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Did you use to spend hours in English lessons trying to get the pronunciation of ‘th’ correct? Did you get it right? Do you still get it right every time? These two small letters cause a lot of headaches for English learners. What’s more, there are two ways to pronounce ‘th’, and no clues about when to use which pronunciation. It all seems like a real barrier and problem for learning English.

But I want to bust some myths about ‘th’ and help you feel better about your accent and speaking.

Myth number 1

You need to master ‘th’ in order to be a good or fluent English speaker.

No! You do not need to master these sounds to be good at English, or fluent at English. Some native English speakers never say these sounds ‘correctly.’ Research shows that mastering ‘th’ sounds doesn’t affect your intelligibility in English – that’s how well you are understood. This is because words containing ‘th’ aren’t that common… but unfortunately, they are frequent (read that paragraph again, look… these, that, this, they). These common ‘th’ words don’t convey meaning like verbs and nouns do, so in general speech, they’re not so important for understanding.

 Myth number 2

It’s impossible to master ‘th’ pronunciations unless you’re a native English speaker.

Nope! The ‘th’ sounds do occur in other languages, although it is rare for both to appear in the same language. For adults, it can be harder to hear and identity sounds that do not appear in our native languages so it might seem that only ‘native’ speakers can hear them, and get these sounds right.

Myth number 3

It’s wrong to substitute other sounds for the ‘th’ sounds.

Wrong! Not only is it okay to substitute other sounds, but it’s something that native speakers do alllllll the time. So it would be hypocritical to force English learners to make these sounds too.

Myth number 4

If we can substitute ‘th’ sounds then where do we stop? We can say r and l are difficult for Japanese speakers, for example, so forget about them?

No! This substitution only works for ‘th’ sounds. /r/ and /l/ are important to get right for intelligibility. As are all other consonant sounds. So this is not permission to say any word in any way you please. This is just to show you that ‘th’ is not that important.

The reality is whether or not you master ‘th,’ when you speak English to anyone else in the world, you’re going to hear a variety of pronunciations of ‘th’ so you have to get used to them!

Let’s look at how substitutions work. Research shows that /d/v/f/t/ are more understandable than /s/and /z/. You can practice these words and see which work best for you.

hard th /ð/ voiced soft th  /θ/  voiceless
Can be substituted by /d/ /v/ /z/ Can be substituted by /f/ /t/ /s/

That  – could sound like /dat, vat, zat/

this /dis, vis, zis/

them /dem, vem, zem/

those /does, vose, zose/

mother / mudder, muvver, muzzer/

brother /brodder, brovver, brozzer/

clothes /clodes, cloves, clozes/

breathe /breed, breev, breez/

teethe /teed, teev, teez/

thanks – could sound like /fanks, tanks, sanks/

think /fink, tink, sink/

thousand /fousand, tousand, sousand/

authority /aufority, autority, ausority/

birthday /birfday, birtday, birsday/

bath /baf, bat, bas/

fifth /fif, fit, fis/

tooth /toof, toot, toos/

month /munf, munt, muns/

130 words and phrases to practice with hard th

https://www.home-speech-home.com/voiced-th-words.html

250 words and phrases with soft th

https://www.home-speech-home.com/voiceless-th-words.html

My aim here is to help you understand and choose your way to say things in English, to combat the myths that you must sound like a ‘native’ speaker and that there is one correct way to speak English. Good luck!

How do you feel about ‘th’ now? Let me know below

 

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