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I have difficulty distinguishing the two phonetic symbols. Roads, rose; needs, knees... Do these words sound very different to native speakers? How should I pronounce them?

  • The difference being that one has a d sound that requires pronounciation, and the other does not. – Corsaka Feb 7 at 10:25
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    I believe that all English speakers are able to discern the difference. Perhaps your native language doesn't have a consonant cluster. – user178049 Feb 7 at 10:39
  • Yes, there is a difference. Try pronouncing "road" with the d on the end, then try to add an s. – Corsaka Feb 7 at 10:58
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With /dz/ the tongue (almost) taps against the alveolar ridge (similar to /d/) before pronouncing the subsequent /z/. This does not happen with /z/, as a matter of course.

Pronounce repeatedly /d/ followed by /z/. With each repetition reduce the distance between the two. Don't try to pronounce a perfect /d/ before the /z/ as the /d/ is a reduced one and the /z/ dominates. You got it if you not even need to move the tonge in order to pronounce both subsequent sounds. Then, the tongue is prepared for the pronunciation of /z/ (by means of its very tip) and of /d/ (by means of its upper front part). The d explosion happens between the alveolar ridge and the upper front part of the tongue and is followed directly by the z pronunciation.

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Yes, /dz/ and /z/ sound very different to native speakers, and when pronounced properly are clearly distinguishable.

It is actually far more common for /dz/ and /ts/ to be confused by non-native speakers, but even these are distinct.

As to how they should be pronounced - you should pronounce them as per pronunciation guides! Some sounds in any language can pose problems for non-native speakers, but if you try your best, native speakers can more easily use wider context to make up for slight deviations in pronunciation.

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  • (+1) Some minimal pairs for /ts/ and /dz/ are totes/toads, boats/bodes, goats/goads. These can indeed be difficult even for native speakers to distinguish aurally. Luckily I can't think of any pairs where the meanings are similar enough to present any potential for confusion, given context. – TypeIA Feb 7 at 12:03
  • The consonant clusters at the end of the word "totes" and "toads" are normally indistinguishable. That's because final-word obstruents are usually devoiced (at least partially). The only difference that speakers can hear is the vowel length. The GOAT vowel in "toads" is just slightly longer. This answer by Araucaria is very interesting. – user178049 Feb 7 at 13:42

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