TH – Part 1. Don’t Be Shy!

The “TH” sound is one that most ESL learners have problems with — I would guess it is probably 99%.

Do you absolutely need to fix it? No. That’s because so many people mispronounce it, that it is sort of a “normal” mistake, and native speakers are used to hearing it wrong.

So, why bother?

1. “TH” is fairly easy to fix – but you do need to get over being shy about it! Most of my students feel awkward or embarrassed when they say it the right way.

2. “TH” is a VERY frequent sound. You find words with “th” in almost every sentence of English – it is in many words that we use all the time: the / this / thing / think / they / them / that / those / there / then / with / both / other / earth / teeth / mother / father / south / north / month / truth / three / fifth / tenth / thousand / (This is just a few examples!)

3. Since “TH” is so frequently mispronounced, it is possible to go for quite a while without having any major communication problems, but you should be aware that an incorrect “TH” is a very common part of English “baby talk.” For example, when my son was small, if I asked him “How old are you?” he would answer by showing me 3 fingers and saying “free!”

4. You should also be aware that there are many words that can be confused if the “TH” is not pronounced well. (I hear them all the time.) Some examples: “mouth” can sound like “mouse” / “author” can sound like “otter” / “three” can sound like “tree” or “free”.
These kinds of mistakes can slow down a conversation or lead to funny misunderstandings. (I will give more examples in my next post.)

5. Remember, it is “real” English. Even if you think it feels or sounds “funny”, it actually sounds completely normal for English – and this is true for all types of English: American, British, or whatever.

HOW TO SAY “TH”
1. “TH” is not tricky – you just need to be brave, and stick the tip of your tongue between the upper and lower teeth. Saying it correctly consistently is really just a matter of practice and self-discipline.

2. There are 2 kinds of “TH”.
a. Voiceless “TH” is said with the voice turned off. Some examples are: thing / think / with / both / earth / teeth / south / north / month / truth / three / fifth / tenth / thousand.

b. Voiced “TH” needs to be said with the voice on (vocal cords vibrating). Some examples are: the / this / they / them / that / those / there / then /other / mother / father.

My next post will give more examples and other tips.

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About Pronunciation Coach
I am a language teacher, with over 20 years of experience teaching ESL & Spanish.

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