10 Tips On How to Teach the TH Sound in Speech Therapy

Children typically learn to produce the /th/ sound a bit later in their speech development, around the ages of 5 to 7 years old. This sound can be challenging for many children because it requires precise tongue placement between or just behind the upper front teeth, and the ability to produce a voiced or voiceless flow of air.

The /th/ sound is considered one of the later phonemes to be acquired as it involves more complex motor skills and coordination than some earlier-developing sounds. It’s common for younger children to substitute simpler sounds for /th/, such as /f/ for the voiceless /th/ (as in “think”) or /d/ for the voiced /th/ (as in “this”), before mastering the correct production.

However, if inaccuracies persist past the age 7, the typical timeframe for mastering this sound, seeking guidance from Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) early on is recommended. Early consultation with SLPs enables the initiation of appropriate therapy to address speech difficulties effectively. Keep reading to learn 10 tips on how to teach the TH sound in speech therapy.

Why is it challenging to produce the /th/ sound?

Producing the /th/ sound presents several challenges that make it one of the more difficult phonemes for children to master. Firstly, the sound demands precise tongue placement, requiring the tongue to either extend slightly between the teeth or press gently against the back of the upper front teeth. This level of precision is not needed for many other sounds, making the /th/ sound unique in its articulation requirements.

Additionally, the /th/ sound involves a specific type of airflow, where air must be directed out between the tongue and the teeth. This controlled airflow is unusual compared to the production of other speech sounds, adding to the complexity of mastering the /th/ sound.

Another layer of difficulty arises from the fact that the /th/ sound comes in two variations: voiced and voiceless. The voiced variation, as heard in words like “this,” requires vibration of the vocal cords, while the voiceless variation, as in “think,” does not. Learning to switch between these two types while maintaining correct tongue placement and airflow can be particularly challenging for young children.

Moreover, the /th/ sound is not as commonly used in everyday language as other sounds, potentially leading to less natural practice and slower acquisition. Children might not frequently hear or practice this sound, leading to less familiarity and proficiency.

When to know if the child is ready to practice the /th/ sound

Knowing when a child is ready to practice the /th/ sound involves observing several key indicators of their speech and language development. Generally, a child may be ready to start practicing the /th/ sound if they:

Have mastered earlier developing sounds

In the progression of speech development, children acquire the ability to produce different sounds in a specific order, reflecting the motor skills required for each phoneme. Initially, they master simpler sounds, including /p/, /b/, /m/, /n/, /d/, and /g/, which involve less complex tongue and lip movements and are essential building blocks in their phonetic repertoire.

These early sounds serve as a foundation, showcasing the child’s growing control over their articulatory muscles and readiness for more challenging sounds. With that said, before moving on to the /th/ sound, which demands precise tongue positioning and controlled airflow, ensuring a child can consistently produce these earlier, simpler sounds is crucial.

Can follow simple instructions

Understanding and following simple instructions is very important in speech therapy. This helps children join in on activities that teach them how to make the /th/ sound. When they can listen and do what’s asked, they’re ready to practice and get better at this sound. Making sure children can follow these steps means they’re set up for success in their speech exercises.

Show an interest in imitating sounds or words

When a child likes to copy sounds, words, or what they see others do, it’s a good sign they’re ready to learn more. This copying, or mimicking, shows they’re interested in sounds and speaking. It means they might be ready to try saying harder sounds, like the /th/ sound. This behavior is a clue that they’re prepared to learn and practice new things in speech.

Have the ability to pay attention for short periods

A child needs to be able to pay attention to something for a little while. When they are learning to say speech sounds, they need to listen carefully to how the sound is made and then try to do it the same way. This means they have to concentrate on what they’re hearing and doing. Being able to focus like this helps them practice and get better at making new sounds.

Display awareness of their own speech errors

Some children begin to realize that the way they talk sounds different from how others talk. This noticing, or self-awareness, is important because it can make them want to get better. They might start practicing more on their own to make their speech sound like everyone else’s. This drive to improve is a big help in fixing and getting better at making the right speech sounds.

Have developed the necessary motor skills

To make the /th/ sound right, children need to be able to control their tongue and how they breathe out. They need to learn how to move their tongue to the right spot, which is either sticking out a little between their teeth or just touching behind their top teeth. This skill is all about being able to move their mouth and tongue in a certain way. So, it’s important they can do this to say the /th/ sound correctly.

Note: If a child shows these developmental milestones, they might be ready to start practicing the /th/ sound under guidance. However, each child develops at their own pace, and some may take longer to show readiness for specific sounds.

How to Teach the /th/ Sound to Children

Teaching the /th/ sound to children can be a fulfilling activity for both speech therapists and parents. By using clear and effective strategies, you can assist children in mastering the correct pronunciation of this sound.

How to teach the /th/ sound: Use of Auditory Cues

1. Exaggerate and repeat the sound

Start by exaggerating the /th/ sound in words and phrases, and repeat them often. Hearing the sound clearly and frequently helps children tune into the specific qualities of the sound. Use words like “think,” “bath,” “this,” and “that” in playful repetition.

2. Practice the sound in isolation

Isolate the /th/ sound from words to focus attention solely on the sound itself. You can make the sound in isolation, slowly at first and then gradually increasing in speed, encouraging the child to listen closely and then attempt to imitate the sound.

3. Provide immediate feedback when practicing

Provide immediate, positive feedback on their attempts, and gently correct as needed. For instance, if they produce the /th/ sound correctly, celebrate their success. If they need a bit more practice, encourage them by focusing on the aspect they need to improve, such as tongue placement or airflow.

How to teach the /th/ sound: Use of Visual Cues

4. Usage of Visual Analogies

Use visual analogies or metaphors that can help children remember the sound and its production. For example, you could compare the tongue sticking out slightly to a snake peeking out from its hole, creating a vivid image that reinforces the tongue’s correct position.

5. Use Mirrors

Use a mirror to show children how to place their tongue between or just behind their front teeth. Watching themselves and you in the mirror as you both produce the /th/ sound helps them understand the correct tongue placement and movement.

6. Coloring Exercises

Design or utilize coloring pages that highlight words containing the /th/ sound. While children engage in coloring, stress the sound and demonstrate the accurate pronunciation, turning the activity into an interactive and visually stimulating learning experience.

How to teach the /th/ sound: Use of Tactile Cues

7. Tongue Placement Guidance (Should only be done by a Speech Therapist)

Carefully use a clean, soft-ended instrument, such as a popsicle stick or a cotton swab, to direct the child’s tongue to the proper place, either slightly between the teeth or right behind the upper front teeth. This direct physical touch provides a clear sensation that teaches them the accurate tongue positioning needed.

8. Tongue Awareness Exercises

Practice exercises that enhance the child’s consciousness of where and how their tongue moves inside the mouth, like having them lick peanut butter or yogurt off their lips or from the area just behind their teeth. These activities foster an understanding of tongue positioning, an essential aspect in correctly making the /th/ sound.

9. Air Stream Awareness

Let the child hold a tiny piece of tissue or a feather close to their mouth as they attempt the /th/ sound. Observing how the tissue or feather moves gives them a tangible sense of the air flowing, aiding them in modifying their breath to achieve the proper sound.

10. Lip and Tongue Vibration Exercises

Instruct the child to put their hand on their throat when producing the voiced /th/ sound, so they can sense the buzzing of their vocal cords. This physical sensation serves as a cue, aiding in differentiating the voiced from the voiceless /th/ sound variations.

Bonus: Here are some child-friendly words that include both the voiceless and voiced /th/ sound that you can use at practice.

Voiceless Voiced
Bath The
Math This
Path Then
Thin There
Thumb They
Three Bathe
Tooth Brother
Thank Mother

Conclusion on how to teach the /th/ sound in Speech Therapy

Thank you for reading our resource on how to teach the TH sound in speech therapy. Incorporating these strategies into a child’s everyday activities can greatly enhance their capability to accurately produce the /th/ sound. It’s important to remember that regular practice and patience are key factors for effective speech therapy success.

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SLP Team
Author: SLP Team

Our Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) team is a dedicated group of professionals committed to sharing industry expertise to help you grow your practice and improve how you treat your patients.

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