Teaching Z in Isolation & Syllables


In this lesson, you will be learning how to teach your child ‘Z’ in isolation and in syllables.

You may be wondering whether your child is the right age to begin working on this sound.  Some people may tell you to “just wait, they’ll grow out of it,” while others may urge you to begin working on it right away.

I believe in working with children as soon as possible so they don’t develop bad speech habits.

As you can see by the attached image, this chart puts ‘Z’ at about age 8 for most children.  In other words, by age eight, 90% of children can produce the ‘Z’ sound correctly in speech.


However, I believe in working with children as soon as possible so they don’t develop bad speech habits.

If your child can say the ‘S’ sound correctly, then all you have to do is tell him to turn his voice on when he says it to make the ‘Z’ sound.  Have him put his hand on his neck to feel whether it vibrates – if it does, his voice is on.  I usually teach the ‘S’ sound first, and then the ‘Z’ sound.  If your child has an interdental lisp, his tongue may protrude between his teeth when producing ‘S’ and ‘Z’.

If they are producing ‘Z’ correctly, the tongue should touch the area just above the top teeth, on the inside of the mouth.  This is called the alveolar ridge.

If you have a mouth hand puppet like ‘Mr. Mouth’ (my name for it), you can use it to help show the correct tongue placement.   Or you could use a tongue depressor or lollipop to touch the correct area.



Make sure your child keeps his teeth closed (or mostly closed) during ‘Z’ production, to avoid a frontal lisp.  You can turn it into a game by saying that the tongue is a snake, and needs to be kept in the cage, behind the teeth.

If your child is producing ‘D’ instead of ‘Z’, his tongue is in the right place, but he needs to stop pushing so hard.  For the ‘Z’ sound, the air should be able to escape and the child should be able to hold the ‘Z’ out for several seconds.  He can’t do that with a ‘D’.  If you ask him to make the ‘D’ sound last 3 seconds, he may understand what he needs to do to make the ‘Z’ sound.

Tell him to hold his tongue there, just as he would for ‘S’, as he blows out, but turn on his voice at the same time.  It might tickle a little bit.  Or you might tell him it sounds like a bee buzzing.

Continue to practice these techniques, encouraging a good ‘Z’ sound.   If your child is making a kind of ‘spitty’ Z’, tell him to be sure to keep his tongue in the right place without pushing too hard.

When your child can produce ‘Z’ in isolation with 80% accuracy, you can start on syllables, like ‘Zah, Zay, Zee, Zye, Zo, and Zoo.’

For instance, you can start with ‘Zah’. It might help to use a mirror in front of both of you, or to at least give your child a hand mirror to look at.

Make sure your child puts his tongue in the right place to make a good ‘Z’ to start the syllable.  Try to make it fun and reward your child for any effort to produce the sound correctly.   Practice this at least 3 times.

Then you can move on to the next syllable, ‘Zee’, and do the same thing.  You may find that some syllables will be easier for your child to produce, and that’s OK.  You can come back to the harder ones later.

Move on to as many syllables as you can, trying to get as many correct productions as possible.

If your child gets discouraged, switch to a different activity, like trying to name as many items in the room that begin with ‘Z’ as possible. You could also read a storybook that has a lot of ‘Z’ words in it.

When your child can produce ‘Z’ syllables correctly 80% of the time, you can move on to Initial ‘Z’ in words in the next module.