I am from Hong Kong and not a native English speaker.

I was taught during childhood that the three consonants 'p', 't', 'k' should be pronounced as voiceless sound or breathed sound while 'b','d','g' be as voiced sound.

In this regard, I find no difficulty in pronounce the words like pace, tea and kill where I would pronounce the beginning consonants as voiceless sound.

However, if the three consonants were placed after the letter ‘s’, I find that I would pronounce them as voiced sound; i.e. ‘space’ would be read as ‘sbace’, ‘standard’ as ‘sdandard’, and ‘skill’ as ‘sgill’. I have discussed with my friends and they said they would read in the same way.

I would be grateful if anyone could help clarify whether I have pronounced them wrongly or there are exceptional rules in phonetics. Thanks for helping.


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Hi, Wein,

The voicing of consonants after s (which itself is voiceless) sounds very strange to me. I think it is much more difficult to say 'sbace' and 'sdandard' (unless you say 'zbace' and 'zdandard') than pronounce two voiceless sounds at the beginning of the words.

It is not correct to say 'sbace' etc. But it is an interesting point you mention. It is obviously connected with you native language: I think it makes it difficult for you to say 'space'.

In my language for instance people studying English have problems voicing final voiced consonants, because in my language voiced consonants are pronounced as voiceless at the end of a word. So 'had' is very often here pronounced 'hat', 'Bob' is uttered 'Bop', etc.

So I guess there must be some interference from you language. All I can advise you to do is practise. Listen to the radio, watch TV, talk with native speakers - and pay attention to the way such words are pronounced. That's how I learned to voice the voiced consonants in English words.
In that case, should I just pronounce 'space' as 's'+'pace'? (as said, I have no difficulty in pronouncing the word 'pace' with a voiceless consonant). Thanks.
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Yes, that's right, Wein.
In English those voiceless consonants (p, t, s etc.) are always "explosive". If you do not pronounce them, it will be very difficult for a native English speaker to understand you. When I visit my local Chinese chip shop I find it hard to understand when they ask "you wan' soy sau' on to'" instead of "Do you wanT soy sauCE on toP?" They also say "boy Rai" instead of "boileD riCE".

It is most important to practice stressing those consonants.
The 3 unvoiced consonants should retain the same pronunciation even when they are placed after an 'S'.
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Initial p, t, k are aspirated. The same consonants after 's' are not aspirated, so they will definitely sound different to a non-English speaker.

If your native language is Chinese, then you make contrasts between aspirated and unaspirated sets of consonants. To us English speakers it sounds like the difference between unvoiced and voiced consonants.

In English we make contrasts between voiced and unvoiced sets of consonants. To speakers of languages like Chinese it sounds like we're making a difference between unaspirated and aspirated consonants.

I believe this is the source of the confusion. In fact, English speakers do not pronounce "space" as "s" + "pace", because in the "sp" combination we never aspirate the "p".

English speakers do not make a distinction between "monk's bread" and "monk spread". The "b" or "p" (or whatever bilabial consonant you want to call it) is unaspirated in those cases.

You have chosen to transcribe the combination phonetically as "sb", but the standard spelling in English is "sp". Had the history of English gone differently, "sb" might have been chosen as the proper spelling for the "s" + unaspirated "p" combination.

If you pronounce the p (t, k) the same both when initial and when after "s", you will not be pronouncing them correctly. From your point of view, your transcription is correct; it's just not the standard spelling of those combinations in English.

Is the pronounciation of unaspirated/voiceless "p" equivalent to "b"?
Wein does make a good point and a good analogy. 'p', 's', 't' by themselves are soft sounds and become hard sounds (b, z, d) when grouped with other consonants.
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