Pronouncing the English TH sound
The /TH/ sound in English often proves to be one of the most difficult sounds to reproduce for non-native speakers. Many languages do not have a sound that even comes close to matching the mouth, tongue and type of aspiration that the /TH/ sound makes. Recognizing this is important because it means that it will take a lot of practice for a student to get it right.
“Proper pronunciation doesn’t happen overnight; it will take concentrated effort and lots of practice and self-correction to develop proper speaking patterns.”
English has two different /TH/ sounds, an “unvoiced” and a “voiced” we will start this lesson by looking at the “unvoiced” TH sound. Unvoiced is the fancy way of saying that when we make this sound it is made by the movement of air and not one’s vocal chords. In order to make this sound you need to slightly open your mouth and slide your tongue forward so that the tip of your tongue gently rests between your front teeth.
The secret here is that you need to be able to sustain this position while simultaneously allowing air to flow continuously between your teeth and tongue (between your tongue and your top teeth.) you should be able to take a deep breath and then slowly release the air out of your mouth while keeping your tongue between your front teeth. This is good practice, try looking into a mirror while doing this.
Now, we move onto make words from this sound. After practicing letting air escape between your tongue and teeth you are now ready to start making words. Again, it’s important to remember that when we make words with the unvoiced TH we do so without stopping the flow of air. What you will do is simply draw your tongue back into your mouth as you begin to make the vowel sound of your TH word.
Let’s practice with the word “think”. Try looking into a mirror and start by putting your tongue between your teeth and let air begin to escape your mouth. Without stopping this airflow pull your tongue back into your mouth while saying “ink”.
I cannot emphasize how important it is to NOT stop the airflow. Watch this 10 second video to see how I do it and then try to match my sound.
Here is a list of common words that start with an unvoiced /TH/ sound. Try practicing each of these words using the same technique. There is also an audio recording to that you can download or stream to help you get the proper sound.
|1. Think||4. Therapy||7. Thick|
|2. Thank||5. Theory||8. Thought|
|3. Theme||6. Thanks||9. Thorough|
After you’ve practice each of these words, try reading the following paragraph out loud. Watch out for those words that have a /TH/ sound in them. You can also follow along with the audio recording to help you get the right sound.
Thelma thanked me for thinking of her on her birthday. She said her son Theodore thought her birthday was not until the thirtieth. He’s a math student. You would think he would not forget the eleventh day of August. Eleven is his favorite mathematical symbol. It is part of a theory behind a mathematical formula he’s been using for his college thesis. He apologized with a sincere face and asked if anything he could do would make up for his forgetfulness. When he apologized for the hundredth time, she thought nothing else could be done, for he was truly repentant. She admitted that once you get past your thirtieth birthday, you really don’t mind people forgetting!
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