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Nov 12

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, LMSW, Cultural Adjustment Coach/Mentor
Friday, November 12, 2010

One of the most difficult sounds in English for many who don’t have this sound in their native language is TH. There are actually two ways to make the TH sound, a silent version (voiceless) and a noisy version (voiced).  Creating these sounds properly will help you be understood better by Americans while speaking English.

I have recently realized why pronouncing TH is so important. There is another sound in American English that can be heard by American ears when the TH sounds are not pronounced correctly. Do you know the sounds that can be heard instead?

Well, for the voiced TH (like in breathe, mother, etc.) the Z sound may be heard instead. And, for the voiceless TH (as in they, path, etc.) the S sound may be heard instead.  In this post, I will try to focus more on the voiceless Th/S sounds- an example is “path” vs. “pass” or “they” vs. “say”. Of course we may be able to figure out the right word from context, but if an American speaker of English ‘hears’ a statement like “say said” (supposed to be ‘they said’) or “I’ll path” (instead of ‘I’ll pass.’) misunderstandings may happen frequently. Instead of shying away from talking, let’s build your confidence by learning how to properly pronounce these sounds. In this post, I will share a few YouTube videos made by myself and others on this topic. In the follow up post, I will provide some more listening exercises.

In both videos, take note of the tongue positions for the TH sound and the S sound. Tongue position is very important not only in creating the right sound but tuning your ear to hear these sounds properly. A tip I have given some students is if you feel comfortable do ‘lip reading’ or watch people’s mouths as they talk; in this way you can notice when the tongue is used or not (and for other sounds, when the lips pucker, or the mouth opens, widens, etc.). The best place to use this trick is while watching TV, especially the news. That technique works well for YouTube videos such as those below since the speakers are facing forward.

This video made by Action Teach compares Th and S sounds tailor made for Japanese ESL/ESOL students. I really appreciate his approach.

In this video, made by Accent School, you can fine tune both TH sounds and compare the voiceless TH and S sounds. She gives some good tips on how to distinguish the two TH sounds.

In this third and last video, I attempted to demonstrate how to make the TH sounds with some details not in the other videos. I also compare TH with D and S sounds. The lighting is not so good, but I hope you can still find some useful information here!


As a side note, I have been a casual learner of Hindi and a few other Indian languages over the years. In these languages there are a plethora of d, t, dh, and th sounds.  I have yet to master these sounds. If you have any tips on that, do send it my way!



 Cultural Etiquette And Adjustment Tips (Lessons on Cross-Cultural adjustment and culture shock.)
 American English (ESL/ESOL) For Daily Use (More podcasts and videos on American English Coahching/Tutoring.)

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If you’re looking for help in fine tuning your American English and cultural skills; strategies in coping with culture shock, life abroad or with a cross-cultural family, or are looking for cross-cultural mentoring or expat coaching, in person, over the telephone or via Skype, send me an e-mail- jenkumar@gmail.com. Thanks!



Summary: "When we gain fluency in another language in it's native environment, we may come to find out the sounds we make are not heard clarly by native speakers. This forms an accent. Accents are personality traits and are wonderful, but if our accent impedes understanding and clear communication, our daily life can be impacted. Rather than shy away from talking and making new friends in a new language, here are tips to improve your American accent!"

tags: "accent reduction" strategies, "foreign language learning" "confidence building" "cross cultural communication" "living abroad" esl esol, English, podcast, vlog, tutorials, pronunciation, "how to say", phonetics, tips, strategies, help, "life coach", "expat coach", "culture adjustment", "cross cultural coping" 

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