Pronouncing ‘th’ is one of the most common problems for non-native English speakers. In fact almost all ESL speakers mispronounce the sound ‘th’ in at least some words.
The problem most often occurs at the end of words such as ‘birth’ and when it is close to the sounds /s/, /z/, /t/ or /d/. For example words such as ‘something’ or ‘together’.
Watch this short video that I put on YouTube a while ago. Take note of the required tongue position for the sound ‘th’ and this will help you pronounce it correctly. Of course, just watching the video will not change anything, you will need significant practice to improve it in your English speech. See the short video clip on the correct pronunciation of ‘th’ here.
It is important to realise that in English there are two types of ‘th’ sound – unvoiced and voiced. ‘Unvoiced’ refers to the fact that there is no vibration in the voice box – this is the sound you find in words such as ‘think’ and ‘thought’. The voiced ‘th’ sound is made with a vibration from the voice box – this is the sound you find in words like ‘that’ and ‘the’.
You don’t need to think about the ‘voicing’ – that will happen without you thinking about it. What is important is your tongue position. For ‘th’ the tongue should be slightly between the top and bottom teeth. Air blows very gently between the top teeth and the tongue, making the ‘th’ sound.
Here’s an amusing video showing what can potentially go wrong if you get your pronunciation of ‘th’ wrong!
Mispronouncing ‘th’ is not usually the main reason that someone’s English is difficult to understand. There are lots of other important areas for improvement like word stress, rhythm, English sentence stress, weak vowels (like schwa), English diphthong vowels and long single vowels. Improve these areas and you will greatly improve how easily you are understood.
You can check your pronunciation of English sounds here using our free listen and record facility.
Pronunciation of ‘th’ (and all of the other sounds in English) is included in Star Pronunciation’s courses. See our Clear English pronunciation course options here.
Thanks. Have a great day.
Georgie Taylor – Speech Pathologist – Star Pronunciation