Wednesday, November 12, 2008

That Tricky Th!

I have been reflecting on what topics have been coming up with my accent reduction  clients at Accent Master as of late and it seems as though many are circling back to the sound level. In particular is the /th/,/r/ and s-clusters (such as st,sp,sk). Today I will focus on the /th/(this is not the phonetic symbol, but it is easier to use the letters with the limitations of my keyboard.).

I find the mind and its perception and interpretation of the sounds to be quite impressive and the /th/ sound really highlights the minds flexibility. Here is what happens for most ELL, they hear the sound "th" and the brain categorizes it to a fricative and usually accurately decides if it is the voiced /th/ or the unvoiced /th/ (yes there are two!). It observes this through listening as nothing in English spelling will indicate that it is fricative or whether it is the voiced or the unvoiced version of the sound.

Now since only English and Greek possess this sound your very smart brain says well then, lets use the closest thing in our inventory that we have. For the voiceless /th/ we will use /s/ for the voiced we will use /z/, this substitution is observed amongst Amharic, Arabic, French,Dutch, Czech, German, Korean and Mandarin speakers to name a few.

Others will substitute a /d/ for the voiced /th/ and a /t/ for the voiceless. This still copies the voicing pattern and is quite impressive.

In either case the voicing of /th/ is not the issue. If you are replacing /th/ with /s/ or /z/, then simply move your tongue down a 1/4 of an inch and let it protrude slightly form between the teeth. Do not stop the air, just like with /s/ and /z/ let the air come out with friction (why it is called a fricative) of the air pushing between the teeth and the tongue. So the teeth need to rest only lightly on the tongue. It is important that it touch lightly so you don't end up stopping the air flow.

If you feel that you are substituting /th/ with /d/ or /t/ then you need to change two features. The first is to lower the tongue 1/4 of an inch and let it protrude slightly from between the teeth. With the teeth only resting lightly on the tongue. The second feature is that the /d/ and the /t/ are sounds known as stops. They are called stops because the air is stopped and then released. With the /th/ you want to keep the air flowing out as, I said above with friction. The air needs to continuously flow out.

One reason the /th/ can be tricky is because it takes longer to produce. However /th/ is never reduced. It is always fully produced. Write down a practice sentence and say it in the mirror. Do you see your tongue protruding with each /th/ sound?

Keep up the practice. Remember to try to use the sound in your daily speech. Put a note on your computer or switch your watch to a different hand as a way to remember your goal.

Good luck! Please respond with questions or comments and I will get back to you!

Lynn founder of Accent Master

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