Home Programs Resources Credentials About Contact Blog


Center for Confident American English Communication

At ConfidentVoice, we know that confident communication is the key to career success. Our accent reduction training helps international professionals to reduce their accents so that they can speak clearly and effectively in the workplace. Since 2007, our online courses have served over 7,000 students from across the globe.

Common Pronunciation ProblemA Common Pronunciation Problem...and How to Avoid It

 

One very common problem that non-native English speakers face in speaking American English is -how to make the two sounds of ‘th’.

  

Does the ‘th’ at the beginning of the word ‘this’ have the same sound as the ‘th’ at the beginning of the word ‘thanks’? 

 

No, the two ‘th’ sounds are slightly different and in this article I will explain why.

 

 

The Two Sounds of /th/

 

The /th/sound in the word 'this' is a voiced sound. That means that your vocal chords should vibrate when you say the word. Put the tips pf your fingers lightly on your throat and say ‘this’.  You should feel a vibration in your throat. The IPA* symbol for the voiced /th/ sound is /?/. 

 

The other /th/ sound in the word ‘thanks’  is a voiceless sound. That means that your vocal chords should not vibrate when you say the word. Put the tips of your fingers lightly on your throat and say ‘thanks’. You should not feel a vibration in your throat. The IPA symbol for this sound is /?/.

 

Non-native English speakers usually have problems pronouncing the two American English /th/ sounds because these sounds are not found in most other languages. They tend to substitute other sounds for the two /th/ sounds. This sound substitution creates an accent that may make it difficult for Americans to understand you.

 

Here are 2 common sound substitution examples that you might have faced:

 

1. Substituting with a /t/ or /s/ sound

 

English learners often substitute the voiceless /th/ sound with a /t/ or /s/ sound. I often hear students say, "sanks a lot" or “tanks a lot” when they mean to say "thanks a lot".  I also hear students say, "sinking" or “tinking” when they mean to say "thinking".

 

In these situations American listeners will usually figure out what you mean to say, but the pronunciation error creates an accent that is distracting to the listener.

 

2. Substituting with a /z/ sound

 

English learners sometimes substitute the voiceless /th/ sound with a /z/ sound. Here is an example that happened to a French-speaking student named Marc, who confused the /z/ sound with the voiced /th/ sound.

 

One day after class Marc wanted to catch the bus to the Motor Vehicle Department so he asked the school secretary which bus to take. She told him, “Take the Z bus, it stops across the street from school."

 

Marc responded, "Yes, I want to take ze bus, but please tell me which bus to take.” The secretary repeated, “Take the Z bus, it stops across the street from school." Marc still didn’t understand but went outside to look for ze bus. That was when he saw the ‘Z’ bus and realized his comprehension error.

 

 

Remember that self-awareness is very important when you are trying to improve your spoken English or learn an American accent. Once you are aware of a particular pronunciation problem you can then apply strategies to correct it.

 

 

 

listening activityMini Lesson: How to Pronounce the Sounds of /th/

 

 

The letter combination ‘th’ makes two slightly different sounds in English. The first is the voiced /th/ sound and it is represented by this symbol /?/.


To make this sound, touch your tongue directly behind your front teeth. When you push the air through your vocal chords this sound will cause a vibration in your throat.

 

Below are some words that contain the voiced /th/ sound.

 

  the     this      father      mother      breathe slowly       bathe often


Use the audio player to listen and repeat each of these words. Put the tips of your fingers lightly on your throat as you say each word.  You should feel a vibration in your throat.

 

Click the Play button below to listen and repeat each words

 

 


The othe /th/ sound is a voiceless sound and it is represented by this symbol /?/. To make this sound, place your tongue between your upper and lower teeth. When you push the air through your vocal chords this sound will not cause a vibration in your throat. Here are some words that contain the voiceless /th/ sound.

 

think      nothing      method       fourth of July     Fifth Avenue

 

Use the audio player to listen and repeat each of these words. Put the tips of your fingers lightly on your throat as you say each word.  You should not feel a vibration in your throat.

 

Click the Play button below:

 

 

 

Now say each of the words on your own. Can you tell the difference between the voiced and voiceless sounds?

 

  

 

 

 

 

DMCA.com