If you are currently learning English or speak it as your second language, you may find a few sounds or words more difficult to pronounce properly than the others.
Over the past decade, the team at LocalMasters have discovered that one of most troublesome sounds to conquer for our accent neutralization students is the “Th” sounds. The reason: The “th” sounds do not exist in many languages including Asian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and more.
For ESL learners wanting to master the “th” sounds, read through this guide created by our accent reduction coaches on how to articulate words with “th” clearly in English.
Types of “Th” Sounds
The “th” sounds are continuous consonants which can commonly be classified into two types in American English – /θ/ and /ð/. Both are fricatives and are pronounced with the tongue behind the teeth.
/θ/ is voiceless meaning it is made only with air, whereas /ð/ is voiced and is made with vibration of the vocal cords. Some examples of words with each sound are:
|Voiceless “Th” /θ/||Voiced “Th” /ð/|
The Ways the “Th” Sound is Mispronounced
As we have mentioned above, some people have trouble with these sounds because it doesn’t exist in their language or if it does exist in spelling, it might be pronounced in a different way. So some of the ways that non-native English speakers mispronounce the “th” sound can be like:
– Confusing it with an “F”. So instead of saying “thank you”, they might say “fank you”.
– Another way the th sounds might be mispronounced is with an “S” sound in the beginning; instead of “thumb” it comes out as “some”.
– Mispronouncing this sound would be pronouncing it as a “T” so we would have “tink” instead of “think”.
– Substituting a “Z” for the “th”. Example saying “zat” instead of “that”.
– Another way might be to pronounce it with a “V.” Example “wiv” instead of “with”.
– And the last way is saying it like a “D” sound. Example “duh” instead of “the”.
How to Pronounce the “Th” Sounds Properly in English
The Voiceless “Th” Sound
When making a voiceless “th” sound, /θ/ is made only with air and is made at the front of the mouth with the tongue between the lips. While pronouncing a voiceless “th” word, lightly blow out the sound against your teeth and tongue.
Pro tip: If you want to see if your tongue is in the right place hold your finger up and down across your lips (like you are saying shhh!). Make the front of your tongue have light contact with the back of your finger. Relax the back of your tongue and keep it low and flat. Blow out and let the air pass through your teeth and tongue. Don’t engage your vocal cords.
The Voiced “Th” Sound
When making a voiced “th” sound, /ð/ make sure to hold your tongue lightly between your teeth, blow out the air, and engage your vocal cords to produce the vibration and the slight buzz to articulate the word properly.
The best way to improve your ESL pronunciation of the voiced and voiceless “th” sounds is to listen and practice. Tongue twisters are a great way to practice and improve your English accent, fluency and pronunciation. Below are a few English tongue twisters to help you master the “th” sounds.
1. Some theories believe there to be things out there.
2. These things finish sooner than you think.
3. Thirsty throats find things to drink.
4. My thumb is too thick to flick this.
5. Thanks for the things you sang for me.