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Are you studying American English? Do you want to improve the way your TH pronunciation sounds? Do you like English lessons that focus on how to improve your spoken English? If so, this video is for you! You’ll learn every detail about the TH sound in American English.
You may have learned that this is what you need to do for the TH sound. Here I’m saying the phrase ‘bad weather’ and I’ve frozen my mouth on TH. This is the position of the TH sometimes, but there are a lot of very common words where native speakers do a little bit of a shortcut for the TH. It all relates to stress. In this video you’re going to learn that shortcut, the right way to make a TH. I love this: we’re studying a sound, but at the same time we’re studying stress, the foundation of American English. First, let’s talk about the full TH position. This is the one you’ve been taught as a student, but my students still really struggle with this sound. That can happen for a couple of reasons. One, they stick too much of their tongue out.
Look, it’s not that much, it’s just the very tip. Two, they block the air with their tongue. Th. Th. Th. That turns this into a stop consonant, it’s not a stop consonant. The air flows freely. You should be able to hold it continuously with no stops in air, no pressure. Just try that with me now. See how the teeth are just very lightly touching the tongue. You don’t want to press the teeth into the tongue. So those are the mistakes my students make when trying to make a TH sound.
The other biggest problem is they simply don’t make it. They make an S sound, or a T. What do you sink? Or what do you tink? then with the voiced TH they make a D sound: dis is mine, or a Z sound, zis is mine. That’s not a huge problem. In most cases, it won’t mess up people understanding you. But if a lot of your sounds are inaccurate and your rhythm isn’t American, it can start to be hard to understand someone. So it is worth taking the time to learn these new sounds you don’t have in your native language. Let’s look at three words with a TH at the beginning, middle, and end. First, the word thin. This TH is unvoiced, that means it’s made just with air, no vibration of the vocal cords. TH. Thin, thin. Watch this. You’ll see it in slow motion. You’ll see it twice, then a third time with no sound. You say it, slowly, just like you’ve seen. Thin.
Now a word with a TH in the middle, although. Here the TH is voiced. That means it’s not just air, but vocal vibration as well, Although, the tongue position is the same. Although Let’s take a look at this word. You’ll see it twice, hear it twice, study it. Then you’ll see it one more time with no sound, you say it out loud that time. Say it slowly, although.
And now a word with the TH at the end. This is both. What TH is that, voiced or unvoiced? Both, thh. That’s unvoiced. You’ll see and hear it two times, the third time you say it, slowly, both. Great. Now let’s talk about that shortcut. Sometimes the tongue tip doesn’t come all the way through the teeth. Let me show you what I mean. We’re going to study a phrase, It’s better than I thought. So we have two TH’s there. One in the word ‘than’, and the one in the word ‘thought’. It’s better than I thought. When I do that phrase, which words are the most stressed? Which are the most clear to you? It’s better than I thought. It’s better than I thought. ‘Better’ and ‘thought’ are stressed. That means the word ‘than’ is unstressed. Than is unstressed and it begins with a voiced TH.
In this case we can do the tongue shortcut. Let’s see. I’ve just started the word ‘than’. Look at the tongue position. It’s different than what we’ve been seeing. The tip isn’t out. Where is it? It’s actually behind the teeth. The very tip is touching the backs of the teeth. It doesn’t sound like a D because we’re not putting pressure against the roof of the mouth. Let’s keep going. Here is the TH in THOUGHT. This TH is unvoiced, and the tongue tip always has to come through for an unvoiced TH. Plus, this word is stressed.
Let’s watch the whole phrase again. TH in than, tongue tip not coming through. TH in thought, tongue tip coming through. There are a lot of really common words that will usually be unstressed, that begin with a voiced TH. You can do this shortcut on those words. ‘Than’ is one of them. It’s pronounced: than, than. Notice in the phrase the vowel is reduced: it’s not THAN. A common English reduction. Let’s practice just the three words ‘better than I’. Better than I. Better than I. Than, unstressed, than. Better than– Better than I. Better than I. Simplifying the TH in the word THAN doing our shortcut helps us get through these unstressed and an important syllables more quickly which is what we want.
That is the rhythm of American English, and it’s foundation, it’s so important. Simplifying the unstressed words helps us say them more quickly, provides better contrast to a longer, stressed syllables. Actually, this reminds me of an email I just got last night from someone in my Academy. Here’s what she said let me go get it: It was nothing like I expected and to be honest I was so upset to start with such basic stuff. Ugh! A million negative thoughts went through my head as I did imitation. Long story short, I was shocked at how much I needed the basics. YOUR ACADEMY IS FREAKING AWESOME! LOL The thing I told her is that I’m addressing stress with my students with both the biggest accent struggles and also my most advanced students. It matters for everyone. Knowing this simplification of the TH and tying it to stress is going to help you sound more natural. She goes on to say: As important as communication is I think my biggest achievement so far is how much more confident I feel. That confidence spills into every aspect of my life. Not to be sappy and corny but words fail to convey my heartfelt gratitude.
Carol Ann, thank you so much. I got this late last night when I was working. An idiom we can use for this is ‘burning the midnight oil,’ working late. And it gave me a pick-me-up when I needed it. So ‘better than I’ is BE-tter-than-I. Than, than, than, than, than with that simplified TH. You try it. Just try the unstressed syllables. Better than I. Better than I. Better than I. Better than I. Let your face completely relax. Better than I. Better than I. Better than I. Now we’ll see the phrase again three times. You’ll hear the audio all three times, but do repeat out loud the third time with me, in slow motion. Now let’s do it’s worse than I thought. It’s worse than I thought. It’s worse than I thought. Here again you can see the tongue position for the TH is not through the teeth.
The tip is just behind the teeth. This simplified TH helps me make the sound faster. It’s not a D, it’s not pushing against the roof of the mouth. It’s pressing the backs of the teeth. Worse than, worse than. and now here is the full position for the TH in ‘thought’. Worse than I. Worse than I – than I, than I, than I – than I thought. Try just ‘than I’ with me. Than I , than I. Simple. It’s worse than I thought. It’s worse than I thought. Hear that stress. Feel it.
Worse and thought are stressed, longer, up-down shape: than I– than I– than I– These two words are flatter in pitch, said more quickly. More simply. Than I, than I. Now we’ll see the phrase again three times. You’ll hear the audio all three times, but do repeat out loud the third time with me, in slow motion. What do you think? Is this simplified TH starting to make more sense? Let’s study one more sentence with the word ‘than’ The phrase is “I thought it would be easier than this.” Three TH’s. I thought it would be easier than this.
Thought and this, both of these TH words are stressed. And the tongue tip will come through for that. THAN unstressed, the tongue position will be simplified. Clear TH position for the word ‘thought’. Simplified position for the word ‘than’. Clear TH position for the word ‘ this’. IT’s a voiced TH, but since the word is stressed, the whole tongue tip does come through. The word THIS can be unstressed, and in that case you’ll see the simplified position. We’ll see that later in this video. Now we’ll see the phrase again three times. You’ll hear the audio all three times, but do repeat out loud the third time with me, in slow motion. It’s tricky. We have three TH’s here.
I’m going to give you another tricky sentence. It’s “my brother’s taller than Theo.” Brother and Theo will have the tongue tip coming through. THAN is simplified. Let’s watch. Now you’ll see it three times, repeat out loud the third time. Other words that begin with a voiced TH that may be unstressed are: the, this, that, these, them. Actually the TH in THEM can even be dropped. That’s a pretty common reduction.
Also though, they’re, there, their. Note at the beginning of a sentence, it can go either way. The mouth position can be simplified or it might not be. You’ll notice this as you watch more examples. I think you get how we do the simplified TH and what is the right tongue position for a full TH. The rest of this video is going to be words and phrases with TH. Some will have a simplified position and some will be the full position. You’ll be able to identify that because everything is in slow motion. The text is on the screen so you can use the slider on the video player to go quickly, fast forward, find the words and phrases you most want to practice . We’ll have some good ones in there like ‘thirteenth birthday’. Sore throat, and I think so. For each one, you’ll see and hear it three times, I suggest you say it out loud the third time.
Notice where a TH is simplified. Practice it that way. Stop the video if you need to and repeat many times to get that movement into your mouth, to build that habit. If you work on this video every day, and you use a mirror to watch your own mouth, for a couple of weeks, can you imagine how comfortable you’ll be with this sound?
Are you still here? Amazing. I have no doubt that your TH is clearer than it was at the beginning of this video. To study more up-close shots of the mouth, check out this difficult words video. Please be sure to subscribe with notifications. I make new videos every Tuesday that focus on spoken English and I’d love to see you back here. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.