American Accent: The Unvoiced TH

Where did you get your first English lesson from? Do you remember how intense it was? For a good number of us,  we started learning as early as our Nursery years up until we finish College. I, on the other hand, experienced my first serious, strict, and no holds barred English lesson under the tutelage of my mother, Delia. My mom would always say to us when we were younger that “I have only the best intentions for you.”

This is true because my mom was my number one fan, my worst critique, and as I found out during that late afternoon in 1986, she is also my strict but patient teacher. So, my dear readers, let me give you the first major correction that my mom made during my first English lesson: the unvoiced ‘th’.

This is a major flaw for most non native English speakers. And for some, we are unaware of this area for improvement. This distinct sound is created by protruding your tongue in between your teeth and then just breathing out air through your teeth. Sounds easy right? Well, not quite. Not in the mind of a then six year old me, and as I continue to teach others, found out that this is also a struggle for most students of the language, whether local or foreign.

The problem that occurs to most Filipinos is that the unvoiced ‘th’ sounds like a regular ‘t.  For example, instead of saying the number”three,” we would say, “tree,” as in mango tree.  Instead of saying “I have to take a bath,” we would say, “I have to take a bat,” the winged one.

Here are some examples of the unvoiced “th”:

Beginning

thank, theater, thesis, thick, thin, thing, think, third, thirsty, thousand, three, throat, thunder, Thursday

Middle

athletic, bathroom, birthday, everything, healthy, marathon, python, toothbrush, toothpaste, truthful, wealthy

Ending

bath, both, beneath, breath, cloth, Earth, fifth, math, month, mouth, ninth, strength, teeth, tenth, tooth, youth

So if you want to sound correct, make sure that you practice the unvoiced ‘th’ until you get it.  Make sure that you put your tongue right below your front teeth and blow some air as you say the words.

In the meantime, check out our CX: Communication Excellence course at the American Institute for English Proficiency, where we teach the standard American accent as one of the modules.