How to Pronounce the Sounds r, p, v, and th for ESL Learners

There are several sounds that even seasoned English speakers as a second language have a little trouble with.   It’s the sound “r”, “p”, “v”, and “th”.   This article will help you master these sounds.

Tip to pronounce the sounds r, p, v, and th

Certain languages do not have the “r” sound.  Many Asian languages, for example.   Sometimes the “r” sounds like “l”, as in the word rice.  So how do we form the “r” sound?

Pronouncing the “r” sound

A friend shared this teaching tip with me.   Let’s say you are saying the word “run”.  Pretend you are starting to say the sound “u” then slide into the “r” sound.   It’s easier that way.    Try “river”.   u-river.    Shaping your mouth to the sound “u” puts you in the position to say the “r” sound.   Next time you watch a journalist speak, watch when they are saying a word that begins with a “r” sound.   See how their mouth move into a position that is similar to the position of “u”.   Now try “rare” as if you are ordering a steak at a restaurant.   “u-rare”.

At first, it will sound strange, but it’s only to help you practice the position of your mouth.   Keep starting with the “u” position, watch journalists as they say “r” and soon, you will have mastered this.

Pronouncing the”p” sound

This is especially true for Spanish speakers.   In Spanish, “p” is very soft, and sounds like a “b” to English speakers.

There is a fun way to learn the “p” sound.    Get a piece of paper.   Hold it so that the bottom of the paper is in front of your mouth.

Now say the word “Paul”.   If the paper does not move, you need more force.   If the paper moves, now you know you are doing it right.

An alternative to this is to use your own hand.   Put your hand in front of your mouth, if you are saying the “p” in “Paul”, you will feel the air on your palm.   If you don’t feel it, put more force into the “p”.

Pronouncing the “v” sound

In some languages, the “v” sound is soft.   In American English, the “v” is quite deliberate.   Pretend you are biting your lip.   Your upper teeth is over the lower lip just a little.   Now that you know the mechanics, observe how TV journalists pronounce “v.”  Try the word “vacation,” “value,” “volume.”

Train your ear by typing a word into your browser, and click on the sound icon.   Can you hear the “v” sound clearly?

Pronouncing the “th” sound

This may seem as challenging as “r”, but it actually isn’t.    There are two “th” sound.   One is for words such as “this,” “that,” “those.”    The sound that I want to focus on here is the other “th” sound, in words such as “thank you,” “think,” “thoughtful,” “Thanksgiving,” “thin.”

Put your tongue between your upper and lower teeth.   1/2 centimeter is enough.   Blow air out as you say “thanks.”   If you put your hand in front of your mouth, you will feel a little air on your palm if you are saying this correctly.    If you don’t feel the air, you are probably saying the other “th” as in “this.”

These are just the most common sounds that give ESL learners trouble.   But they can be mastered easily with these tips.   Observing how TV journalists say these sounds will be also helpful.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to speak like a native English speaker.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email support@englisharoundtheworld.com

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