How Do You Pronounce The /th/ Sound to Reduce Accent and Improve English Pronunciation?

How Do You Pronounce The /th/ Sound to Reduce Accent and Improve English Pronunciation?

American speech has two /th/ consonant sounds.  One is voiceless and the other is voiced. Accented speakers usually substitute the /t/ or /d/ for this sound because it is the most familiar and the closest approximation to their existing sound.  This sound can feel awkward because the tip of the tongue leaves from the mouth. When /th/ is pronounced correctly, it is a quick movement and not noticed by others.  However, the tongue tip leaving the mouth cavity is a strange new feeling for accented speakers. Practice will help this sound become natural.

How To Produce The /th/ Sound

Voiceless /th/

  • When making the voiceless /th/ sound, your tongue tip passes your upper teeth and moves slightly outside your mouth. This movement feels unusual to most people since no other sound requires your tongue to move outside your mouth.  This is the only sound for which the tongue tip passes your upper teeth in American speech.  This is a new sound for many accented speakers.Note: It is not necessary to stick your tongue out too far.
  • When your tongue passes your upper teeth, there should be space for air to travel between your tongue and upper teeth.  The air that passes between your tongue and upper teeth is what makes the /th/ sound.
  • Your tongue barely has contact with your upper teeth.  The contact is very light. Do not use too much force and explode the air.
  • The voiceless /th/ is soft without much sound to it.  There is very little “sound” to this sound. Be sure to give the sound some flow and not cut the sound too short.
  • If your tongue touches your teeth or too much forced air is used, the sound will appear “thick” and be excessively loud. Your pronunciation will be considered accented to your listener. Keep your tongue slightly below your upper teeth to allow room for air to pass between your upper teeth and tongue to correctly produce the sound.
  • Once the sound has been made, your tongue quickly moves back into your mouth to move into position for the next sound.

Voiced /th/
The position for the voiced /th/ is the same. The only difference here is that you use your voice to create the sound.  For the voiced /th/ your tongue does have light contact against your upper teeth to help create sound. More tongue tension is required for the voiced /th/ sound. This sound also has some duration to it. Give the sound flow and avoid cutting it too short. Not giving this sound proper flow is a common accented error.
Common Accented Error:  A common error with /th/ is that the speaker will place his or her tongue in the correct position, but fail to send the air stream across the tongue.  When this error occurs, the sound has no flow and will sound mispronounced even though you did everything correctly with your tongue placement.

Voiceless /th/ at the beginning of words

Thatch              Theory              Thank you              Thoughtful
Voiceless /th/ at the end of words

Cloth              Myth              Mouth              Fifth
Voiced /th/ at the beginning of words

That              There              Them              Then

Power /th/ Words
The following voiced /th/ words are said frequently in American English:
This, That, There, Those and The

Say these words as often as possible to master the voiced /th/ sound. Practice them stopped at a red light, picking up around house, wherever!

Note: This sound does not exist in many American words.

Bathe              Breathe              Soothe              Loathe              Smooth

The /th/ Sound in the Middle of Words

Note: Be sure to give the sound full flow without cutting off or deleting the sound.

Voiceless

Something              Author              Dorothy              Enthusiastic

Voiced

Although              Clothing              Loathing              Soothing



Speech and Voice - Elizabeth Peterson


Elizabeth Peterson, Denver’s leading speech therapist and executive speech coach for over 22 years and is the author of Accent Reduction 101, Third Edition 2017 and Speak Like a Broadcaster & Lead Like a CEO, Third Edition 2017 . Learn More

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