The Internet TESL Journal

Teaching the "Th" Sound to Young EFL Learners

Camran Shirvani
Islamic Azad University, Qaemshahr (Qaemshahr, Iran)
EFL learners often mispronounce the "th" sound. What follows is an effective technique (a tongue exercise) for in-class practice. This is especially effective in case of young EFL learners since it is entertaining and produces near-immediate results.


Mispronouncing the "th" sound by making a simple "s" or "t" sound is very common among English language learners, and the case has been discussed for several decades. Carr (1967) in her article "Teaching the "th" sounds of English" in the first number of the first volume of TESOL journal begins as follow:

"There is nothing boring about teaching the ancient and honorable the sounds of English – the phonemes which are so characteristic a part of the stream of the speech in English but so rare among other languages of the world. If instructor and learners keep even a few bit of information about the structure of English in mind, these lessons can be the most successful effort of a semester."

Since then, besides keeping "a few bits of information about the structure of English in mind", several teachers introduced various techniques to prevent students saying "sink" instead of "think" because of the transfer the "s" from their mother tongue (Soullier, 2005).

What follows is a technique which I found to be successful, especially for young learners.

The Technique

The technique I discovered to be effective has the following merits:
This technique has three main phases. First, the teacher illustrates to students that how they can pronounce the "th" sound correctly, that is, how to stick their tongue out. Almost all of the students find it a bit odd. However, the teacher should remind them that they are speaking in another language. The teacher can introduce the students to some mispronounced words from their mother tongue to show them how they would seem to be non-natives if they mispronounced words.

Second, the teacher makes sure that all of the learners can stick their tongues out. Checking students, the teacher should keep his/her tongue stuck out. He should ask learners to stick their tongues out for a few seconds and repeat the action several times.

Third, the teacher devises a drill based on some familiar words with "th" sounds. He/she can choose a number of words from the learners' textbooks and ask them to repeat the words in groups or individually. This raises their consciousness towards the "th" sound.

Follow-up Activity

Following the third stage exercises, practicing words with the "th" sound, it is important that learners practice these words in sentences and in contrast to the "s" or "t" sound. Once they have succeeded in pronouncing the words, the teacher provides the learners with some sentences that include redundant "s" sounds and asks the learners to replace the "s" sound with "th". This is exactly the reverse of what students do in a normal situation mispronouncing the "th" sound. The following are examples of such sentences:

Concluding Points


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 2, February 2008