Probably the single most difficult English sound is the TH sound
According to Google University, there are only three languages that have this phoneme, this sound:
- Spanish and
- Greek (the IPA symbol for TH is the Greek letter Theta θ )
Many, many people struggle with the TH sound.
The TH sound is often replaced with S or Z which often leads to confusion and even potential loss of human life as shown in the famous Berlitz commercial.
How do we go about pronouncing the TH sound?
You have a total of 4 choices:
TH as θ
TH as D
TH as T
TH as F
TH pronounced F
The pronunciation of TH as F is known as Th-fronting
And it comes to no surprise because the F sound comes closest to the TH sound:
-- TH is pronounced by letting air between your tongue and upper teeth. The air is pushed between the teeth and the tongue without them touching.
-- F is pronounced by letting air between your lower lip and upper teeth. The air is pushed between the teeth and the lip without them touching.
Not the same but close enough.
And it’s not like pronouncing TH as F is an invention of mine,
it’s something native speakers of English do.
Native speakers of British English, people living in England,
the country that gave us the English language.
According to Wikipedia: Th-fronting is a prominent feature of several dialects of English, notably Cockney, Essex dialect, Estuary English, some West Country and Yorkshire dialects, Newfoundland English, African American Vernacular English, and Liberian English, as well as in many non-native English speakers (e.g. Hong Kong English, though the details differ among those accents).
Even David Beckham on occasion will say F instead of TH
Purists dislike when people say F instead of TH. I don’t do it myself.
The thing is: my book are about what works in practice rather than theory, and pronouncing TH as F is a MUCH better option than either S or Z.
TH pronounced T
It is a much easier choice. The difference between T and TH is that with
--T the tongue touches the upper teeth.
To make it work you should try and make it softer by not pressing the tongue too hard and long, instead press it gently.
TH pronounced D
Substituting D for TH is something many native speakers of English do.
The IPA symbol is this one ð which is closer to D than to T.
The most common word pronounced with D instead of TH is the definite article THE which is one of the top 10 most common words in the English language.
THE is quite often even spelled in colloquial English as Da
TH pronounced θ
That’s unquestionably the best way to pronounce TH. There are plenty of free pictures online showing mouth and tongue positions to help you master that sound, but whatever you do don’t say S or Z.
Firstly, make sure you can hear the TH sound before you practice pronouncing it,
and secondly, practice it in combination with other sounds.
For instance TH in the word "bath":
I took a bath this morning.
TH as F and D:
/ai tuk ə ba:f dis mo:ning/
Just DON’T say:
/ai tuk ə bas zis mo:ning/