/ʃ/ Sound: Practice your Pronunciation

In this lesson, we will practice the /ʃ/ sound. Buckle your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen because this lesson’s going to be difficult. That’s because there are a variety of spellings for the /ʃ/ sound in English. Due to this we have many spelling patterns to learn. 

Before we begin practising the /ʃ/ sound, I want to make sure that you’re pronouncing it correctly. This is the sound we make when someone’s having a conversation in the library and we want them to be quiet, ‘Shush!’. You’re getting this sound wrong if it sounds lispy, wet or spitty. What we want to hear instead is a short, sharp burst: sh, sh, sh

To make this sound, your jaw should be slightly open so that you have a gap of about 4mm between your top and bottom teeth. Place your tongue tip lightly but firmly where the two front teeth meet. Your tongue should be tense with the back of the tongue raised up (you may not be able to feel the position the back of the tongue is in). Now, when you force air out, air will pass around the sides of the tongue to create a /ʃ/ sound: sh, sh, sh.

Let’s compare /ʃ/ to sounds it is sometimes confused with:

  • If you hear /s/ in ‘say’ then your tongue is too high and you need to bring it down.
  • If you hear ‘zh’ /ʒ/ as in ‘vision’ your tongue is in the correct place. However, the difference is that /ʒ/ is a voiced sound, which means you can hear vibrations from the vocal tract. In contrast, for /ʃ/ which is unvoiced, you only hear the sound of air being forced out.
  • If you hear ‘ch’ /ʧ/ as in ‘chair’ your tongue is in the correct place but the airflow is different. /ʧ/ is different because it begins with a stop before the air is released. This means there is a short built up of pressure by the tongue just before it is released.

One more time practising /ʃ/:

When pronouncing /ʃ/ you will hear the sound of friction as air is pushed out. /ʃ/ is a fricative consonant.

Practice /ʃ/ Sh: Some Examples from the Lesson Recording

cash: stash some of this cash

gash: the knife slashed a gash on his shin

shell: she sells seashells on the seashore

shrimp: the short shelf life of shrimp

polish: don’t forget to polish the Polish dresser

selfish: selfish people are not at all ashamed about it

Learning English via dialogues is what stops you from going blank in conversation. This is because so much of what we say in specific real life situations follows a set pattern which is the same nearly every time. Speaking a language and having a conversation is a lot more predictable and repetitive than we generally realise or like to admit. We feel like we are expressing ourselves and showing our uniqueness with words, but really, most of the time we’re just following the same patterns of conversation that we’ve said potentially thousands of times before in our lives.

To make knowing what to say in English  much less stressful, the short cut is to learn what these patterns of conversation are and then to repeat them again and again until we have memorised them. These patterns are not about expressing ourselves as a unique individual; these patterns are about just knowing what to say in a specific real life situation. By learning and repeating these patterns, which are practically the same every time we find ourselves in that same situation, we always know what to say, even when our speaking skills are otherwise very poor and we don’t know a lot of vocabulary.

One of the most basic conversational patterns in a language is introducing yourself. Absolute beginners are able to memorise this pattern and then begin using it straight away:

Example Conversational Pattern – English Introduction

Speaker A: Hi, I’m Jade. What’s your name?

Speaker B: I’m Tom. Nice to meet you.

Speaker A: You too.

A problem only occurs when a language learner wants to reinvent the wheel to be original when communicating speaking English. For example, the person is used to expressing themselves uniquely with precise and descriptive language or with a sense of humour in his or her native language. This person struggles to speak English because he or she is always trying too hard to be express himself/herself uniquely. This kind of language learner always feels disappointed or frustrated when learning a foreign language. This kind of learner wants to be able to show his or her real personality in communication, however, this tends not to be possible until much higher levels of knowing a foreign language.

To get to the point where one can stop going blank when speaking English, one needs to memorise conversational patterns and quit trying to be original when speaking English. Simply commit to learning the language you need one specific situation at a time by learning the required conversation pattern for the situation.

To get to the stage where you always know what to say in specific real life situations in English, regular and repeated practice with dialogues is essential. Listen to the dialogues again and again to learn the conversational patterns. Remember, at low levels, trying to be original only leads to frustration and disappointment with oneself. Practise the same dialogues again and again, and then practice them some more. This is important so that conversational patterns become automatic to you when speaking English (just like they are in your native language). Once you have learnt the patterns properly, you will always know what to say in those specific real life situations and your mind will stop going blank.