Voiced sounds at the end of words can cause some difficulty. Look at these two examples: - I'd like some peace with my dinner. - I'd like some peas with my dinner.
The meaning of these statements is clear. In the first, the speaker wants a calm atmosphere while he's eating. In the second, he wants a green vegetable. But is the pronunciation also clear? If you say the two sentences out loud, you should notice that there is a difference in the final sound in "peace" and "peas". "peace" is voiceless /pi:s/, whereas "peas" is voiced /pi:z/.
What do voiceless (or unvoiced) and voiced mean exactly? Voiceless sounds are pronounced without the vocal cords vibrating. Voiced sounds are pronounced with the vocal cords vibrating. If that sounds vague, put your hands over your ears and say the following pairs of consonant sounds: [p] and [b], [t] and [d], [k] and [g], [s] and [z], [f] and [v]. The first sound in each pair is voiceless and won't produce a vibration in your head. The second one will, It's voiced.
As a German speaker, you may find these differences difficult to reproduce. It all comes down to interference, in many parts of Germany, end-of-word consonants are always voiceless. The German word "Kind" (child) for example, although written with a "d", is pronounced /kint/. English, on the other hand has end-of-word consonant sounds that are both voiceless and voiced: for example, "hat" /haet/ is different form "had" /haed/. In so-called minimal pairs like these, the different sound creates a different meaning, so pronunciation has to be particularly clear.
If your first language is German and you're speaking English, there's a danger that you do what you would automatically do in German: make end-of-word consonant sounds voiceless. Be careful. If you do "devoice" where there's a minimal pair involved, you could end up saying: "I hate my niece" /ni:s/ when you actually want to say: "I hate my knees" /ni:z/. Say the words niece and knees out loud, and you'll notice something else about voiceless and voiced sounds. They have a different effect on the vowel sound they follow. The vowel sound before a voiceless consonant is shorter than that before a voiced consonant. So if you're having trouble with your voiced consonant sounds, lengthen the vowel. It will be much easier for others to understand you. 1) Say the following words aloud. These words all end with a voiceless consonant sound: mop - bright - dock - safe - teeth - spice These words all end with a voiced consonant sound. Notice the length of the vowel. mob - bridge - dog - save - teethe - spies cup - cub frock - frog neat / need rich / ridge mob - bridge - dog - save - teethe - spies