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How to pronounce /th/ beautifully

in any environment


Try saying this sentence out loud:

Timothy has to think through this thing until it’s thoroughly thought through.

It’s a tongue twister because /th/ can be difficult to pronounce! There are several reasons why: one is that /th/ doesn’t occur in many languages, so many speakers didn’t learn to make the sound in their native language. That means the muscles in the mouth haven’t learned how to make the sound. Another reason is because /th/ takes some effort to produce correctly. It requires the tongue to be placed under the top teeth, and at the same time to push air through the teeth and tongue. That’s not so easy to do while speaking if you’re not used to it!

Many non-native English speakers will substitute /t/, /s/, /d/, or /z/ for /th/. Though can sound like dough; think can sound like sink. English /th/ can also be voiced or unvoiced, which adds mystery to the equation. In the word thin, /th/ is unvoiced, but in this it is voiced. (See earlier blog: To Voice or Not to Voice.) The only way to know which it should be is to learn it word by word. Luckily, people are good at this!


A good way to improve both voiced and unvoiced /th/ is to do a three-part exercise. It only takes a couple of minutes a day and after a few weeks you’ll be pronouncing /th/ beautifully!


1. Start with an exhale, then inhale deeply. Exhale with the unvoiced /th/ sound. Make your exhale last about 6 counts. Do this a few times. Then do it again with the voiced /th/. This might be harder. If your tongue gets stuck, use more pressure to push air between tongue and teeth. This makes it easier to produce the sound. Practice this every day for a week.


2. Next, practice with words. Below is a list of commonly used words with /th/. You will remember them by practicing. Use the breath to push the air out for the /th/ in each word.


Unvoiced

think birthday with

Thursday nothing health

three faithful faith

thanks authentic earth

therapy something truth

thousand method fourth


Voiced

this other breathe

then either bathe

they whether loathe

the together clothe

though mother

therefore rather


For practice combining sounds, try these phrases.

this thing does this sixth step

think through what’s that seventh song


3. Finally, practice with sentences. Below are some that contain the words you practiced above.


1. The three faithful twentysomethings were thankful for their methods.


2. On Thursdays we have three therapy sessions with a new method that was developed by a thousand faithful theologians.


3. Theoretically speaking, their problems are threefold: health, faith, and truth.


If you do this three-part exercise at least 3 times a week for at least 2 weeks, you will start remembering how to produce the sound correctly while speaking. Voila! You’re saying /th/ words clearly and easily! If you still need help with this, try working with an American accent and English coach for feedback and support.


Here’s to being heard!


We provide 1-1 courses in advanced English fluency and American accent for non-native English speakers. Your course is customized to your individual objectives and challenges. Classes meet once a week for an hour, live online, and you’ll get practice exercises for reinforcement.


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