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!



英語リスニングの壁:リエゾン(その1) – by 加藤



分かりやすい例で言えば、Let it go.(懐かしい!ですね)が「レリゴー」のように発音されることですね。この場合は、letの最後の子音である「t」の音と、itの最初の母音である「i」が結合し「ティ」のような音に変化します。「レティ(ト)ゴー」でも良いのですが、米音の場合は、さらにtの音が日本語でいえばラ行に近い音になりますので、結局「レリゴー」に近い発音となります。

Let it go.「レリゴー」のように、非常になじみのある言葉なら良いのですが、そうでない場合、このリエゾンという現象は、ネイティブが話す英語を我々日本人が聞き取る上でしばしば壁となり得ます。




I should have stayed out of trouble.


まず、ネイティブはhの音を弱化または無音化させる傾向にあるので、should haveの部分はまるでshould ofであるかのように発音します。さらに、このshouldの「d」とofの「o」がリエゾンを起こし、「ド」か「(米音では)ダ」のように発音します。
stayed out はステイダウドのようになります。out ofの部分も同様に、「t」と「o」がくっついて「ト」か「ド」に近い音になります。

これらの法則は、アゴス・ジャパンのTOEFLやIELTSの特にリスニング初級(Foundation / Base)クラスで学習します。また、Dictationと音マネをすることによって、時間はかかりますが、これをマスターすることができます。

Free Apps for Improving your English

Free apps to improve your English for the TOEFL and IELTS speaking exams.

by John Grant

I’m often asked by students which online resources they can use to improve their speaking skills in preparation for taking either the IELTS or TOEFL exam.

I base my recommendations on three criteria:

  1. Motivating
  2. Easy to use
  3. Free (mostly)


  1. Google pronunciation

This completely free (amazing !!) function in the Google search engine allows you to hear and see how a word is pronounced in both British and American accents. Also, it has a practice button allowing you to try to pronounce it with feedback to see what you are doing wrong. This is a real game changer! Just type the word and type pronunciation. For example, try to type ‘wonderful pronunciation‘ into your search engine. Try it now!

Note: This works best with Google Chrome.



The free version of this app is a must-have for mobile phone owners. Practice small discrete lessons based on topics to expand your vocabulary and improve your grammatical accuracy. The daily reminders and point system keep you motivated and you can finish a lesson in less than 10 minutes. Perfect for the commute!

Note: There is a paid version that eliminates the ads.

3 Drops

This beautifully designed app builds your vocabulary in a wide variety of topics with a clean interface. The constant repetition of vocabulary ensures that you won’t forget new vocabulary.

Note: The free version has a time limit for how long you can use it, but it is more than enough for daily use.


4 Busuu

A variety of lessons on common topics will keep you motivated with very natural conversations. This app uses cutting-edge AI machine learning to constantly improve the app! Also, it has a feature that connects speakers of other languages ​​to grade each other’s progress . This is a great source if you would like to move beyond textbook English.

Note: The free version limits access to the whole lesson so you may want to pay for the full version.


5 Ted Talks

This is a huge resource of lectures and talks on almost any subject imaginable. Use these lectures to practice summarizing skills that are so vital for the academic lectures you encounter in both the IELTS and TOEFL. Each lecture has subtitles in many languages ​​so you read along with the lecture in both English and Japanese! This feature also allows you to navigate the lecture easily so you can repeat sentences and phrases.

I will be back soon with more tips and suggestions!


More Fully Explaining Ideas in IELTS Writing Task 2

More Fully Explaining Ideas in IELTS Writing Task 2 – by Mark Feeley

Hi everyone, and welcome to my latest instructor blog! I hope your studies at AGOS are going well.

I’m Mark, and today, I’m going to be talking about the importance of more fully explaining your ideas in Task 2 essays, and how this can help you to improve your score.

In IELTS writing Task 2, candidates have to write an opinion essay. For example, describing the advantages and disadvantages of globalization. Although the actual ideas of candidates are not being evaluated, to get a higher score, you have to fully and clearly explain your ideas. Here is a typical part of an answer to a Task 2 question:

‘What are the advantages and disadvantages of globalisation?’

A typical answer might be:

‘One of the disadvantages is connected with food safety. These days, as a result of the globalization of trade, it is much easier to eat food from different countries. However, according to research conducted by Harvard University, over 99% of people are worried about the safety of food produced in different countries. Therefore, the safety of food is a major issue.’

A much better answer to this type of question might be something like:

‘One of the disadvantages is connected with food safety. These days, as a result of the globalization of trade, it is much easier to eat food from different countries. However, according to research conducted by Harvard University, over 60% of people are worried about the safety of food produced in different countries. Concerns that consumers can have include different regulations regarding the use of pesticides or artificial ingredients in the production of food, which can cause problems such as food poisoning or allergic reactions . Therefore, the safety of food is a major issue.’

As you can see from this example, not only is the answer more clearly explained, but the writer has used some examples of specific vocabulary (highlighted in bold). By more fully answering questions, you will also therefore be able to demonstrate to the examiner or grader the range of more specific vocabulary that you are able to use.

In addition, the writer has used a more realistic statistic of 60% rather than 99% to support their argument. This helps to provide a more logical and believable argument.

I hope you find this useful. Good luck with your studies at AGOS!






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Writingセクション攻略のために(その2):英“借”文を意識して書いていく— by 米田

皆さんは“英作文”を学校の授業などで習ったことがありますか? 日本語で〇〇という内容が指定されていて、それを習った文法に基づいて、与えられている英単語を使って順序正しい英文にしなさい、的な問題を通して学習してきたと思います。お手本となる英文があって、そして部品となる十分な英単語が与えられていれば、練習を積んでコツを掴めば書きやすくなったのではないでしょうか。つまり、TOEFLにしてもIELTSにしても、自分の中で思い浮かんだ内容を自在に英文にしていけるようになる前段階として、「書きたい内容」を自然な英文に落とし込むためには、“パーツ”である単語の知識に加えて、“フレーム”とも言える自然な英語構文を十分自分の中に蓄えておく必要がある、ということです。その為に、アゴスの受講生の皆さんが熱心に取り組むのが“英借”です。

例えば、TOEFLのIndependent Taskではよく自分の体験談を用いて理由を説明する、ということがありますね。そういう時には場面設定の文から書き始めることが多いかもしれません。

・サンプル元;During my freshman year at Osaka University in 2012, I took an English literature class.


・英借文の例;During my junior year at Nagoya University in 2009, I took a Japanese art history class. 




・サンプル元;How much and how deeply you can sleep differs depending on your age.


・例;How much money you are able to earn differs depending on your job title.


A Wider Range of Grammar in IELTS

Hi everyone, and welcome to the instructor blog! I hope your studies at AGOS are going well.


I’m Mark, and today, I’m going to be talking about the importance of using a wider range of grammar, and how this can help you to improve your score in the IELTS speaking test. A lot of test takers in Japan struggle to use a wide range of grammar in the IELTS speaking interview, especially tenses which can be harder to use, such as the Past Perfect, Past Continuous, or Conditional sentences using ‘If’. However, using these structures can help you to achieve higher scores in this test.  Take the following example.


Here is part of a typical IELTS Speaking Part 2 question:


‘Describe an electronic device you use every day’.


A typical answer might begin as follows:


‘I’m going to talk about a useful electronic device I use. This is my smartphone. Actually, I bought a new smartphone last year and I use it every day. I bought my new smartphone because my previous smartphone was old and I accidently sat on my phone and cracked the screen, so I needed to buy a replacement. I take the train to work every day, so I use my smartphone to check the news, listen to music and send text messages to my friends, and …. er’.


The problem with this answer is that the speaker only uses a limited range of grammar, especially tenses. In this part of the answer, apart from ‘going to’, the speaker only uses the Present Simple and Past Simple tenses.

A much better answer to this type of question might be something like:

‘I’m going to talk about a useful electronic device I use, which is my brand-new smartphone that I bought last year. Actually, I’d wanted to buy a new one for a long time, but I was always working overtime and could never find time to go to the shop and buy a new one because it always takes ages. However, last year, while I was commuting to work on the train, I accidentally sat on my phone and cracked the screen. You see, I’d been standing for a long time, and because I was tired, I slipped my phone into my back trouser pocket and forgot about it until after I’d sat down. It’s very important to me so I was crushed. 

I take the train to work every day, so I use my phone to catch up on the news, listen to the latest tunes I’ve downloaded and send text messages to my friends. If I didn’t have my smartphone, I wouldn’t know what I’d do to pass the time.  Anyway I was very happy to get a new one.’


This is a much better answer to this question, and in my next blog, I will analyze why.

スピーキング攻略 (TOEFL iBT®/IELTS):徹底的に準備をしよう! — 柳澤洋美

Speaking Sectionでは、聞かれたことに自由に答えられて、相手に納得してもらうこと…それが理想です。大した準備もせずにTOEFL iBT®で20点、あるいはIELTSで6.5以上を取れるような帰国生の方などは別として、純ジャパにとって、自由に意見を言って高得点を狙えるまでには、かなりの道のりがあります。






○ピカッと光る単語を2,3個を書き入れる。例えば、高齢化社会についての問題で、barrier-free(バリアフリーの)、 feel isolated from society(社会から孤独していると感じる)、average lifespan(平均寿命)などを入れて、採点官に語彙力のアピールをします。


※河合出版:『かなり詳しく学べるTOEFL iBT®テスト スピーキング・ライティング 演習編』より

IELTS Listeningの語数制限 ― by 土橋

IELTS Listeningの空欄補充問題には、解答に対する語数制限が設けられています。例えば問題文に以下のような指示があった場合、解答として何単語まで書いてよいか、分かりますか?

Complete the notes below.
Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.


IELTS初学者の中には、この“NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS”という表現に、一瞬戸惑われる方もいらっしゃるかもしれません。ちなみに、英和辞典で意味を調べると、“no more than ~”は「(数量が)~しかない、たった、わずか」といった定義が出てきます。


例えば、ある問題の正解が“leather boots”(革のブーツ)だったとしましょう。これを“boots made of leather”と書くと不正解です。どちらの表現も意味するものは同じですが、後者は語数制限違反となります。


夏休み期間限定! 夕方から受験できるコンピューター版IELTS

■英検協会 IELTS事務局より以下のお知らせを頂きました。

□■ 1、夏休み期間限定!夕方から受験できるCD IELTS ■□
CD IELTSでは、夏休み期間中の受験時間枠として以下の日程で「夕方から受験できるCD IELTS」を実施しております。
是非この機会にCD IELTSをご受験ください!!

8月8日(日) 8月15日(日) 8月28日(土)

スピーキングテスト → PC受験の順で受験いただきます。

 1、16:00集合 試験時間 16:20~16:40
 2、16:20集合 試験時間 16:40~17:00
 3、17:00集合 試験時間 17:00~17:20
◆PC受験(WRL試験) 17:20~20:30 頃、終了予定


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