Many young students have difficulty pronouncing the /s/ phoneme, which can impact reading and spelling words with the phonograms s, x, and c. Because /s/ and /z/ are a voiceless and voiced pair, meaning that we say them the same way except for voicing, some students may also have trouble producing /z/. Errors in pronouncing the /z/ sound can result in difficulty reading and spelling words with the phonograms z, s, and x.
Producing the Sounds /s/ and /z/
We pronounce both the /s/ and /z/ sounds by raising our tongue tip to almost touching behind our upper front teeth while the sides of our tongues touch the sides of our upper teeth from front to back. This position creates a groove in the middle of the tongue for air to pass through. For the /s/ sound, the breath stream passes through this constriction creating the sound. The phoneme /z/ is pronounced with slightly less tension in the tongue and with the voicebox activated.
Tips for Pronouncing S Correctly
Foundations A includes several teacher and speech tips to help educators help their students pronounce sounds correctly because speech sound errors frequently occur with young students who are learning to read.
You may find the following tips helpful for improving your student's pronunciation of the /s/ sound, which may also improve the /z/ sound:
- Demonstrate how to make the /s/ sound correctly and talk about what your teeth, tongue, and lips are doing as you say the sound.
- Have your student watch your mouth as you pronounce the /s/ sound to see the correct position. You may find it helpful to do this activity while looking in a mirror.
- Some students can correct their /s/ sound pronunciation by having them smile and keep their tongues behind their teeth. This is particularly helpful for students who say the /TH/ sound instead of the /s/ sound.
- To direct the flow of air to the center of the mouth, students can practice blowing through a straw while saying the /s/ sound. This is particularly helpful for students who tend to make the sound out of the sides of their mouths.
- Students may also be able to make the /s/ sound by rapidly saying the /t/ sound several times and then holding the last /t/ so that it changes to a /s/. The sound is similar to a balloon deflating!
More About Errors with the Sounds /s/ and /z/
It is typical for young students to make various speech sound errors while learning to talk. Developmentally, the /s/ and /z/ sounds are sounds that develop later and may not fully master until after age five. As you consider your student's pronunciation, keep these things in mind:
- Research shows that most students will have developed these sounds around four; however, some may continue to develop correct pronunciation after five. Typically these sounds should be fully developed by age seven.
- Students may omit or leave out the sound or produce a different sound, such as the /f/ or /TH/ sounds.
- Errors with the /s/ and /z/ sounds can be expected for young students; however, they can impact their ability to read and spell words with phonograms that say these sounds because they will hear their error instead of the correct sound. For example, if a student says /f/ for /s/, they may decode the word "sand" as "fand" and be confused because it is not a word. Similarly, they may spell "sand" as "fand" because they produce the /f/ instead of /s/ when segmenting the word to themselves.
- Seek an evaluation from a trained speech-language pathologist if you feel your student's articulation skills impact their progress with reading and spelling or if most people cannot understand them by age four.