Why can’t I pronounce the ‘th’ sound the native English way?
The darned ‘th’ sound. It is the main sound that most non-native speakers of English struggle with. To be fair, this sound is only existent in English and the Greek language. No other language in the world has the ‘th’ sound. Hence the frustration people undergo when trying to pronounce words with ‘th’!
Firstly, ‘th’ is a later developing sound. This means, the sound itself is clear in native speakers, only after the age 7. It is the last sound to form developmentally.
Non native English speakers struggle with this sound, because :
i)They were not taught this sound when they learnt English.
ii) They learnt this sound incorrectly, when they learnt English.
If you are one of those who says the ‘th’ sound, how do you articulate the sound? Most people have been advised to place their tongue in between their teeth. This is an incorrect method of pronouncing ‘th’ and hence people make all sorts of mistakes when saying this sound.
Common mistakes when saying ‘th’ sounds are:
- When ‘th’ becomes ‘ f’ Eg: Birthday – BirFday
- ‘th’ becomes ‘d’ Eg: The – de
- ‘th’ is silent : Eg: Three – tree
- ‘th’ becomes ‘s’. Watch video on lisp here.
Correct way of pronouncing ‘th’ sound:
- Relax your jaw, and hold your lips in a neutral position.
- Separate upper and lower teeth by few millimetres
- Place tongue tip very lightly against lower half of top teeth.
- Do not stop air flow over your tongue. Feel the air move through your mouth.
Words that are most commonly used and have ‘th’ are: The, there, those, then, them, their, thank you.
Try saying them aloud, and ensure that you say the ‘ th’ sound, and that you can feel the airflow when you say those sounds. Most errors occur when people stop their air flow. Something as simple a changed air flow changes the way the sound comes out as well!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and found this helpful. If you would like me to hear your pronunciation of ‘th’, record yourself saying the above mentioned words and email them to me on :
If you have other innovative ways of saying ‘th’, feel free to comment your ideas below. I would love to learn from you as well.