Speakers of many languages in Sub-Saharan Africa have problems distinguishing between different vowel sounds.  

This confusion is often between long and short vowels, which means the following words are often pronounced the same: 

  • ‘bed’ and ‘bird’ 
  • ‘cat’ and ‘cut’ 
  • ‘pull’ and ‘pool’. 

One way to help learners understand the difference is through a game called Test the teacher. 

On the board write a set of words that have confusing sounds. For example: 

  • head   heard 
  • bat  but 
  • hat  hut 
  • full  fool 
  • fit  feet 
  • lips  leaps 
  • red  read 
  • sun  soon 

Say: ‘I will ask you to say a word from the list on the board. I will point to the word I hear. If I am correct, say “Well done!” If I point to the wrong word say “No” and say the word again.’ 

Point to a learner and say: ‘Say a word.’ Repeat the process with other learners. 

Once they understand, learners can then play this in pairs or small groups. 


Confusing sounds: Sounds which are commonly mistaken, e.g. ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’, ‘tree’ and ‘three’. 

Distinguish between: Identify the differences between two or more things. 

Long vowels: Vowel sounds that are longer than short vowels. For example, the vowel sound in ‘keys’ is long; the vowel sound in ‘kiss’ is short. 

Short vowels: Vowel sounds that are pronounced in a short form; for example, the vowel sounds in ‘pet’, ‘pit’, ‘put’, ‘pot’, ‘pat’ and ‘putt’.