Minimal Pairs

In English phonology, minimal pairs is the terminology used to describe 2 words where only one element in the word differs when it comes to pronunciation (for example think /sink). Using these pairs is a really effective way to clearly show the difference in pronunciation. It is much easier for a student to hear how the sound is pronounced when you put it directly next to a word that is pronounced similarly.

The classic example for Germans is the /th/ sound, which is not a sound produced in their own language. Their brain often registers /th/ to be /s/. For example, think and sink

An English ship captain is calling for help on the radio…

Captain: Mayday Mayday, we are sinking, we are sinking.

Coast Guard: Sis is se German Coast Guard, Vat are you thinking about?

Tailoring to fit the student.

Most nationalities or languages have their own particular pronunciation problems when learning English. To really help yourself as a teacher, wherever you go in the world, you should research the kind of pronunciation problems those students normally face. This way you are more likely to hear a mistake when looking to correct and you can start to prepare relevant exercises for pronunciation practice.

Some examples of common pronunciation problems:

Italians: In Italian, a lot of words will finish in a vowel, so Italians like to add extra sounds on the end of English words.

For example: English “BUT” is pronounced “BUTTA”

Minimal pairs:

But Butter

Bet Better

French: French speakers often have a problem with /h/ at the beginning of words.

For example: English “HIT” is pronounced “IT

Minimal pairs:

Hit It

Heat Eat

Some common minimal pairs to get you started:

sheep ship coat cot

tin ten heart art

bet bat pill bill

caught coat rip lip

tail tell lace race

bat bad ham jam