal chords in your throat moving or vibrating so you feel that vibration on your hand.
These are called VOICED sounds because your voice is ON. So when you feel that vibration, it means it’s a voiced sound.
Now touch your throat again and say these sounds: /p, t, k/
Do you feel the vibration in your throat? No, it’s not there anymore.
These are quiet sounds or VOICELESS sounds.
These sounds don’t vibrate your throat because your vocal chords are open and loose so the air flows through your throat freely.
These are called voiceless sounds because your voice is OFF. So when you don’t feel the vibration, you are saying a voiceless sound.
All English sounds are either a voiced or a voiceless sounds. Either your voice is on (as in /b, d, g/ or it’s off (/p, t, k).
Now let’s talk about the shape of your mouth while you say these sounds.
Say the sound /b/. This is a voiced sound because when you feel your throat, you feel the vibration /b/.
What is your mouth doing when you say this sound? /b/ Your lips are together, then you release the sound with a burst of air. Try it - /b/.
Now say the sound /p/. This is a voiceless sound because when you feel your throat, you do not feel the vibration.
What is your mouth doing when you say this sound? /p/ Your lips are together, then you release the sound with a burst of air, /p/ just like the /b/ sound.
Notice that the shape of our mouth is exactly the same for these two sounds.
So what makes them different?
It’s the voicing! Say these two sounds again while feeling your throat. /b/ & /p/
Your voice is ON during the first sound /b/
and your voice is OFF during the second sound /p/
But your mouth stays in the exact same position for both sounds.
These two sounds are what we call pairs. Everything is the same, the only difference is whether your voice is on or off.
You will find these pairs a lot in English. Take a look at the list of voiced and voiceless sounds and practice saying these sounds with your voice ON for the voiced sounds and OFF for the voiceless sounds.
Voiced: /b, d, g, z, v, zh, j, TH, w, y, m, n, ng, l, r/
Voiceless: /p, t, k, s, f, sh, ch, th, h/
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Annie Ruden M.S. CCC-SLP
English Pronunciation Trainer