D for Day and Th for They

If you’re not a native speaker of English, you might struggle to hear and to reproduce the difference between d and th (ð) sounds. Don’t give up! If you sing ‘dey‘ instead of ‘they‘ or sing ‘dose‘ instead of ‘those,’ you sound as if you have a very bad cold. To a native speaker, you sound as if your nose is blocked. That’s not an attractive thought to put in their mind. You can’t avoid the soft th of English. The word the is the most common word in the English language.

Listen to the Mamas and the Papas singing California Dreaming. Focus on the clear, clean d of dreaming, day and down. Fix that sound in your head. Enjoy the bathtub dancers.

The d sound is made by the tongue behind the top teeth. The soft th sound is made when your tongue rests beneath your top teeth, with the tip poking out. It’s the position of your tongue and the air moving past it that gives the soft th (ð) its particular sound. You can’t make the English soft th sound without putting your tongue in the right place. If your tongue is wrong, the air won’t flow in the right way . It’s like playing the trumpet, or the flute: you have to organise the air flow in your mouth to make the right sound.

Now listen to REM, Losing My Religion.  Can you hear a clear difference between the th of this or that’s me in the corner and the d of dream and distance?

Here are a couple of sentences to give you practice switching your tongue to the right position for each sound. Make sure you can feel your tongue move. The physical movement of your tongue will develop a muscle memory. The muscle memory will help your brain to register the difference between the d and the th as you repeat the sentences: Is this the door? Yes, that’s the door or They don’t do that in Denver these days, do they? You can train yourself to feel the difference between the sounds by speaking the tongue twisters as you go about your day. Think of it as training for your tongue.

Or try this.

Remember – if you don’t sing the soft th right, you sound ill. You want your audience to be concentrating on your song, not worrying if they’re going to catch a cold from you.

© Sing Better English, 2014


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