TheWhen I started to learn Czech (I’m still learning, albeit very slowly!) I had to learn some new letters and with them some new sounds. Č was not too difficult, neither was Š or even Ž. You know where this is going right? But when it came to Ř it was another story.

I can remember just after our first daughter Daisy was born, practising the sound over and over while she looked at me from her cot as though I was a crazy person. (She’d thank me now though as her pronunciation is perfect!) Indeed it took me many, many months to get something sounding close just from listening to you native speakers. I was fortunate enough to have my future wife and all her Czech friends to help me, though somehow I still wasn’t able to get my tongue around it. “It’s like a rolling R with a Ž at the same time“ they’d say. Rolling Rs is difficult enough for many British people, the Scottish excepted of courrrse.

So it wasn’t unthink-mdtil a visit to Prague a few months before we moved lock, stock and barrel (idiom explained at the end) to the Czech Republic that Radka’s sister showed me how it should be done. Letting me look closely at her mouth (she’s very trusting!) as she curled her tongue behind her teeth, rolled the R and blew air from her windpipe. This was the moment I finally understood and made the leap from something that sounded like a sneeze to something much more pronounced and close to what I was looking for. Now I am told I have a super sounding Ř. Test me on Křivoklát, křižíkova and řeřicha! Ok maybe not perfect but better than a Slovak’s! Sorry Ivana 😉 That said I still have trouble with pronouncing a simple rolled R when it follows a T or D for example. That makes it pretty hard for me to pronounce my own sister in law’s name Petra.So why am I telling you this?this-imageI’m telling you this because I want you to know that I understand how hard it can be to master a new sound that is not of your native tongue. I’m talking here about TH. Many of you have a problem with this sound as it doesn’t exist in Czech. Neither does our English J (as in juice) but you can easily compensate for it with a DŽ. However there is no way to make the TH sound using other Czech letters so I’m afaid you will just have to learn it.

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Here is my best explanation of how to position the various bits of your mouth in order to make a good attempt at it and below you will see a link to a video with a close up of my mouth (I apologize!).

But first are you aware that there are two TH sounds? One we call a voiced TH and the other unvoiced or voiceless. Let’s start with this unvoiced sound as in Thursday, a word which I know causes considerable discomfort and embarrassment as well as missed meetings and dates down the pan. And believe me I know what it’s like because I had to learn how to put five consonants in a row when I learnt čtvrtek. In English we like to use a vowel every now and again!

So the TH as in ThurDay of the week photographed with vintage letterpress characters.sday is produced by:

  • a) placing the tip of your tongue behind your slightly parted teeth. (If you put your finger to your teeth you should just feel your tongue between the gap.)
  • b) simply blowing air through the gap in your teeth over your tongue.

Click here to see the video.

Some explanations will tell you to stick your tongue out a bit between your teeth. While you do get an almost identical sound I think keeping your tongue back a bit makes the sound much cleaner and clearer.

At no point do you need your lips in this process. You can even hold them out of the way while you are practising to zzzz-1024x1024get the correct sound. I don’t want to hear any DZZZ or SSZZZZ o r SSS or T ok?!   

Right, now you have mastered the unvoiced sound (Thursday, think, thought) you can move onto the voiced sound as in The, This, These, Those. The instructions for this sound are exactly the same as for the unvoiced sound but with one addition. You are also going to use your vocal chords/voicebox to produce a sound. That sound is the same as when you can’t think what to say and you ERRR as we say in English. For example “I don’t know anything about Van Gogh, eerrrr, maybe he was French? Eerrrr, I really don’t know.” So follow theses instructions as follows:

  • a) place the tip of your tongue behind your slightly parted teeth.
  • b) make the eerrrrr sound and continue making it as you start to…
  • c) blow air through the gap in your teeth over your tongue.

Click here to see the video.

And there you have it. The perfect TH sound, both voiced and unvoiced. Congratulations. I can’t wait to here the improvement the next time we talk. Here are the two idioms I used explained.

Idioms:

lock, stock, and barrel

The entirety; all of something. For example, Richard moved out of the house, lock, stock, and barrel. This expression alludes to the three elements of a firearm (gun) -the lock or firing mechanism, the stock or handle, and the barrel or tube. [Early 1800s]

down the pan

Completely and irreversibly wasted, lost, or destroyed. Primarily heard in UK. In an instant, we saw all our hopes for our business go down the pan. All those years of research down the pan. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

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2 thoughts on “The Easy Way To Pronounce TH. (The, These, Think, Thursday)

  1. Hello ! I’m trying to make the unvoiced TH sound and I get to make a sound but I don’t know if it really should sound like this. It looks like a weaker F but not quite. Another thing I noticed is that it looks like the air that I blow seems to pass through the two gaps in my mouth blocked by the tongue, is this wrong? I think it is wrong because it should pass through the gap made by the tongue and the parted teeth, right ?

    If I get the unvoiced TH sound right, all I need to do to get the voiced one is vibrate the vocal cords while doing the unvoiced one, right ? When I do that, the voiced “TH” sound sounds a lot like a V, is this right ?

    My native language is Portuguese, so I used to replace the TH sound with “F,” “T” and “D,” ( I don’t know why we used 3 sounds since there are only two TH sounds – I used to say “taenks” instead of “thanks,” “ee-duhr” instead of “either” and “fink” instead of “think.” This is how almost everyone I know in Brazil talks ), so I’m a bit confused because it looks like I’m following all the steps right and maybe even getting the sound right, but I’m still confused because I don’t know how to see if I’m really doing it right. I’m used to hear “the” as “duh” and “deeh” all the time and it would sound really weird to me if someone suddenly came and started saying “the” as “vuh” and “veeh.” It even sounds like “D” and “T” when I hear a native speaker talking.

    Trying to look for more info on how to do the TH sound, I found someone on the internet saying that you can do it by putting the tip of the tongue really close to the top teeth and making an “S” or “Z” sound, can you confirm this ?
    This kinda “worked” to me, because what it sounds like is a sound that looks a lot like a “D” and a “T,” but really weaker and without the “stop” feature of these sounds, but again, I’m not sure if this is really how it should sound like.

    Also, when I do it the first way ( by putting the tongue behind the parted teeth ), it gets really hard for me to say phrases like “this thing” or “there’s this thing,” which makes me believe that I’m doing it wrong, since ( I think ) it shouldn’t be “difficult” to pronounce these consonant junctions. I end up saying things like “thissing” and “therezissing.”

    I think all these problems exist because I’m really used to hearing the TH sound as D and T. Everywhere I go people talk like this and teach everyone that the TH sound should be pronounced as D and T. I was even surprised when I found out that it isn’t pronounced like D and T.

    This is probably the hardest thing I’ve found in the whole of English so far ( I know though that there are still lots of stuff I need to improve ). This is also probably the sound with which we have the most difficult in distinguishing. I found the R sound easy to do and the A in cat too ( the “ae” sound as transcripted to IPA doesn’t exist in Portuguese, so the teachers tell us that it should be pronounced as the “E” in “bet.” It didn’t take a lot of time for me to learn the difference and start saying it correctly ).

    Can you help me? Thanks a lot in advance ! Sorry for any mistakes in my text.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You shouldn’t be getting any kind of S or V sound. If you are getting a V sound I think it will be because you are using your bottom lip to make the sound. We don’t use our lips to make this sound. Try practising by holding your lips out of the way and simply blowing the air (as you rightly said) through the gap between your teeth and tongue and not out of the sides (where you may be getting the S sound). Try watching the videos again. Links are in the post above.

    Like

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