English teaching resources: Words with similar sounds, but different spellings and meanings.

English teaching resources: Words with similar sounds, but different spellings and meanings

English level: A2, B1/B2

Objective: To understand the meanings of words from its context.


Already during the Teaching Practice classes at the EBC TEFL course, we realise that English pronunciation is not at all easy for foreigners. In addition, the lack of consistency between spelling and sound sinks in.

A lot of words in English are spelt differently but pronounced similarly. This affects comprehension, and in addition some words may have different meanings.

Here are some examples of short words:

by – buy

blue – blew

to – two – too (three different words altogether)

ate – eight

red – read (past simple of “to read”)

hear – here

our – hour

see – sea – C (the letter of the alphabet)

know – no

knew – new

four – for

there – their

Spanish students have difficulties with different vowel sounds in words like:

Live – leave (short versus long)

soup – soap (diphthongs)

lift – left (this word has three different meanings)

cat – cut

bird – beard

As teachers, how do you deal with phenomena like these?

Here is one suggestion:

Activity 1:

Give the students these words on a worksheet, go through the meanings with the students and practise pronunciation.

Activity 2:

Put the students in pairs. Give them a worksheet with sentences or a coherent text on, but there are blanks for the words that the students must fill in. Tell the students to read the text/sentences without minding the blanks and clear up any words they don´t understand.

Then you read the text/sentences for them with the right word in the blanks. The first time they only listen. The second time, they must fill in the right word. (Have a short break between the sentences, so the students get time to discuss and write.)

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Words with similar sounds

Activity 3:

In turns, students read the sentences aloud, and spell the inserted words. The teacher should explain any errors or misunderstandings/confusions.

Remember, the text or sentences for this activity must contain a lot of CONTEXT CLUES, to make it possible for the student to pick out the correct word.

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