English is known for being a difficult language to learn, and possibly one of the most difficult things as a non-native speaker is the th sound. This can be a particularly difficult sound for Germans to make (especially if it’s at the beginning of a word), as the th sound doesn’t exist in German.
For example, the th sound is sometimes pronounced like a “d,” so “that” becomes “dat,” “there” becomes “der,” and “those” becomes “doz.”
This week we’ll be focusing on the th sound so that you have a better understanding of how it works and so that you can sound more like a native speaker.
TH – Voiced Dental Fricative (/ð/)
This th sound is soft, and is produced (made) by placing (putting) the tip of your tongue between your teeth and vibrating your vocal cords. This sound is a little bit “buzzy,” like a bee or a fly.
Practice putting your tongue between your teeth and making a buzzing sound, and you’ll be well on your way to pronouncing this sound correctly! When practicing pronunciation, it is more than ok to exaggerate (overdo) a little, as it will help you to make the correct sound.
Here are some words with the voiced dental fricative th:
If you don’t make this sound correctly, it can come out sounding like a “z” or a “d.”
TH – Voiceless Dental Fricative (/θ/)
Much as the name implies (say, presumes), you don’t use your vocal cords for this th. You make it in almost the same way as the voiced dental fricative, but WITHOUT vibrating your vocal cords.
Place the tip of your tongue between your teeth, and only blow air through your teeth. So instead of making the buzzing sound with your vocal cords, this th will sound a little bit more like the “f”s in “puff” with just air passing between your teeth and lips.
Here are some words with the voiceless dental fricative th:
If you don’t make this sound correctly, it can sound like a “s” or a “t.”
Tip: “Shhhhh!” Use a Finger
Put your finger vertically in front of your mouth with the tip of your finger touching the bottom of your nose with your finger and wrist resting downward towards your chin, as if you wanted motion someone to be quite. (Shhhh!!)
With your finger against your lips, start with the tip of your tongue touching your finger, so your tongue should be outside of your mouth and in between your teeth. If you bite down on the tip of your tongue, then you can start to produce one of the th sounds.
Make sure your tongue starts by touching your finger- your finger should be wet!- otherwise you’ll never get the th sound!
Practicing pronunciation is one of the most difficult aspects of learning any language, but it’s an important step on the way to sounding more natural! Why not find a quiet room and just practice making these two sounds for a few minutes every day? Exaggerate at first, say the words slowly and then try to speed it up a little. You’ll be sounding like a native in no time!
If you need more help, check out this handy video from Effortless English Club!
What are some sounds you have trouble pronouncing? Drop us a line in the comments below, and we may write a blog about it!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, yoga instructor, and must admit she is happy that she already can make this sound! But don’t worry, learning German pronunciation is also no easy feat! (Eichhörnchen, anyone??)