I have requested a special English phonetic lesson and last week I finally had the pleasure with a super nice native speaker from the US. I wanted to do this for soooo long because I felt a bit insecure about my pronounciation. Although I studied English at university we never covered phonetics (!) which in hindsight is really startling, but unfortunately rather normal. Why? Well English has NO RULES WHATSOEVER for pronounciation. There are some guidelines and combinations that appear quite often, but no definite rules. You have to learn the pronounciation with every word.
One of the sounds manny English learnes are struggeling is the TH sound and now I’ve learned that there are actually two different th sounds, one is voiceless and the other is voiced. It is amazing how much difference this makes and your English will sound much more natural and correct. And I bet most of us dont’t want to sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger 😉
Here is a video I found very helpful and which will make the difference clear:
About the tongue position for the TH: for many people it feels very strange to really put the tongue between the teeth. They feel uncomfortabel with showing their tongue, as it is considered rude in some cultures. Nevertheless, it is vital for the correct th sound! So try it at home in front of a mirror until you are comfortable with it.
Now below I added the ponetic signs for the two sounds, a good dictionary will have the phonetic spelling for difficult words. That way you now can identify if it is voiced or voiceless. Unfortunately there are no definite rules, so below I can only give you guidelines which are useful most of the time.
- th = [θ] the voiceless dental fricative
The vocal cords do not vibrate on the th, you only emit air through your mouth. It is used:
at the beginning of words: thunder, theater, thing, three, thumb, thank you, thousand, think, throw.
at the ending of nouns and adjectives: bath cloth, mouth, tooth, youth, north, south, month, something, healthy,….
in the middle of words, like: cathedral, enthusiasm, ehtics, mathematics, lethal, method,….
- th = [ð] the voiced dental fricative
Basically the same tongue position in the voicelss th, but when emitting air you engage your vocal cords. You will feel a vibration at your throat and tounge. It is used:
at the beginning of funcion words: the, this, that, those, these, their, them, then, they, although, thereafter, therefore, though…
at the ending of verbs: breath, sooth,
in the middle of words, like: father, mother, weather, clothing, either, gather, other, rather, together, another, …
I hope that helped you! Do you have any other pronounciation problems or questions in English? I’m happy to do more posts about English sounds if you like, just let me know and comment below! 🙂