Have you heard of Minimal Pairs? A minimal word pair consists of two words that vary by only a single sound. For example, conta calculation and conto tale – the only difference is in the final sound (“a” vs. “o”). Practicing with minimal pairs is a great way to perfect your pronunciation and comprehension because it teaches you to hear the subtle differences between similar sounding words. As you’ll see in the examples below, even a tiny change in pronunciation means you could be saying things that are much different from what you intend to say!
While we’re at it, let’s also make a distinction between minimal pairs, homophones, and homographs. Homophones are words with the same exact pronunciation but different meanings, while minimal pairs are words that have the same pronunciation except for only a single sound, also known as fonema (phoneme). That single sound difference is the only thing that lets you know they are two different words – they are minimally different. Homographs are words that are written the same exact way but pronounced differently. Some minimal pairs can also be homographs but that’s not the norm.
Let’s dive into some minimal pairs!:
Open vs Closed Vowels
Sounds: Á vs a