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Distinguishing Similar Sounds

Some words sound similar to each other, but they are different. For speakers of certain languages, some sounds are more difficult to distinguish than others.

Native LanguageDifficult SoundsExamples
Spanish Japanese
p and b
d and t
sh and ch
I and r
v and w
th and s
pan/ ban
door/ tore
wish/ which
lot/ rot
vet/ wet
thin/ sin

English vowels can be difficult to distinguish for speakers of almost any language. Here are some commonly confused English vowel sounds:

i and ee
a and e
e and ay
o and aw
a and u
ship/ sheep
pat/ pet
debt/ date
boat/ bought
bat/ but

It is always a good idea to practice distinguishing similar sounds in English. This will help you choose the correct spelling of a word. Determine which sounds give you the most difficulty and look for minimal pairs drills online and in books. Below is an exemplary exercise. Read and listen to these commonly confused words. In each pair, the only difference is of one sound:

bath / path
cub / cup
lice / rice
chip / ship
match / mash
tear / dare
wet / wed
thumb / some
math / mass
din / ding
jam / yam
west / vest
flow / flaw
cat / cut
chit / cheat
set / sat

Now, complete the Quiz given in the ‘Lesson Content’ box below. This will allow you to practice what you have just learnt!

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