Wednesday, October 20

Pronunciation Breakdown: Swedish Sj-Sound | Swedish language blog

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Learning phonics is great. And if you ask me, hard enough! A recent blog commenter said they have difficulty with the Swedish sj sound and asked for tips on practicing it. Classified as “
voiceless fricative phoneme ” it is one of the most difficult sounds to reproduce in Swedish. While I am not a phonics expert, I have a great ear and a talent for parroting sounds I hear. So this week I’m going to highlight the sj sound and give you some tips and tricks to get the hang of it.

Fricka-what? Fricative!

Students often encounter the Swedish sj sound for the first time when they learn the number 7, written Seven. The Swedish sj, or ‘ɧ’, as symbolized in the phonetic alphabet, is a fricative consonant sound that occurs when air passes through a narrow opening in the back of our throat. This sound is also deaf, which means that there is no vibration of the vocal cords. Do you speak German here? This sound is common in German, similar to the ch sound in words like Right and I.

What do Cool Whip and Sj-sound have in common?

Did you light a light bulb there? The phrase “cool whip” as Stewey from Family Guy joked has actually helped dozens of my students produce the sj sound. Whip and target are commonly pronounced without any notice of the “h” in the word. Add the “h” back and the words will become “h-wip” and “h-wite.” This “h-wa” sound is my favorite way to introduce the sj sound to my students … it’s also good for a couple of laughs.

Letter combinations that replicate the Sj sound

Stj as in star (star) and skj as in shoot (the verb “shoot”) also uses this sound. The combination sk with the following vowels e, i, ö, ä, y, also produces the sound sj, as Boat (Boat), shines (to shine), and comfortable (nice). has a detailed table describing different sj sound combinations. Be sure to click on the little play icons to hear the pronunciation and guide your study.

Dialect differences in the Swedish sound Sj

Most Swedish dialects will pronounce the sj sound as described above, but there are some common variations that you should be aware of. Northern Swedish, Finnish-Swedish dialects, and sometimes Stockholm pronounce this sound more like the English “shhhh” sound. Listen to the next clip of the verb Shooting is pronounced in this order: Central Standard Swedish, Småland, Swedish Norrland, Swedish Finnish and Swedish Rinkeby.

Do you hear the difference? When fricative pronunciation gets you down, you can always use the default consonant sound “shhh”, it’s a great alternative and the Northerners you will be flattered.

Where can you practice the sj sound?

I recommend the website for the textbook. To the final for practicing this sound and a set of other Swedish letter combinations. Here is the link to the sj-sound. Listen to the speaker read the words and repeat them later. Select the three bar icon in the upper right corner to see more Pronunciation (Pronunciation) exercises.

And, if you dig into YouTube, there are a lot of native speakers that demonstrate the sj sound. Essentially, listen and repeat as much as you can to address this sound.

Are you feeling pretty good about the sj sound? Give it a try and master this tongue twister:

Seven seasick sailors were cared for by seven beautiful nurses.
Seven seasick sailors were cared for by seven beautiful nurses.

Thanks for reading this week. Now, I wonder, what other sounds are causing problems for him? Tell me in the comments below!

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