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Learning the Difference Between Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

In this lesson we will review the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds in American English. This is a fundamental principle that is important for all American English speakers to learn in order to communicate clearly and effectively.

Many of you learning English as a second language might have a firm grasp of the basics, but being familiar with a language’s subtleties is necessary in order to master it. One step that I really encourage my students to take when learning English is understanding the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds in American English. Like any new language, and especially with English,  those who truly understand such nuances will demonstrate better American English pronunciation at both professional and conversational levels.

Knowing how words are correctly pronounced will enable you to come across as a knowledgeable and intelligent person who strives for perfection. On the other hand, mispronouncing words might make you sound uneducated and less refined than your counterparts. In this day and age, in order to succeed, you have got to do your best to differentiate yourself from your competition and become an expert on as many things as you can. Learning a language—especially American English—is an invaluable asset, and you should try to refine that asset to the utmost of your ability.

So that brings us back to the question – what is the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds? The answer is quite simple: A voiced sound is one that causes your voice box to vibrate.  An unvoiced sound is one that does not cause your voice box to vibrate. While voiced sounds originate in your throat and are created by the vibration of your vocal cords, unvoiced sounds are created in your mouth, most of the time by using your tongue, teeth and lips.

A very easy way to see the difference between a voiced versus unvoiced sound is by feeling your voice box when speaking the sounds that a snake and bumblebee make. Put your fingers right here on your throat and replicate the hiss of a snake – ‘hisssssss.’ Now do the same and replicate the buzz of a bumblebee – ‘buzzzzzzzz.’ Hear how the sound we make when mimicking a snake is unvoiced and created in your mouth? ‘Hissssss.’ Whereas the sound we make when copying a bumblebee is a voiced sound, caused by the vibration of your vocal cords? ‘ Buzzzzzz.’  This example is important.  If you were to voice the ‘sssss’ in ‘hiss,’ this would cause the listener to be confused, as it would sound like the pronoun ‘his’ to the listener and completely change the meaning of the sentence.

Here are some other examples of unvoiced sounds:

  • power
  • fare
  • thirst
  • shed
  • cheers
  • kind

And here are some other examples of voiced sounds:

  • they
  • zero
  • jig
  • guide
  • vase
  • beer

As you can hopefully see from my examples, understanding this difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds is very important to improving your spoken English and being understood. Eventually once you perfect the difference between the two sounds, along with the many other techniques in our courses, those who are learning English as a second language with American English University are putting themselves in a unique position to come across as people who are willing to go the extra mile in order to better themselves.

The more comfortable and familiar you are with American English pronunciation, the more natural and confident you will become when you speak English. These attributes will undoubtedly lead to success in whichever endeavors you choose to pursue.  As I always like to say, “Invest in yourself, invest in your future!”

 

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