The American English Accent:: The Voiced And Unvoiced
The voiced and unvoiced consonants
In this section we will try to clarify the difference between
the voiced consonants and the unvoiced consonants.
If you want to master English pronunciation you have to able to
distinguish between these two types of consonants. This is
necessary for you to learn the proper pronunciation when you
learn new vocabulary. And more importantly you need to know the
difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants to be able to
pronounce the words of English correctly. What makes one
consonant be voiced and another not?
A consonant is voiced when it makes the vocal cords vibrate. It
is voiceless when it is pronounced without vibrating the vocal
The sound of the letters "p" and "b"
For example, the sounds indicated by the letters "b" and "p"
differ only in their vocalization (voicing). The are both
"bilabials", that is, they are produced by closing both lips.
But the "b" is voiced and the "p" is unvoiced. In this article,
we will follow common practice and indicate the letters of the
alphabet with quotes ("b" and "p") and the sounds with slashes
(/b/ and /p/)
You can appreciate the difference by lightly touching with the
tips of your fingers your "Adam's Apple" (the voice box that you
can see in the front of your throat) as you pronounce the word
bowl . You can feel the vibration with the tips of our fingers.
Concentrate on the first sound, the consonant /b/ before passing
to the vowel represented by the "o". Notice that you can
lengthen the sound (something is heard!) without the "o". This
is because /b/ is a voiced consonant.
Now pronounce the word pole. Do you feel the vibration in the
vocal cords? No. The reason is that /p/ is an unvoiced
consonant. Notice that you you can't lengthen the sound or hear
When you pronounce these sounds, don't forget the advice we
already gave you in other articles: exaggerate the value of the
vowel "o" with a strong English accent!
Listen to the following exercise until you can distinguish
betwen the two sounds and produce them yourself.
You should be able to telll the difference between the /p/ and
the /b/ in the sentence The doctor said: "Bill, take your pill!
Try it now!
The sounds of the English letters /k/ (sometimes "c") and /g/
It is not only the sounds /p/ and /b/ that are voiced or
unvoiced. The same distinction holds for the sounds represented
by the letters "k" y "g" in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
By the way, do you see that it will not be hard for you to learn
the symbols of the IPA? Many of the symbols, like the k and the
g are already familiar to you. They are the normal letters of
The IPA symbol k interests us now. It is the "hard" sound of the
letter "c", the sound that the letter "c" usually takes before
the letters "a", "o", and "u", for example in the words car,
Now can you see how the IPA system makes it easy for you to
learn the pronunciation of new words? Now, we don't have to
worry that sometimes the letter "c" has the sound of the IPA
symbol k (as in the word cold) or that sometimes the same letter
"c" of the English alphabet is pronounced as the IPA s (as in
the words cell ). ! Now try to feel in your voice box the
vibration in the word coal! You can't because it is the unvoiced
partner in the pair. If you touch your voice box while you
pronounce the word goal, you do feel the vibration because the
sound g is voiced.
Practice the two words coal and goal. But keep on pronouncing
the the English vowel with its lengthening. Exaggerate the
English language character of the vowel. Don't pronounce it as
if it were col or gol in your language. And also remember the
explosive nature of the consonant represented by the "c" in
English when it is pronounced as the IPA k. Blow out the candle
when you say coal.