Minimal Pairs for Japanese Speakers

How to use minimal pairs to improve your pronunciation.

by John Grant

In a previous blog post, I mentioned a good way to check your pronunciation is to use a note taking app that has a microphone and read some sentences into your phone to see if your phone can pick up each word accurately. I also touched on using minimal pairs to work on individual sounds.

Minimal pairs are words that are very similar but have one sound that is different. In this blog post, I will give you examples of sentences that focus on sounds that Japanese people find difficult.

Try reading these sentences into your phone using a note taking app to see how accurate your pronunciation is. As you read these sentences, pay attention to where your tongue is in your mouth and your mouth shape.

  1. æ / ʌ

i. It’s beside the cap . It’s beside the cup .

ii. She sang in front of people. She’s sung in front of people.

iii. It’s fan art. It’s fun art.

2. ɑː / eə

i. It’s not far . It’s not fair .

ii. It’s under the stars . It’s under the stairs .

iii. It’s under your car . It’s under your care .

iv. I don’t like to go near the bar . I don’t like to go near the bear .

3. ʌ / ɑː

i. I don’t like much . I don’t like March .

ii. Don’t get dirt in the cut . Don’t get dirt in the cart .

iii. I damaged his hut . I damaged his heart .

4. ɜː / ɪə

i. He has a blue bird . He has a blue beard .

ii. It’s not really fur . It’s not really fear .

iii. Is it actually her ? Is it actually here ?

5. ɜː / ɑː

i. Is it fur ? Is it fair ?

ii. How much further ? How much, father ?

iii. I used to own a firm . I used to own a farm .

iv. She’s used to be heard . She used to be hard .

6. b / v

i. It’s the best . It’s the vest .

ii. It’s a bet . It’s a vet .

iii. It’s a cupboard table. It’s a covered table.

7. s / ʃ

i. They didn’t suit the man. They didn’t shoot the man.

ii. Please clean the seat . Please clean the sheet .

iii. He saved your head. He shaved your head.

iv. It’s a sign . It’s a shine .

8. s / θ

i. Are you sinking ? Are you thinking ?

ii. I can see her mouse . I can see her mouth .

iii. It could be worse sitting here. It could be worth sitting here.

9. h / f

i. It isn’t hair . It isn’t fair .

ii. I can feel the horse . I can feel the force .

iii. The company wants to hire me. The company wants to fire me.

10. n / ŋ

i. She’s sinner . She’s a singer .

ii. We were sinking in the water. We were singing in the water.

11. l / r

i. You said it was long . You said it was wrong .

ii. Can you collect it and send it to me? Can you correct it and send it to me?

iii. I said I did not want flies in my meal. I said I did not want fries in my meal.

Good luck and keep practicing!