Hear say

Michael Greisamer, Osaka University of Commerce

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Hear, say, pronunciation, minimal pairs game
  • Learner English Level: Any level
  • Learner Maturity Level: Adult
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes
  • Activity Time: 10-30 minutes
  • Materials: Hear say game cards

Japanese learners have many obstacles to overcome, from katakana to the new letters and sounds of English, all while trying to communicate in a new language, which can be difficult. Hear Say is a minimal pairs game, which can be played by three or more players. This activity is for all levels, as a review or to teach beginners, and should be used in accordance with your students' learning styles and strategies.

Hear Say can be a fun way to remind learners that pronunciation is important and fun. In the never-ending battle of pronunciation, Hear Say gives students a chance to focus and concentrate on particular sounds.

This game is a check for a particular sound that has been taught. Students are required to comprehend a specific word and must produce the correct response, for which there is only one. In the cards that I have prepared the minimal pairs of /b/ and /v/ are used.

With lower levels, you will need more time to demonstrate the difference in the sounds, and to explain the meaning of new vocabulary. However, the game itself is fast pasted and should not last long.


Please use the cards in this article for your classes or make your own. To make your own cards first chose a minimal pair and make a list of words you will use. The game can use three or four cards per group, A, B, C and D (See Figure 2).


Step 1: Introduce the game.

Step 2: Familiarize students with new vocabulary. This can be done by writing words on the board and repeating them. If time allows, explain the pronunciation of /b/ and /v/ by using the vocabulary. For example make two columns of words and have students guess which word you are saying and then say the word.

Figure 1. Example Minimal Pairs

1 2

Step 3: Make groups and give each student one card (either A, B, C, or D). Students should not look at the cards until you are just about ready to start.

Step 4: Explain to students that there are two columns, a "Hear" column and a "Say" column. When you hear the word in the "Hear" column say the word across from it in the "Say" column.

Example: (follow along with figure below) Teacher says "Start" and student A should respond with "RED." The student with "RED" sound in the "Hear" column should respond with the word across, which is "LID" (student B). Student C should hear "LID" and say "RIGHT." However, student D might have heard "RID" and say "RAT" which is a dead-end word, for which there is no reply. The game will end and they must start over.

Figure 2. Hear Say Minimal Pairs Game

START ---------------- RED
RIGHT ---------------- LOB
RYE ---------------- LARRY
RATE ---------------- LICK
REAP ---------------- LARRY
RED ---------------- LID
ROB ---------------- RIBIT
ROAD ---------------- LYE
LINK ---------------- LEAP
LID ---------------- RIGHT
LOAD ---------------- RIBIT
LYE ---------------- RATE
RICK ---------------- LARRY
LEAP ---------------- RIPE
RID ---------------- RAT
LOB ---------------- ROAD
LATE ---------------- LOVE
LICK ---------------- LINK
RIPE ---------------- FINISHED

Step 4: After a few tries, students change cards. It is much harder to explain than to play, so get right into it.

Hear Say can be adapted in many ways. Any set of sounds will do. To make it easier, do not use minimal pairs. For a more communicative activity use "Maximal Pairs" (Pennington & Richards, 1986), or give the word and have learners make their own sentences in the "Say" column.

Be careful not to over-teach minimal pairs. As Jull (1995) suggests, "[Minimal pairs] are isolated examples, and the ability to produce the appropriate distinction in isolation is not necessarily extended to the student's connected speech" (p. 54).

Figure 3: Hear Say Minimal Pairs Game

PLEASE START →→→ I have a green vest.
VERY →→→ I want a beer.
VOTE →→→ She's a real baby!
BAT →→→ He drives a van, not a car.
VASE →→→ I'm going to vomit!
VAT →→→ I'm going to vomit.
BERRY →→→ She's a real baby!
BAN →→→ She's a real baby!
BEER →→→ He has a large boat
VEST →→→ He ran to first base.
BASE →→→ That was very nice.
VEER →→→ I think I'm going to vomit!
BOAT →→→ Bats fly at night.
BEST →→→ I'm going to vomit!

This activity has great appeal for students, and has stimulated considerable verbal interaction. This game adds spice to the lesson by challenging individuals to do their part to complete the task.


Jull, D. (1995). Pronunciation: An Inventory of Techniques. In P. Avery & S. Ehrlich (Eds.). Teaching American English Pronunciation (Revised). New York: Prentice Hall.
Pennington, M.C., & Richards, J. (1986). Pronunciation Revisited. TESOL Quarterly, 20 (2), .207-225.