IELTS Preparation Unit 5: Pronunciation - "S" and "Z"

Hi, I'm Christine and I teach IELTS at Kaplan Dublin. I've been with Kaplan for two years now and have taught English in China, too.

I'll be giving you monthly tips on how to prepare for and take the IELTS exam.

I'm looking forward to hearing your own hints and responses. The best of (Irish) luck in your exam!

This week we're going to look at a pronunciation issue many of my Spanish speaking students have. Can you guess what it is?

You've got it - some of the differences between the 's' and 'z' sounds in English. Let's explore this issue around a very common IELTS topic: 'Museums and Exhibitions.'

Firstly, you need to be aware of voiced and unvoiced sounds in English. Voiced sounds are when the vocal chords are used to make a sound. If you put your two fingertips to the middle of your throat and say the sound 'b', you should feel a vibration; this is voiced. Now do the same thing, but say the 'p' sound. Can you feel a vibration?

I hope you said no, as this is an unvoiced sound.

• Now here's the rule:
- If the infinitive of a verb ends in a voiced sound, you add the 'z' sound.
- If the infinitive of a verb ends in an unvoiced sound, add the 's' sound.

Let's look at an example:

Say the words 'rubs' and 'stops'. When you end the word 'rubs', you should feel the vibration in your throat and therefore be making the 'z' sound. When you say 'stops', there should be no vibration, so you should hear the 's' sound at the end of the word.

Repeat this exercise with the sounds, 'g' and 'k', saying the words 'begs' and 'works'. When you feel comfortable, record yourself saying the words. Remember to keep your fingers to your throat so you can feel the vibration and know you are using the correct sound.

Here's a link to me doing the exercise above. Do you sound like me? This rule can also be applied to a number of other words (museums/arts), but not all of them, so check your dictionary if you're not sure.

Now let's have a look at how to apply this to practicing for your speaking test. Here are some common questions asked about museums and exhibitions:

• Why do people go to museums?
• Have you ever been to a museum?
• Do you think students should go to museums?
• What kinds of exhibitions do you enjoy visiting?

Start by preparing your answers to the questions. Next, identify any words you have used in your answer which follow the 's' and 'z' rules and underline them, making a note of which sound you need to use. Practice saying your answers until you are comfortable, holding your fingers to your throat if necessary.

Following that, record yourself. If you have a friend that you practice with, send it to him or her to listen to and check. You can use the website I used,; it's free and easy!

Here's a quick example: Have you ever been to a museum?

I've been to 1lots of 2museums in 3countries all over the world. 4It's one of my favorite 5things to do when I go on 6holidays. 7There's 8always something interesting to see and usually so many 9floors to choose from.

10These 11days a wider variety of art 12works are also being put on display in 13galleries which are free of charge. 14It's great - free 15exhibitions, 16hours of entertainment and broadened 17horizons. What more could you ask for?

1. s
2. z
3. z
4. s
5. z
6. z
7. z
8. z
9. z
10. z
11. z
12. s
13. z
14. s
15. z
16. z
17. z

Well, hope this helps guys. Try it out with your study buddies and see how it goes! Until next time!

Our other IELTS preparation articles:

1. Reading for Keywords
2. Capitalization
3. Tips for Speaking
4. Writing on the Subject
6. Reading to Expand Your Vocabulary
7. Listening Practice
8. Grammar: Nouns and Verbs

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