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I can’t hear the difference between /d/ and th very well, though I know how to pronounce them. And it’s always hard for my tongue to use th, especially in the word “the”. Naturally I switch to /d/ sound. Is it a big deal? Or how could I improve my th sound?

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  • Question: if you can't hear de difference, how do you know how to pronounce dem?
    – Lambie
    Jul 24, 2018 at 22:10
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    Yes, we can hear the difference between "/th/e" and "/d/e". It's little sounds like that which distinguish the different accents of various native and non-native English speakers. For example, just yesterday I was watching a TV show with Jamaican characters who pronounced "thing" like "ting", and which I couldn't help but try (poorly) to imitate.
    – Andrew
    Jul 24, 2018 at 22:11
  • @Andrew for me, it’s hard to hear the difference between unvoiced /th/ and /s/. So sometimes I say some/s/ing instead of /th/ because it’s hard to switch from /s/ to /th/. Is it quite noticeable?
    – user67265
    Jul 24, 2018 at 22:27
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    @user67265 Yes, very much so. Substituting "s" for "th" is not uncommon, and is in fact one of the key parts of imitating a stereotypical "French" accent in English.
    – Andrew
    Jul 24, 2018 at 22:35
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    These differences are noticeable because they are phonological differences that make a semantic difference. We notice the difference because those and doze, and thing and sing don't just sound different, they mean something different too.
    – stangdon
    Jul 24, 2018 at 22:48

2 Answers 2

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Yes, it’s noticeable. It’s somewhat of an issue because those sounds are very common in English. I feel it is more stylistic than correctness, however here is how I make the /th/ sound.

Try to touch your tongue to the bottoms of all of your upper teeth like the first photo below.

enter image description here

Keep your tongue flat and using it to touch the bottom of all of your upper teeth (don't put your tongue inside your upper teeth instead put it perpendicular to your teeth just like when you bite your tongue. Next try to lower your bottom jaw a bit like the (second) picture below (exaggerated in photo because you can't keep your tongue touching all of your upper teeth and lower your bottom jaw very much). It's just so you can get some air flow though your mouth.

enter image description here

Try the mouth technique above and breaking up the words like this:

  • th-e (pronounced th-uh)
  • th-is (pronounced th-iss)
  • th-at (pronounced th-at)

In practice:

  • First, make your /d/ sound (but with your tongue flat against all of your upper teeth and your lower jaw slightly lowered). It will have more of a /z/ sound than a /d/ sound.
  • Next, make your /th/ sound while exhaling out through your mouth (with your tongue flat against all of your upper teeth and your lower jaw slightly lowered). The exhale should produce more of a /th/ than a /z/ sound.
  • Only release your tongue from touching your teeth after you have made the /th/ sound.
  • Say the second part of the word.
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Yes, native speakers will absolutely notice if you use /d/ instead of /the/. It's one of the key things that gives away a lot of non-native speakers.

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