For those just learning the English language, there are many words that sound alike and may be confused by ESL students. These words often sound the same, and are spelled similarly, but are just different enough to cause confusion, even among native English speakers.
Words that having similar sounds are called homonyms. Within the category of homonyms are two commonly confused concepts: homophones and homographs.
The differences between homophones and homographs comes down to the Latin roots of each term. "Homo" means same, and "phone" means sound, so a homophone refers to terms that have the same sound, or pronunciation. Again, "homo" meaning same, and "graph" means writing, so homograph means "same writing," or similar spellings, with different meanings and possibly different pronunciations.
While homographs can confuse those new to the English language, homophones typically pose more challenges. Consider some of the most commonly confused terms by English and non-English speakers alike, and how to try to differentiate these terms:
Effect and affect are perhaps two of the most common words that sound alike and may be confused by ESL students.
To help differentiate affect and effect, remember that affect is a verb that shows an action – the "a" in action and the "a" in affect should help you remember that affect is an action, a verb.
Another set of words that sound alike and may be confused by ESL students is "their," "there," and "they’re."
One sentence that can help keep the three homophones straight is, "Their fishing poles, which they’re using on the camping trip, are over there."
Another commonly confused set of words is "here" and "hear."
The simplest way not to confuse these two words is to remember that hear has the word "ear" in it, and we use our ears to hear.
The words "two," "to," and "too" are also very commonly confused when learning to write in English, even among those who grew up speaking the language.
The words "accept" and "except" are also homophones.
There are several additional examples of homophones, words that sound alike and may be confused by ESL students. Students are encouraged to practice reading, writing, and using these words in various contexts to assist in their mastery.
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