Minimal pairs are pairs of words that have one phonemic change between them. For example: "let" and "lit". Using these pairs to help students recognize the minor differences between English muted vowel sounds can greatly help not only pronunciation skills, but also comprehension.
Aim: Improve pronunciation and recognition skills
Activity: The use of minimal pairs to help students distinguish minor differences between English vowel sounds
Level: Pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate depending on students' capabilities
- Introduce the idea of "minimal pairs" by writing a list on the board of a number of minimal pairs. For example: but - boot, sit - set, caught - cut, sing - song, etc.
- Practice comprehension skills by using the provided lists of minimal pairs. Each list contains one minimal pair with a number of examples.
- Once students are comfortable with the sounds, read sentence examples (for example: The call took a long time to go through - for the first pair) using one word of the pair provided. Ask students to identify which word of each pair was used.
- Continue using the list of pairs by asking students to practice the lists.
- Ask students to identify two vowel sounds which they want to focus on, for example: 'eh' and 'uh', and have them create their own list of minimal pairs.
- Have pairs exchange lists and practice reading the others' lists aloud.
- If appropriate, continue lesson by a more extended look into the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet, see IPA Lesson)
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