How can I make myself pronounce 'th' sounds correctly?
January 8, 2009 6:19 AM   Subscribe

I can't pronounce 'th' sounds in normal speech. That is, I pronounce 'the' as 'vuh' and 'three' as 'free' (rather than putting my tongue against my teeth as apparently other people do). I'm very self-conscious now I'm aware of it and worry it will give people a poor impression of me - "vey might fink I'm fick". Has anyone else had this problem? How can I fix it?

I had glue ear when I was young (5 maybe?) which meant I had problems learning to speak properly due to hearing difficulties. I had speech therapy at the time which improved my speech dramatically. I discovered 'th' was supposed to be pronounced differently to 'f' or 'v' when I was ~12/13. I'm now 20.

If you have any idea of the cost of speech therapy to correct this in the UK ( would it be possible on the NHS? - hopeful I know) then that would be helpful. As a student, I don't have much money to put into this. I don't really know where to start to train myself. I can make the right sounds for "the", but can't say "three" (or at least it doesn't sound right to me), and I can't seem to do words such as "other" so they sound right either (my attempts sound like 'uzzer'). That step probably isn't insurmountable, but then how to make myself use the right pronunciation in normal conversation? Perhaps you have some tips or materials for teaching myself? Do you think it's even possible to change at this stage?

This isn't the only problem I have with my communication - I also tend to speak too quickly, too quietly or mumble.
posted by asb to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Speak to your GP. On doing a search of the NHS Choices website, I can see a number of hospitals with speech therapy departments. While many of these will primarily deal with recovery from serious head trauma and the like, this is clearly something negatively affecting your self confidence and as such you should be able to get therapy on the NHS.

If you're a student, get yourself along to your uni medical service and speak to the GP there. They will refer you and explain the next steps.

The Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice may also be able to help.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2009

Are web sites like these of any help to you?
posted by DarkForest at 6:43 AM on January 8, 2009

My son cured himself of his toungue-thrust lisp (he said "th" for "s") by using a mirror. We would stand in front of one and say phrases that used the "s" sound and he saw how he was doing it differently from us. We did that several times a day for a few weeks. He then moved on to just being aware of how he was speaking during normal conversation and tried to correct himself when he used the wrong sound. He was completely lisp-free in about 6 months, I think. Maybe watch others who pronounce things correctly to see how they do it, and seriously, the mirror thing works wonders.

By the way, my son was in third grade (9 years old) when he did this, so I have no doubt that someone older can make the proper connections and has the motivation and understanding to make the change.
posted by cooker girl at 7:02 AM on January 8, 2009

Certainly try to see a speech therapist. But in the meantime, have you tried practicing with a good friend, who can give you immediate feedback about what sounds right? It might be worth a shot.

'f' and 'th' are very different physically. It might just be a matter of practicing the 'th' shape until you're comfortable with it.

To feel the difference:

Bite down gently on the top of your lower lip. Breathe out while doing this. This is 'f' ('v' is the same, but voiced)

Bite down gently on the tip of your tongue. Breathe out. This is 'th'
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:06 AM on January 8, 2009

Keep in mind too that people won't think you are thick if the things you say and do show intelligence even if you do have a minor impediment.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:13 AM on January 8, 2009

You might want to try keeping your lower lip down and out of the way of your teeth. Try practicing in a mirror.

In the US you can often get cheap speech therapy from speech therapy students at universities. Maybe that works in the UK as well.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2009

Put the very tip of your tongue between your teeth and let it vibrate while blowing out. Have a friend model it for you. Memorize how it feels (assuming you're clear on how it sounds now). Do it in the mirror. Practice it constantly when no one's watching. Learn what 'voiced' and 'unvoiced' are - the difference between g-k, ch-j, or s-z is analogous to the difference between the two 'th's (that you are now pronouncing as f-v).

You can teach yourself to make new sounds, even though it's different from learning them automatically as a baby. If I learned how to make an ع sound (impossible gutteral consonant in Arabic), you can learn how to say 'th'. (It took me many months of effort and practice, and a decision to bravely keep trying to pronounce it despite my conviction that everyone was laughing at me, but it comes out naturally most of the time now, and is much harder than a 'th' sound.)

Sure, take the speech therapy if it's cheap or subsidized, but if you want to, you can learn this without paying for it, so don't let yourself use that as an excuse. Dedicated practice and the courage to ask for feedback should do you just as well.
posted by xanthippe at 9:08 AM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: Many thanks for all your responses. To clarify, I'm not particularly worried about learning the mechanics of pronouncing 'th' properly - with enough observation and repeated practice I don't see why it wouldn't start to feel more natural. The difficulty is then how to train myself to use the correct sound in normal conversation, and particularly when feeling stressed or under pressure.
posted by asb at 10:13 AM on January 8, 2009

I have emailed my speech therapist mother to ask for her expertise, but I can tell you a few things I have picked up from her.

When a specific sound trips you up, it is called an articulation problem, and those are usually worked on with school-age kids by playing games that require them to say words correctly, words that involve the sounds they have issues with. If you think you can train yourself, repeated training will spill over into regular communication and eventually find it's way into stress-filled speech as well.

If she has more tips, I'll share them.
posted by soelo at 10:35 AM on January 8, 2009

This is something that you can correct, with practice. Practice will be key. I studied acting intensively when I was in my early twenties. With the many speech and voice classes we learned that nearly every sound out of our mouths was "wrong". We walked around repeating, repeating the sounds, sounds that we had just made. After some months the way I used my throat and mouth changed and it was no longer something I needed to watch all the time.
posted by pointilist at 11:30 AM on January 8, 2009

You might try some elocution exercises, which are ideally worked through very slowly at first and then slowly increased into normal speech speed. Here are a few of them, several with that tricky "th" sound!

* High roller, low roller, lower roller.
* I need a box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.
* He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
* Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.
* The Leith police dismisseth us.
* Twixt this and six thick thistle sticks.
* The sixth Sikh Sheik's sixth sheep's sick.
* The free thugs set three thugs free.
* She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping and amicably welcoming him in.
* Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
* Six Scottish soldiers shot in their shoulders.
* Richard's and Robert's revolting rottweiler retched rancid rabbits.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:34 PM on January 8, 2009

It's called 'th-fronting' and, as I am sure you know, it is common throughout the UK, even among people who did not suffer from OM as you did. But if you (and your GP) think this is something that is a vestige of your glue ear days, you ought to be able to get treatment under the NHS.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:13 PM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: soelo: That would be really helpful, thank you so much.

yellowcandy: Thanks - I'd wondered if there was a name for this. If I'm reading it correctly, my problem goes slightly further than standard th-fronting due to my pronunciation of 'the' as 'vuh' and so on.
posted by asb at 2:37 PM on January 8, 2009

It's certainly possible to get speech therapy as an adult on the NHS. I was treated at some point after being referred by a disability employment adviser. Though my problems with speech where quite severe as a child they had already improved a fair bit at this point as a result of speech therapy when I was younger, and this proved no obstacle to getting treatment. I think it was useful doing it as an adult particularly as you are in a better position to deal with the intertwined psychology — speaking quietly, quickly and mumbling likely arise form this, and just just doing something to tackle your other problem can give you a confidence boost which will help deal with these.
posted by tallus at 3:43 AM on January 9, 2009

Here is my mom's response:
"I am a speech-language pathologist. We know from research that there are very important, sensitive "windows" in terms of age when certain sounds must be heard properly in order to develop naturally. They are different for different children. Often when a child has an ear problem, or does not hear well (such as your "glue ear), during the window for learning that sound, the natural development of that sound can be difficult, but not impossible. The fact that you are acutely aware of the mispronunciation is a huge step. Obviously you have tried it on your own. I would recommend looking at your insurance to see if it will cover a few speech therapy sessions. It really shouldn't take more than 3-5 GOOD sessions (maybe fewer). It is also not unusual for a person to be able to make the correct sound slowly on its own (not in a word), but slip back to the old way when the sound is put into a word. A speech pathologist will be able to set up a step by step "program" to help you through that difficulty. In America, Speech Pathologists are certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association. (You can ask if the person is ASHA certified). I hope that answers some questions for you, and good luck."
posted by soelo at 2:20 PM on January 13, 2009

Response by poster: Many thanks soelo.
posted by asb at 4:38 AM on January 14, 2009

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