Minimal Pairs: Pronunciation Problems with TH

There are many parts that are equally important to speaking English fluently. Some of the things we’ve reviewed recently on English Outside the Box have been vocabulary (words of the weekend) and grammar, specifically the future tense. However, knowing what to say, is just as important as knowing HOW to say it. Speaking with accurate pronunciation is incredibly important, and doing so can prevent miscommunication, and even embarrassment.

Minimal pair are words that are extremely similar, but differ in one unique sound. These sounds are often confused by language learners, so can create difficulty when speaking and listening. There are many minimal pairs, both vowels and consonants; however, today we’re only focusing on “th” “f” “t” and “s.” Yes, it is incredibly common for the “th” sound to be confused with these sounds, depending on native languages.

Try the following sentence:THsound1

Next, let’s review the video for you to see and hear how these sounds should be pronounced.

Now it’s your turn to practice! Focus on the difference in all of these sounds….


Sometimes multiple words exist, that are legitimate words with minimal pairs: three, tree, free. Other times, words don’t exist, so you’ll just be making up words as you communicate: mouth, mouf.

It’s also possible that multiple words, that are minimal pairs, can logically make sense in a sentence. So, mispronouncing the words can definitely cause confusion. Take these examples into consideration:
— I want three tickets to the game.
— I want free tickets to the game.

In one of these sentences, you want multiple tickets. In the other, you’re a free loader.

— I don’t want to think.
— I don’t want to sink.

In one of these sentences, you don’t want to use your brain, and the other you don’t want to float to the bottom of water.

Practice with the following sentences:

  1. Thirty-three thieves thought their brothers thought they were thoughtful, but they thought wrong because they are thieves.
  2. The mouse’s mouth is sore, thick, and I think it’s sick.
  3. Thelma thinks that three free trees are available on Thirty-third street.
  4. Ruth is on the roof and thinks: sing a thing, pass the path, and thank a tank.


Below are some additional minimal pair difficulties, and some of the languages that I’ve come across that have the biggest challenges. This list, of course, doesn’t include everyone within these languages and I apologize for forgetting the many…many other languages out there. These are just what I’ve had the most contact with lately. These lessons will come later….

R/H – Portuguese

V/W – Russian

R/L -Korean, Japan

S- Spanish, Portuguese

P/B – Arabic

B/V- Russian, Korean

V/F – German


Did this post help you with your pronunciation? Share with a friend, knowledge is power….so help spread the power!

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Happy Studying! ♥

Don’t be that guy from Malta, Pronunciation of /ɪ/ and /i:/

If you haven’t seen this video about the Italian man who went to Malta, here it is. It’s a video showing a common ‘stereotype’ of the way Italians talk. Does everyone from Italy sound like this, of course not. Do some Italians speak with this accent? Sure. The video is made to make you laugh (and in no way offend anyone), and again, to show an extremely common pronunciation issue that English language learners have, issues differentiating the long and short vowels. The video will show a couple different pronunciation problems, but this Sunday, we will focus on the long and short “e” sounds: /ɪ/ and /i:/

Enjoy, and continue reading for how to NOT be that guy….

Thanks to HaXz4you for sharing this video on his Youtube Channel.


Okay, embarrassing right?  I am sure everyone has had an embarrassing situation when learning another language, whether it’s English or something different. I definitely know that I have had many issues trying to speak other languages, and get laughed at pretty often when trying to say some of my “not so easy for an American” students’ names.

There are ways to avoid making these mistakes though, and through practice you will be able to ask (properly) where the beach is, and not be asking about a female dog. With exercising your pronunciation muscles you will avoid talking about bathroom actions, when asking for a piece or sheet of paper.

Let’s begin with looking at some common minimal pairs of /ɪ/ and /i:/   Minimal pairs are words that have almost the exact same pronunciation, with one very small difference. This difference is sounds that are very similar, and very often mixed up when used by English learners. Look at the following examples, I’ve included those from the YouTube video:

/ɪ/        and           /i:/
bit                   beat

sit                    seat

chip                 cheap

fit                    feet/feat

grin                  green

it                      eat

piss                piece

shit                 sheet

bitch               beach

In the first column, the  /ɪ/  sound is a short vowel. To make this sound, your mouth should be slightly open, with your lips relaxed. The second column has the /i:/ sound which is a long vowel. To make this sound, you should be smiling. Your mouth should still be slightly open, but your lips should be spread (not relaxed). Refer to this video for an example of the first two words above.

Can you say them correctly? More importantly, can you hear the difference when you are saying them? Remember you should be smiling when you say the long vowel sound!

There are ways to practice this, and the exercises are very similar to when you want to build strength in other muscles of your body. Do you want to be big and strong? Well, mostly likely you will be at the gym lifting different weights to build arm muscles. It’s the same thing for these different English sounds. You need to strengthen the muscles needed to articulate (say) these sounds, and you need to get comfortable saying them easily, without much thought or stress. Time to go to the English Outside the Box Gym!

As your trainer, the first thing you need to do is get ready. The best way to practice is in front of a mirror, or you can even record yourself saying the sounds, so you can look back and check yourself later.

  1. The first exercise is to repeat the short sound  /ɪ/.  3 sets of 5 reps (or 15 times)       * Is your mouth slightly open? Are you lips relaxed? *
  2. Next, repeat the long sound /i:/ .  3 sets of 5 reps (or 15 times)                                     * Are you smiling?! *
  3. The next exercises will be to practice these sounds in a complete word. Say the words listed above in the short /ɪ/ colum. Repeat one time.    *RELAXED*
  4. Now, say the words in the long /i:/ column, and repeat.     *SMILE*
  5. If you’re feeling confident to move on, I want you to practice completing a whole sentence, really focusing on the different sounds. Here are some sentences:
  • I grin when I find green beans in the sale bin.
  • This chip is delicious and cheap, eat it.
  • I need to sit in the seat, because my feet do not fit in this shoe.

Repeating these exercises everyday will help you build the muscles and ability needed to say the sounds correctly. You must practice, if you want to become better, just like you need to lift weights if you want to be stronger. Some other things you can do to practice:

  • Write down as many minimals pairs with /ɪ/ and /i:/ as you can on a piece of paper (there are many different lists on the Internet). Ask a friend to read some of the words to you, and see if you can hear and understand the difference.
  • Similar to the exercise above, write down some words and get a friend. This time, you say one of the words on the paper, and see if your partner can hear and understand which sound you are trying to make. Chances are if your partner chooses the wrong word, you are still having some issues pronouncing them properly.
  • Tongue twisters! They will help overall fluency and speed too, while working on these sounds. Try writing your own!

How did you do? Tell me about it!  Let me know if you would like additional information, and hey…you could even upload your own video on YouTube saying the sentences listed above. I’d love to see it, so share if you do!  🙂

Happy Studying and Pronouncing ! ♥  Have a great week!

Please share this information with someone who IS that guy from Malta 😉 or anyone you think would benefit! Thanks. xoxo