Vowels and Consonants: “th”, “ch”, “sh”, and “ng”

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Up to this point, we have looked at consonants that correspond with individual letters. Now, we will be looking at the consonant phonemes that are indicated by two letters. These are not blended sounds, where letters are blended together to make a mixed sound, instead these are individual phonemes that your child will need to know for their English pronunciation, just like the sounds associated with the 26 letters of the alphabet.

When your child is done learning these final consonant phonemes, take a look at our posts on the long vowels starting with Long Vowel A.

If you need any more help with vowels and consonants, check out our Vowels and Phonics Home Page for lessons, flashcards, and articles.

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How to Pronounce /th/

There are actually two similar, but unique, /th/ sounds that your child will need to know. They are both made in the same way, but one is a voiced consonant, while the other is unvoiced. Telling the difference between these two can be very difficult, especially when reading. A good way to see if a particular word uses a voiced or unvoiced /th/, is by looking at the IPA translation for that word. Despite both being “th”, these two sounds have unique IPA characters, so you can see which one is used by looking up these characters in a dictionary or an online IPA translator.

To make the /th/ sound, you will need to place the tip of your tongue between your teeth and blow. It can be a bit tricky to get right at first, and make sure your child is not making an /s/ or /z/ sound, as they are similar. The key is making sure that the tongue tip is visible, and not inside the mouth. 

The other way to make the /th/ sound is to place your tongue just behind your front, top teeth. When you push air out, your tongue should vibrate against your top teeth to make the /th/ sound. This method makes it easier to transition between sounds, but it is harder to produce for young children.

Teacher’s Tip: For a lot of children, they make the mistake of leaving their tongue inside their mouth. This makes an /s/ or /z/ sound. It can be a lot of fun, and instructional too, if you emphasize having your tongue way out when you first start teaching this sound. It is not necessary, but kids like it and they will remember to keep their tongues out more as time goes on. This is an important sound, and over time, this practice will help them with their overall English pronunciation.

The IPA symbols for /th/ are θ (voiced) and ð (unvoiced).

Common Words with /th/:

  1. The (voiced)
  2. This (voiced)
  3. With (unvoiced)
  4. Feather (unvoiced)

How to Pronounce /ch/

The /ch/ sound is commonly used in English pronunciation. Luckily, you can learn how to pronounce “ch” by using the same mouth positions as the /j/ sound (j as in jam). Where /j/ is voiced, /ch/ is an unvoiced consonant. Just like in /j/, to make the sound /ch/, you will need to start with your tongue curling up so that the tip of your tongue almost touches the roof of your mouth. As you push the air through, push your tongue forward and away from the roof of your mouth to make a /ch/ sound.

The IPA symbol for /ch/ is tʃ.

Common words with /ch/:

  1. Cheese
  2. Chicken
  3. Church
  4. Sandwich
  5. Cheetah

How to Pronounce /sh/

Many children find /sh/ to be a difficult sound to make. This is especially true when they are asked to transition from /sh/ to another sound. If your child is young and having problems, this is normal and can be somewhat expected. The /sh/ sound is unvoiced, so it is a sound only made by air passing through your mouth. To make the /sh/ sound, your lips should be puckered, and the middle of your tongue should be slightly raised so that you can feel the molars of your top row of teeth pushing into the outside of your tongue. The tip of your tongue should not be touching anything, so that there is a small gap for air to pass through to make the /sh/ sound.  

The IPA symbol for /sh/ is ʃ.

Common words with /sh/:

  1. Shop
  2. Ship
  3. She
  4. Fish

How to Pronounce /ng/

The /ng/ sound is similar to the /m/ and /n/ sound as it is the third and final nasal consonant sound in English. As a reminder, a nasal sound is a sound made by having the air escape not through the mouth, but through the nose. The /ng/ sound is formed by raising the back of your tongue to touch your soft palate. This should block the air from escaping your mouth, and force it out through your nose. /ng/ is voiced, so you need to have your vocal cords activated for this sound to be made properly.  

The IPA symbol for /ng/ is ŋ.

Common words with /ng/:

  1. Ring
  2. Song
  3. Thing
  4. Angry
  5. Strong
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Other Vowel and Consonant Lessons That You Might Like

For A-Z flashcards, please click below. If you are looking for the th, ch, sh, and ng flashcards, they can be found in our Member’s Section.

click here to download free vowels and consonants flashcards
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How to Teach Your Child Vowels and Consonants

  1. Print out our flashcards or make your own. You want to make sure the flashcard has the letter on one side and a picture on the other for your child to associate with the sound.
  2. Teach the name of the letter and the sound that that letter makes to your child. If you do not feel confident in making the sound correctly yourself, you can use the videos we have provided for you.
  3. Teach your child the word that is associated with this letter ( A is for apple, /a/ /a/ apple). If possible, have them draw the word it is associated with.
  4. If your child is old enough, teach them how to write the letter (both the small and big version). Make sure to emphasize the name and sound the letter makes while your child is writing.
  5. Verify with a teacher or native English speaker that your child is making the sound correctly

After Your Child Has Learned This Sound

Once you know your child is making the sounds correctly, you should look to practice these phonics as much as possible, every day. Vowel sounds are incredibly important and getting this right now will help your child in the future. Remember that the more one-on-one practice time you can give your children, the better they will be in their English studies. It also does not need to be textbooks and flashcards memorization, here is a list of fun activities you can do to practice with your children. No one knows your child better than you, make English time more fun by pairing it with activities they like to do. Anything from coloring, reading, or more active games will be helpful if they are practicing and thinking about the sounds and letters.

Practicing should continue for a while, but when you want to teach something new, you can begin to look at some of our consonant pairs which can be found here. As well, you can check their progress on their vowels with some of our assessment quizzes in our member section.

I Have More Questions

If you have any more questions about making these sounds, practicing these sounds, or where to go from here, we have a couple of resources for you here at The Learner’s Nook.

  1. Here is a glossary of terms we use in these guides which may help clear up some confusion.
  2. Here is a diagram of a mouth with labels if you do not understand which part of the mouth should be moving.
  3. Here you can see a general overview of how to teach phonics to your ESL children which may be what you are looking for.
  4. Join our members club to book some time with us to ask us your questions.

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