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My dictionary says
thing /θɪŋ/
thought /θɔːt/

but when listening to native speakers, I hear it like
thing /fɪŋ/
thought /fɔːt/

Do I hear it wrong?

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    Could you clarify: what is your native language, and which native English speakers are you listening to? Some English speakers do use /f/ instead of the sound /θ/, but that is considered to be a regional accent, not a standard pronunciation. – sumelic Jul 16 at 7:10
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    My native is Slovenian. I've listened to some Australians from Perth and noticed that "f". When they said "thought", I heard it like "fought" Later on, I heard it again in the UK. – whowhenhow Jul 16 at 8:04
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    Australians would not generally be expected to use /f/. It’s primarily a southern UK fing, er, thing. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 16 at 9:42
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    An occasional Australian might do this, but if you're hearing it from lots of Australians, you need to train your ears to distinguish these two sounds better (not that you really need to distinguish them to understand English speech). – Peter Shor Jul 16 at 11:10
  • (Middle-aged 'Standard' Australian, lived in Vic, SA, Qld and NSW): I haven't heard any 'Standard' Australian say 'f' in these words, or any like them, but the Sydney suburb of Penrith is supposed to be pronounced as 'Penriff' by the young people there. I can't comment about Perth - the last time I visited was 40 years ago! – Sydney Jul 19 at 10:00
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When teaching Italian students who struggle with the pronunciation of thirteen, thirty-three, thirtieth and thirty-first, I show them the "correct" pronunciation by gently pressing my tongue between my teeth and then breathing out the /θ/ sound, some get it immediately but a few never do, even after repeated lessons and drillings.

So... I summon the North London shaman in me, substitute the /θ/ sounds with the /f/ and omit the middle "t" (T-glottalization); not the last "t" in first, and it works, each and every time. My Italian speaking students sound like north Londoners straight from the 1960s or 1970s.

In linguistics this form of substitution is called th-fronting

Th-fronting is the pronunciation of the English "th" as "f" or "v". When th-fronting is applied, /θ/ becomes /f/ (for example, three is pronounced as free) and /ð/ becomes /v/ (for example, bathe is pronounced as bave).

[…] Th-fronting is a prominent feature of several dialects of English, notably Cockney, Essex dialect, Estuary English, some West Country and Yorkshire dialects, Newfoundland English, African American Vernacular English, and Liberian English, as well as in many non-native English speakers (e.g. Hong Kong English, though the details differ among those accents).

From the Independent, a lovely article (depending where you're from) about how the pronunciations of certain words by Londoners and people living in south England have influenced and changed the pronunciation patterns of the rest of the country.

The most surprising sign of this shift is that large swathes of British people now pronounce the word “three” incorrectly. Or at least, differently — but certainly not the way it is written. Sixty years ago there was broad agreement on how that word was said properly. Now there isn't. […] Only North Londoners said “FREE.” (The historic data was collected only from England.)

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But in 2016, the results from Adrian Leeman's research team at the Cambridge Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics were quite different

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[Tam] Blaxter says that the influence of London and the South East has spread southern pronunciations over the rest of the country — which is why a large minority of people in Hull and Plymouth now say “FREE” even though their parents grew up saying “THREE.”

  • I'm answering the question as stated not in the comments. – Mari-Lou A Jul 16 at 11:22
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    This is a great answer and I love the maps. The only thing I would change is I think it is important to point out that in North America at least, pronunciation of /θ/ as [θ] is pretty much universal among native speakers. If your accent is otherwise standard American English but you pronounce /θ/ as [f] that would be considered to be a speech impediment or a child's speech. It is common for children to acquire the ability to articulate [θ] late (along with [r]) so beginning counting uttered as "one, two, 'fwee'" is considered stereotypical children's speech. – nohat Jul 17 at 18:33

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