How to Improve English Listening – 6 Most Confused Words

Improve Your English Listening

While many learners try to focus on how to pronounce words and carry on a conversation, you also can’t forget to improve your English listening! Sounds in the English language are unpredictable, and for some words, not being able to listen to a sound can change a sentence’s meaning. Even native speakers have some trouble listening to the differences between words that are spelled in a similar way. My goal is to identify these words and to clear up the confusion!

Also, take a look at 100 Most Common Words in English? The words we’re going to be looking at are some of the most common words in the English language, so it might be a good idea to make sure you’re correctly pronouncing some other common words in English. Let’s get started.

Why Are These Words Difficult To Pronounce?

You’ll see that the word pairs below in this lesson have something in common — they’re spelled and pronounced very similarly to one another. Don’t be fooled, though! There’s a big difference between “I can do it” and “I can’t do it.”  These kinds of words you need to focus on saying correctly, otherwise, you might end up saying exactly the opposite of what you want to say. It takes some practice, but you can do it!

So What Are These Words?

Here are the 6 word pairs (words that are paired with another similar word). Like I said before, these words are easily misunderstood so watch the video lesson to practice the correct pronunciation of these words with me, and to understand why they are pronounced that way!

Can/Can’t

  • Why? The ’t’ at “can’t” becomes much harder to listen to when the next word is a verb. (Try saying “I can’t do it.”)
  • If the next word starts with a ‘d’, then the ’t’ sound from “can’t” will mix with that letter, making it sound like one sound. (Try saying “I can do it” and “I can’t do it.”)
  • Suggestions: Try to listen for the ’t’ sound!

Walk/Work

  • “Walk” contains the letter “L” but it’s not often pronounced. Instead, you normally would hear it pronounced as “wok.”
  • Imagine you’re a pirate (rrrrrr!), use the “ER” sound to pronounce “work.”
  • Suggestions: Don’t focus on the “L” and “R” sounds!

Thought/Taught

  • “Thought” contains the ‘th’ sound at the beginning, and “taught” contains the ’t’ sound at the beginning.
  • “Thought” – An idea is to put your tongue behind your front teeth in order to create the ‘th’ sound. Strange, I know, but it helps!
  • “Taught” – Try to really pronounce that ’t’ sound at the beginning of this word.
  • Suggestions: Focus on the ‘th’ and ’t’ sounds!

Spelling vs. Listening

At this point, you should be able to realize that only paying attention to the spelling of the words often does not help with pronunciation (remember that American English pronunciation is tricky). If you’re unsure, remember to ask yourself what is the difference between…

I thought about it – (“thought” is the past tense of “to think”)

I taught about it – (“taught” is the past tense of “to teach”)

An overall suggestion to help with these words is to get feedback from a native speaker or an English teacher. If you’re interested in continuing to improve your English listening skills, I would highly recommend checking out The 17 Secrets to Improving Your Listening Skills. Happy practicing!

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