How to Pronounce the /th/ Sound?

How can you learn to pronounce /th/?

Are you having a good September holiday so far? I hope you can catch some rest and recharge before Term 4 begins again! Bearing in mind that a lot of you will be having your oral examination after the September holidays, I am going to share with you a quick but very important tip related to reading: How can you learn to pronounce /th/?

As a child, I remember vividly how I had struggled with the pronunciation of the /th/ sound. I just could not seem to get it and it was always awkward when I tried to pronounce it. Eventually, it was only when I became a teenager that I learnt how to pronounce “three” accurately. Many children still find it hard to accurately pronounce this sound but it is definitely something we cannot turn a blind eye to. Pronouncing the /th/ sound adds to the accuracy in reading during your oral examination and will definitely be an area that your examiner looks out for. In fact, every passage will contain words with the ‘th’ sound! How can we work on it then?

In this post, I would like to help you to start mastering the /th/ sound with 2 simple steps. Do take note that this tip is most helpful for words containing ‘th’ at the beginning e.g. thought, the, three, theatre etc. and in the middle e.g. mother, author, everything etc. For words that end with ‘th’, this tip may not apply as well although you still can try.

Step 1: Replace /th/ with /z/

How to Pronounce the /th/ Sound?

Taking ‘three’ as an example, you will need to replace ‘th’ with ‘z’ and you will pronounce the word as /zree/.

For a word with /th/ in the middle, for instance, ‘mother’, you will replace ‘th’ with ‘z’ and pronounce it as /ma-zer/.

Yes, it sounds slightly ridiculous now but wait for step 2!

Step 2: Stick your tongue out while pronouncing the word with /z/ replacement

How to Pronounce the /th/ Sound?

The trick is to pronounce /zree/ while sticking your tongue out at the /z/ sound. The tip of your tongue should extend slightly after your front teeth.

Now, try pronouncing /zree/ and /ma-zer/ with your tongue sticking out at the /z/ sound. Do you notice a different already?

If you do, congratulations! If you do not, try it a few more times. It will probably be good to try this trick with another person who has already mastered the /th/ sound so that that person can point out to you whether you are indeed pronouncing the /th/ sound.

“The key is that air needs to be expelled along with the sticking out of the tongue to successfully pronounce the /th/ sound. ”

The key to pronouncing /th/

If you are wondering why this works, it is because the /z/ sound helps you to expel (or blow) wind out. If you put your palm near your mouth when you are pronouncing the /th/ sound correctly, you will feel a small gust of air being expelled. When I was younger, I was often only told to stick my tongue out when I see /th/ and that made the pronunciation awkward. The key is that air needs to be expelled along with the sticking out of the tongue to successfully pronounce the /th/ sound. 

When you have had a taste of how it is like to pronounce the /th/ sound, practice will be the next thing you need for it to become a habit and for the words with /th/ to be pronounced fluently during your oral examination. You will also find pronouncing words that end with /th/ much easier to master too. Remember, speaking well and pronouncing your words accurately is not merely for examination’s sake, it helps you in your communication too!





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