In This Post You'll Learn About...
- the variations of the TH sound,
- common challenges with pronouncing the TH sound, and
- how speech therapy can be an invaluable tool in mastering this essential component of speech.
Definition of the TH Sound
Before we can learn how to pronounce the TH sound, we need to understand what it is and how it’s produced in the mouth. The TH sound is a fricative sound that’s produced by forcing air through a narrow opening in the mouth. It is made by pressing your tongue between your teeth and then releasing a puff of air.
This creates a distinctive hissing sound, which can be tricky to pronounce correctly. The TH sound can come at the beginning or end of a word, such as in the words “thin” and “breath.” It can also appear within a word, such as in the word “bathroom.” It is important to learn how to properly pronounce the TH sound in order to communicate clearly in English. Fortunately, with some practice and help from a speech therapist, anyone can learn how to make this difficult sound correctly.
There are two types of TH sounds: voiced and voiceless.
- Voiced TH Sound is made by vibrating the vocal cords while producing the sound. To make this voiced sound, put the tip of your tongue between your upper and lower front teeth and start producing a vocal sound by engaging your vocal cords. You should feel a vibration in your throat. Gently blow air through the small gap between your tongue and teeth while maintaining the vibration of your vocal cords. This makes a soft buzzing sound that can be heard in words like “mother” and “clothing.”
- Voiceless TH Sound is produced without vibrating the vocal cords. To make the sound, put the tip of your tongue between your upper and lower front teeth the same way as with a voiced TH sound. Instead of engaging your vocal cords, simply blow air through the small gap between your tongue and teeth without any vocal cord vibration. This creates a hissing sound that can be heard at the start of words like “think” and “therapy.”
It is important to recognize these two variations and practice pronouncing them correctly to ensure clear communication.
Common Challenges with Pronouncing the TH Sound
The TH sound is one of the most difficult sounds to master in English, especially for non-native speakers. This is because it requires a specific technique to produce the sound correctly.
For non-native English speakers, the TH sound may not exist in their native language, making it difficult to learn. Children may also struggle with the TH sound because their speech muscles are still developing, and they may not have the necessary coordination to produce the sound correctly. Additionally, individuals with certain speech disorders, such as apraxia or dysarthria, may have difficulty pronouncing the TH sound due to muscle weakness or coordination issues.
Some common challenges people face when pronouncing the TH sound include:
- Placing the tongue in the wrong position: The tongue needs to be placed between the upper and lower front teeth to produce the TH sound correctly. Some people may place their tongue too far back or too far forward, which can affect the sound they produce.
- Not blowing enough air: To produce the TH sound, air needs to be forced through a narrow opening in the mouth. Some people may not blow enough air, which can result in a weaker or less distinct sound.
- Struggling with the voiced TH sound: The voiced TH sound can be more difficult to produce than the voiceless TH sound, especially for individuals with certain speech disorders.
Fortunately, speech therapy can help with mastering the nuances of pronouncing the TH sound by providing individualized instruction and practice activities that cater to each person’s needs and goals. With regular practice over time, foreign learners will slowly but surely be able to pronounce this important sound correctly.
Practice Makes Perfect
Producing the TH sound may feel awkward or unnatural at first, but with practice, it will become more comfortable and automatic.
Here are a few practice tips you can try at home:
- Start by practicing the TH sound in isolation, without attaching it to any words. This will help you become more familiar with the tongue and mouth positioning.
- Once you feel comfortable producing the sound in isolation, practice saying words that contain the TH sound, such as “three,” “mother,” “weather,” and “teeth.”
- Gradually move on to practicing phrases and sentences containing TH words to build your confidence in using the sound in everyday speech.
- Tongue twisters are a fun and challenging way to practice the TH sound. Here’s one to try: “Thirty-three thousand people thought that Thursday was their thirtieth birthday.”
- Record yourself speaking so you can identify areas where you need to improve. Try reading a passage out loud and listen back to see if you are pronouncing the correct sound.
- Similarly, you can practice in front of a mirror to see if your tongue is in the correct position when you produce the TH sound.
How Speech Therapy Helps
Speech therapy sessions are a great way to learn how to pronounce the TH sound correctly. Speech therapy is commonly used to treat speech and language difficulties due to conditions such as autism, hearing loss, stuttering or stroke. It can also benefit those who have difficulty swallowing or have voice disorders. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) provide personalized instruction and practice activities to help English learners master the nuances of this tricky sound.
Here’s how treatment usually goes:
2. Individualized Exercises: Based on the assessment, the speech therapist will develop a customized plan that includes targeted exercises designed to help you practice and improve your sound production.
Some techniques and exercises that may be used in speech therapy to target the TH sound include:
- Tongue placement exercises: SLPs may use exercises to help you learn to place your tongue correctly between your upper and lower front teeth (e.g. place your tongue in the correct position and hold it there for a few seconds before relaxing)
- Airflow management exercises: SLPs may also use exercises to help you learn to blow air through a narrow opening in your mouth (e.g. blowing air through a straw to practice controlling your airflow)
- Word repetition exercises: SLPs may ask you to repeat words that contain the TH sound, such as “think” or “theater,” to help you practice producing the sound correctly. They may also ask you to practice saying words that contain both the voiceless and voiced sounds.
With regular practice over time, speech therapy can be an effective way for English learners to improve their pronunciation of the TH sound. Additionally, speech therapy sessions help build speaking confidence by providing guidance on how to correct mistakes quickly and efficiently. With the right guidance, anyone can learn how to properly pronounce this important speech sound.
By identifying the mechanics of the TH sound, understanding common challenges, and practicing techniques and exercises at home, you can work towards clearer and more effective communication. If you are struggling with the TH sound, do not hesitate to reach out to us and talk to one of our licensed Speech-Language Pathologists to get the help you need.