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Teaching TH to a Chinese speaker

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Joined: 01 Nov 2007
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Location: Maine

PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 6:54 pm    Post subject: Teaching TH to a Chinese speaker Reply with quote


I'm tutoring an adult student, very bright, who can make both TH sounds but sometimes slips and substitutes an S or a Z. She also has trouble remembering which sound to use where -- TH as in think, or as in then. Aside from tongue-twisters, which I will try, does anyone have any good ideas?

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Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 8:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It might be better if you posted on the Pronunciation forum, as you're likely to get more of a specific response there:

You could also try searching for e.g. keyword 'Chinese' and forum 'Pronunciation'.

But here and off the top of my head...

(PREAMBLE:) The tongue tip moves a little further forward each time as you progress through s > z > d > THen > THink, and in the d and THen, air will not be flowing/escaping (will not be able to) as much until the tongue drops somewhat and releases it; air can of course flow prior to the "release" (pulling back of the tongue) in making the THink sound, though.

Going into slightly greater detail, in preparing for making the d sound the tongue tip (mine at least, anyway!) is touching the line formed at the junction of my upper two front teeth and the gumline behind them; moves down to touch the very bottom edge of those two teeth (but still remains behind them) in preparing for making the THen sound; and protrudes slightly between the upper and lower teeth to the extent of about 1/3 of that used in "blowing a raspberry" (the very tip may be just visible between the slightly open lips) in preparing for making the THink sound.

In moving away from the s and z sounds/positions and concentrating on the other three sounds, the analogy I would make is that you now need to inflate a tyre or something but can't with all the air escaping from the s and z sounds (these are consonantal 'initials' in Pinyin, and can be heard in the Mandarin for 'four' (si4) and 'character' (zi4, as in Han4zi4, 'Chinese character(s)'; the numbers here refer to the respective tones in speech); but with the other three sounds, you can build up sufficient pressure to do the job (i.e. not only inflate the tyre but also approximate the English sounds quite closely).

This is a useful link for tongue diagrams:

(To get d, click/enter buttons for VOICING=Voiced, NASALITY=Oral, LIPS=Spread, and TONGUE Manner&Place=Stop and Dental respectively; to get THen, from the previous d settings just change the TONGUE Manner to Fricative; and to get THink, from the previous THen settings just change the VOICING to Voiceless. (BTW, to get s, from the previous THink settings just change the TONGUE Place to Alveolar, and to get z, from the previous s settings just change the VOICING to Voiced)). (I wasn't concentrating too much as I fiddled with the settings on that site and noted them in this here post, and therefore make no claim as to the accuracy of its linguistic descriptors generally - all I am saying is that the above combinations seemed to get the desired results!). (Edit: Actually, there isn't any difference between the THen and THink diagrams in their tongue tip positions, nor in the s and z ones; the only difference in each pair seems to be a presence or absence of a zigzag line in the throat area. You may therefore want to alter the pictures slightly by hand, if you agree with my verbal descriptions above of the more differing 3-5 tongue positions (from s through to THink)).

All you need now do is identify which common words have the above three phonemes in them in whichever positions (I'll be back shortly with some suggestions gleaned from the COBUILD Spelling Guide).

It might also be an idea to think of phrases such as 'What do you think (I should do), then?' or 'These three (presents) are for Bob', to give the student a workout in moving fairly rapidly between the slightly differing tongue positions/possible word-sound orders and usage beyond single words generally.

One last thing, unwavering accuracy in producing these three forms may take a while to develop, or even a very long while. Jennifer Jenkins has a fair bit to say about expecting native norms of non-natives in her The Phonology of English as an International Language. Is this a reasonable goal if the learner will be interacting with mainly other non-natives, who may understand and indeed like to themselves produce d or t or z or whatever in making their "EIL" sounds, for reasons of mutual intelligibility, "maintaining" non-native identity (or rather, not quite developing full native-speaker likeness) etc. (Jenkins reaches and recommends an LFC, 'Lingua-Franca Core' of essential phonemes, on the basis of her limited but still undeniably empirical research findings regarding speech interaction, especially among non-native speakers themselves - what actually presents them with genuine problems?). But then, you are most likely teaching in an ESL environment (i.e. teaching a Chinese learner of English who is going to be residing in the US for a while at least).

Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat Jun 13, 2009 12:50 pm; edited 5 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2008 9:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, here are some lists (drawn from the COBUILD guide and the Oxford Companion the the English Language) that show each of those sounds in initial and especially middle and final position in words (i.e. there aren't many examples/words given for initial position - you can find many easily enough in any dictionary (all I'll say here is that THen starts a fair number of more "grammatical" words, whilst THink starts predominantly "lexical" words). NB: I've not given any d-initial words - there are very many!). Remember that there are related/derived words (i.e. some of the words below may be viewed as lemmas) e.g. addict > ~ed, ~ive, ~ion.

M: addict addition address adult body buddy caddie children credit Daddy edit federal hidden hiding hundred including leader medicine middle modern modest muddy order president produce radio schedule student study sudden(ly) today under video wedding
F: aid and around behind blood child end find flood food God good ground had hand hard head heard held hold hundred kind land lead led mind need old read red road round said second sold third thousand told world would; code made provide side trade; called happened killed pulled; skilled etc

I: than that the their them then there these they this though thus
M: bother brother clothes either father further gather heather leather mother northern other rather together weather whether worthy
F: bathe breathe; smooth with (blithe, clothe, lathe, lithe, loathe, scythe, seethe, sheathe, soothe, swathe, teethe, wreathe, writhe; bequeath booth)

I: thank thick thin think third thistle thorn thorough thought thousand threat three throat throw thumb thunder
M: author birthday healthy nothing
F: bath both cloth death earth faith fifth filth health heath math month moth mouth north myth path south teeth tooth truth wealth worth wreath youth
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