The 'unvoiced th' /θ/ is difficult, the r sound is difficult, together they are VERY difficult.
Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Amanda, and this is an updated release of our 46th episode.
Today's podcast is about a combination of sounds that are especially difficult for many non-native English speakers, the ‘unvoiced’ th /θ/ plus /r/, as in the word three. Three.
- See unvoiced th pronunciation lesson and spelling lesson
- See r sound pronunciation lesson and spelling lesson
It isn't surprising that this sound combination is so difficult; the /θ/ and /r/ individually cause problems for many non-native English speakers. When they occur right next to each other, the level of difficulty is multiplied.
Both the /θ/ and the /r/ are continuous consonants, meaning the sounds can be pronounced for a long time. I’m going to say, and hold, each sound. Join me if you can. (/θ/, /r/)
Now let’s compare that to a couple discontinuous sounds, the t sound (/t/) and the ch sound (/ʧ/). Notice that I can’t say and hold these two sounds. The closest I can get is to say each sound multiple times. (/t/, t, t/, /ʧ, ʧ, ʧ/.
So, /θ/ and /r/ are continuous consonants. Because these are both continuous consonants, I can blend them from one into the next. For a very brief moment, the sounds are both happening at the same time. (/θr/). Three.
This combination is hard because it takes a lot of tongue movement to get from the /θ/ into the /r/. The /θ/ happens at the front of our mouth, with the tip of our tongue very near the top front teeth. Air from our lungs is forced out of the vocal tract (see vocal tract lesson) between the tip of our tongue and the top front teeth. If that is done correctly, the /θ/ sound occurs. (/θ/).
The /r/ happens at the back of the mouth, with the tongue lifted up near the very back teeth. Now, here's the really important part, the tip of the tongue cannot touch anything during the /r/. It doesn't really matter what the tip of the tongue is doing, as long as it’s not touching any other part of the inside of the mouth. You should be saying the /r/ like /r/, and not like the discontinuous (tapped) /r/, or the rolled (rolled r).
Got it? Good!
So, to get from the /θ/ sound into the /r/, we need to quickly switch from using the tip of the tongue to create sound to using the back of the tongue. Listen to the combination: (th+r, th+r, th+r). Now you try it. (th+r).
In English, this sound combination is most likely to occur at the beginning of the word, so let's practice a few words. Repeat after me.
threw (or through)
Okay, one more time, let's practice those th+r words. Repeat after me.
threw (or through)
One other note about blending continuous consonants; it happens whether the sounds are within a single word, or are next to each other because one sound ends a word and another continuous consonant begins the next word. This is called linking, and there are specific lessons for linking continuous consonants on Pronuncian.com. We also have our very popular Linking ebook—which includes over an hour of audio practice for sale on Pronuncian. If you want more sound practice for sounds like the /θ/, or /r/, or any of the other 41 sounds of English, check out the Pronunciation Pages ebook or our Sounds Drills download. You can find all of those products on the “Books and Products” link on Pronuncian.com. Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.
This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. You can find more information about Seattle Learning Academy and our pronunciation classes by visiting www.seattlelearning.com.
Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.