V. Sibilants: Seizing Sounds. by Soraya Rodríguez - ESL for Spanish Students and Teachers - Barcelona

Soraya Rodríguez

ESL for Spanish Students and Teachers


V. Sibilants: Seizing Sounds.

/ˈsiːzɪŋ saʊndz/

/s/ vs. /z/

The group of Sibilants is one of the groups of speech sounds that could easily give Spanish ESL students lots of hassle in terms of articulation specially in their voiced version. However, it is because the voiceless counterparts exist in the Spanish Phonetic Alphabet that they can do and they do them all, voiceless and voiced. All they need is training.

The first pair of Sibilants students generally practice is /s/ as in “rice” -for which you do not need your voice- as well as its voiced counterpart which is /z/ as in “rise”.

How and Why?

The way in which it is trained is by making sure students know that all they need to do is use their voice in order to replicate the one they find difficult, which is /z/ in this case.

Despite being voiced, /z/ also exists in the Spanish Phonetic Alphabet; yet, Spanish students are very likely to be unaware of it given that our graphic symbol for “z” in writing stands for a different phoneme (/θ/as in “think” /θɪŋk/)*. Thus, before getting into any practice with words in which they can see the way they are spelled in English –which could be misleading, it is main that students get to replicate /z/ on its own.

--> If you articulate /s/, you do not need your voice. If you add your voice onto /s/, you will articulate /z/. Thus, we can say that both /s/ and /z/ are the same but one of them requires your voice (/z/) while the other one does not (/s/).

In short: /s/ + voice = /z/


Start by training /z/ on its own followed by /z/ in words. Words that include /z/ and are good for training first are those one-syllable words in which /z/ would be graphically represented by “-zz” in spelling at the end of the word, so that they can work on extending that sound for longer, like “buzz” or “fizz”. You could also use any word that includes and “s” between two vowel sounds like “case” or “rise”.

Keep working on it by adding an extra syllable to the word, like “fizz vs. fizzy”, plurals like “case vs. cases” and 3rd person singular like “rise vs. rises”

Next steps -once the trainer has made sure /z/ can be replicated on its own as well as in simple words- could include discrimination for which pairing up words with both voiceless /s/ and voiced /z/ sibilants have proven to be very useful although difficult for students.

--> You could try “rice /
raɪs/ vs. rise /raɪz/”, “race /reɪs/ vs. raise/reɪz/”or “fleece /fliːs/ vs. fleas /fliːz/”

In my experience and taking students feedback into account, those words that include both sibilants together (like “season” /ˈsiːzn/ or "seize" /siːz /) have been the most difficult to replicate in classrooms, yet feasible with ongoing training.

This is just a brief explanation of what Spanish ESL classrooms should have included in Pronunciation lessons, for more examples and suggested exercises, in my opinion, both teachers and students should get a hold of Ann Baker’s “Ship or Sheep” https://www.cambridge.org/elt/shiporsheep/default.asp, which has always proven to be incredibly successful in classrooms.

So… If you’d like to keep reading about it, wait for my next post or send me a message on LinkedIn /link-tin/ if you think you can’t wait! ;) linkedin.com/in/soraya-rodríguez-a49b3412a

*/z/ exist phonetically speaking in Spanish in words where there is an "s" between vowels. However, it isn't as phonetically noticeable as it is in English and therefore many Spanish students may not even be aware of it. "Z" always sounds like /θ/ in standard Spanish, not in South American Spanish and many regional Spanish accents.  
--> Please contact me too -teacher or student- if you think you can help these posts by adding extra info, issues and/or ideas. Help me make things better!

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