Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Tarle Speech and Language Jennifer Tarle English Pronunciation

Have you heard words in English that sound like they use a “z” sound?

When you see these words is it confusing because they actually use an “s?”

Today we’re going to look at words that have a “z” sound but don’t actually use this letter in their makeup.

You will hear from an expert how to make sense out of this, and to work towards a more thorough understanding of this moving forward.

You will see what rules to use and ultimately how to use these in conversation.

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Expertise On A Tricky Subject

When do you pronounce the “s” as a “z” in English?

Do you struggle when it comes to voicing the “s” sound as a “z” sound?

We have a special guest with us today who can really help you if this is something that you may struggle with.

Jennifer Tarle is a certified speech pathologist, and has studied this extensively, and received a Masters degree in speech pathology.

She is a published author, and is an expert on the subject of pronunciation.

She comes to us from Tarle Speech and Language in Chicago.

She works with kids, but also works with those trying to learn English.

Jennifer has been with us before, but it’s been a long time.

She talked about immediate action steps to help with vowel sounds when she was on the show last time.

The focus and expertise she brings to us today is all about working through the potential confusion of the z sound.

Focusing In On The Z Sound

Today we’re talking about the “z” sound, which can be hard.

It’s about pronouncing it but also spelling it, which can be confusing.

Why is this so hard?

Most people don’t think they need to work on this sound, as it can be a little sneaky.

Nobody thinks about this as they focus on the “th” sound instead.

The “z” is very tricky because words are often not spelled with the letter z and so it makes it even more complicated.

It is there and very present in the English language, but you may have easily overlooked it.

This also exists in other languages which adds to the confusion even more.

The “z” sound is a strong longer sound in English as you may know it.

You know this in “zoo” and “zero” and “zip” and this is when it’s obvious.

How do you know when to pronounce the “z” sound in a word that doesn’t seem quit as obvious?

The Rules To Help You In Identifying and Using The Z Sound

There are four solid rules of what to watch out for that can help you tremendously.

These rules will tell you when the “z” sound appears and how to use it.

This is about pronunciation, but it may also help with vocabulary and general English usage too.

  1. When the letter “s” comes between two vowel sounds, you pronounce it as the letter “z”: Some good examples of this are in the words cousin, reason, and teasing. In all of these examples and others like it, you see the s in between the two vowels. This will give you the indication to sound it out as a z rather than an s. This is the first rule to help you to identify when the z sound is the right way to go.
  2. If the letter “s” is before a voiced sound: If you’re not sure of what a voiced sound is, try to put your hand on your throat and if it’s vibrating strongly then that’s it. You can feel the vibration and that will help to indicate that this is a voiced sound. You can find examples of these words in wisdom, cosmic, and spasm. This is a very tangible example because you can actually feel the way that you are sounding these words out. Try it and see how this works in these example words.
  3. Look for the many words that are spelled with “se” at the end: Most of these words are going to be pronounced as “z”. Especially if it’s a verb such as arouse, appease, and choose. Consider this in some of the verbs you may use everyday. These are also words that you may not necessarily think about much but they fall into this category too. Words such as these, those, cause, and because are great examples of this.
  4. Memorizing words: There are a lot of words that are function words but they may not carry a lot of meaning. Words such as has, is, was, and as are all great examples. We use these words all the time, but we don’t really stop to think about them. They play a very important role in our conversations, but we just know that they are there without much thought. Just get out there and speak and use these, but you do want to be clear on intention. You want to avoid confusion, and using this one z sound can help you a lot.

Work on the z sound because it will also help you to work on your vowels at the same time.

This is about voicing and you’re already doing it, so you’re getting extra value out of it.

When you work on the z sound you are instantly forced to work on the vowel sound so you’re getting two lessons out of one.

Tips For Making This Work For You With Ease

How do you go from understanding these words and sounds intellectually to using them in conversation?

This is where you have to find the fine balance between easing into this and challenging yourself.

This may not come naturally or easily at first, but eventually you will get the hang of this.

These tips can help you to figure out how to properly use this sound, and to get in the practice that you need on your own.

  1. Be easy on yourself and start by practicing them out loud: This may not come naturally at first, and that’s okay. Be easy on yourself and recognize that this like so many other aspects of English takes time to learn. Try practicing these words out loud and eventually it will click. Be diligent about practicing, but don’t be hard on yourself if it’s challenging at first. Eventually it will get easier and become more natural!
  2. Make a list of words that you use often: See which ones fall into this pattern and if you practice words you use often it will help. Take the time to identify the words that you use often in conversation. This may even uncover additional words that you hadn’t even thought about. When you focus on words used frequently though, then you can really focus in on how this works in conversation. This will help you to see firsthand how these words sound and how you should use them.
  3. Go online and find some paragraphs: You can even have it read out loud to you. Try using a site such as Breaking News English to help you with this tactic. Look at these words online and even try to highlight the “z” sound and then you get into the habit of using it. This will prepare you to use it in conversation if you practice this on your own. Looking for paragraphs and highlighting these words can also help you to see where these words may be used in conversation.

These tips can help you to ease into this and become better at using this sound in conversation.

You want to take your time with this, but also challenge yourself on your own so that you can become better at it.

Taking It To The Next Level

You have the rules and now you have to do the work to get ready to use it in conversation.

If you don’t want to do all these steps right away, then start by using some of the examples from this episode.

Take it one word at a time and focus on that to really master it.

This can be a plan that works in steps so that you come to understand how this works one word at a time.

This is a time where you can put this into practice at home to gain confidence–and then you can go out into the world to use it in conversation.

If you’re looking for another resource you can find Jennifer online to offer you some additional opportunities.

You can find her on her website at .

You can also find many free classes when you go to her YouTube challen at tarlespeech .

These resources and the ones provided above can help you to readily recognize when and where the z sound appears.

Eventually you will know what to look for and come to recognize when it is to be used and how to pronounce these words in conversation.

This is when you take your English learning to another level!


The “z” sound can be a tricky one at first, but the more you practice it the easier it will get.

These tips will help you to understand when to use the “z” sound and how it works in words and sentences.

These ideas can be great, but you do have to put in the effort and practice on your own.

Once you understand where this sound typically appears then you can figure out when and how to use it.

The key to becoming better with this is practice, and now you have some great tips to help you along the way.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Jennifer’s Bio:

Tarle Speech and Language was founded in 2005 by Jennifer Tarle in order to empower individuals at all stages of life through better communication skills.

Jennifer is a Certified Speech Pathologist with over 24 years of experience in speech-related training and pathologies.

Jennifer earned a BS degree and an MA degree in Speech Pathology from Kent State University. She is licensed in CA, IL, & OH and holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA).

Jennifer is a self-published author of accent workbooks, audio CDs, DVDs, and iBooks. Materials are designed to be easy and effective. Products are all downloadable so that you can practice on the go! Get Tarle Speech and English Pronunciation practice pages and books on Kobo, TpT, iTunes, Google Play. Introductory through advanced classes on foreign accents are taught throughout the city of Chicago, via video conferencing, and throughout the world.

Jennifer implemented her Tarle Speech pronunciation and accent reduction program at the Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing, China and at E4TG in Tokyo, Japan. New courses are available on-demand at Udemy. To help even more people, she launched a video podcast, The Minute of Speech, in 2007. It has grown and expanded. Join over 60,000 subscribers for new FREE lessons every Tuesday and Friday on Tarle Speech and Language English YouTube’s Channel.

For more information or to contact Jennifer to schedule a consultation or class visit Try it! People will notice the difference!

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