/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

Listen to today’s lesson: Advanced /r/ Words

In this lesson, we will practice advanced vocabulary with tricky spellings that include the letter ‘r’. The first section includes words with silent ‘r’ in which no /r/ sound is pronounced. After the first section, most of the words include an /r/ sound that is pronounced. English Jade subscribers should follow along with the lesson PDF to see the spelling and IPA transcription of each example word.

Pronunciation Note on /r/

The /r/ sound as represented by the letter ‘r’ is a sound that many non-native speakers of English struggle to get right. This is either because /r/ doesn’t exist in speaker’s native language, e.g. Japanese and some dialects of Chinese, or because /r/ is pronounced differently in the speaker’s native language. 

To give an example, Spanish speakers of English often mispronounce the /r/ sound. This is because in Spanish the /r/ sound is trilled. When pronouncing a trilled /r/ the tongue rolls against the alveolar ridge multiple times which vibrates the sound of the /r/. A trilled /r/ sounds sexy in English, but in terms of pronunciation it is incorrect. 

Another variation in the pronunciation of /r/ is the flapped /r/ which is found in most Scottish dialects and South African English. The flapped /r/ is close to the trilled /r/ in that it is pronounced by making contact with the alveolar ridge. However, the flapped /r/ only makes contact with the ridge once as it glides past it. Here is an example of me speaking the Elvish language with a flapped /r/: ‘“Ennyn Durin Aran Moria.’ 

And finally, In Standard British English we have what’s called a ‘Standard English R’. In linguistics, it is called the postalveolar approximant. When making this /r/ sound the tongue tip gets very close to the alveolar ridge but it does not vibrate against it. You can still hear vibrations coming from the vocal chords but it is nothing like the strength of vibrations in the trilled /r/ in Spanish.

All that’s rather technical. The best way to get to grips with /r/ is to listen closely and then practice. So here we go!

Practice the Pronunciation of silent /r/

fibre: figs are high in fibre

lustre: the lustre of Royal Worcester

meagre: a meagre diet of gruel

Practice /r/ words with tricky spellings

wraith: the nine ring wraiths

wreak: one day I will wreak my revenge

rhinoceros: God only knows the rhinoceros’ nose

catarrh: phlegm and catarrh, aargh!

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