79: Comparing /eɪ/, /i/, /ɑɪ/ (long a, long i, and long e)

Understanding how the vowel sounds in 'bake,' 'bike' and 'beak' are related to /y/.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 79th episode.

Here we go with another week of vowel comparisons. Every week when I meet with my individual students I am reminded of the power of comparing vowel sounds. Vowels are just hard. They are much more difficult to hear, and it is hard to feel exactly where your tongue is inside your mouth when it isn't actually touching anything. For instance, it is much easier to feel a t sound or even a th sound than it is to feel a vowel sound, like (short o) or (short u).

Because of these troublesome aspects of vowel sound production, we will continue to compare vowels that have similarities. Hopefully that will help you tune your vowels correctly, just as we tune musical instruments.

Today I'm going to first compare the long a and long i, then compare those sounds to the long e sound. I also recently added a new free Pronuncian lesson comparing these three sounds on Pronuncian.com. If you learn better by reading descriptions and seeing the illustrations, check out these new lessons. Go to the Sounds page, and click "lessons." All the lessons there are free.

The long a sound and long i sound are both 2-sound vowels, also known as diphthongs. A 2-sound vowel includes a w sound or a y sound in its pronunciation. The long a sound and long i sound both end in a very slight y sound.

I hope you remember that long vowels sound like their letter name. So the long a sounds like (long a) and the long i sounds like (long i), just like the letter a and i. The long a is the vowel sound in the word cake, (k sound, long a, k sound). The long i is the vowel sound in the word bike (b sound, long i, k sound). Cake, bike.

I'm going to say those vowel sounds very slowly so you can hear the y sound at the end of them. (long a, long i) Because they are 2-sound vowels, my mouth needs to move from one position to another to say the sound completely.

Let's first explore the long a sound. For the beginning of the sound, my tongue is neutral in my mouth. I can feel my bottom teeth along the underside of my tongue. It is like my tongue is resting on my bottom teeth. My jaw is somewhat open. Then I am going to transition into a y sound. My jaw closes somewhat, and the body of my tongue moves upward until it is very close to my tooth ridge and the hard palate. The tooth ridge is that bony area behind the top front teeth, and the hard palate is the hard, bumpy area behind that. Listen to the sound again (long a, long a).

Some words that include the long a sound are (and you can feel free to repeat these words after me):


As I already said, the long i sound is also a two-sound vowel. Let's explore this sound. The long i begins with the tongue lower in the mouth than the long a. The long a rests on the bottom teeth, and the long i rests inside the bottom teeth. You should be able to feel the bottom teeth alongside the tongue during the beginning of this sound. Then, I make the transition into the y sound. Just like for the long a sound, my jaw closes somewhat, and the body of my tongue moves upward until it is very close to my tooth ridge and the hard palate. Listen to the sound again (long i, long i).

Some word that include the long i sound are (feel free to repeat these words after me):


Now let's compare these two sounds by repeating some minimal pairs. These words are identical, with the exception of the long a and long i sounds.


race, rice
rate, right
tape, type
braid, bride
space, spice


The reason I want to compare the long a and long i to the long e sound is because the long e sound is so similar to a y sound, and the y sound is the second part of the long a and long i sounds.

The long e sounds like (long e), just like we'd expect, since long vowels sound like the letter name. The long e is the most forward and highest vowel sound of English. The whole tongue moves upward, until it is near the tooth ridge and hard palate. The difference between a long e sound and a y sound is that the y sound is even closer to the top of the inside of the mouth than the long e sound. Compare the words year y-e-a-r and ear e-a-r. Year, ear. The tongue begins higher for the word year, y-e-a-r, than it does for the word ear, e-a-r. Year, ear, year, ear.

Some other words the have a long e sound include:


Because the long e and y sound are so similar, sometimes you may hear that the long a and long i sounds end in a long e sound. I prefer to say they end in a y sound because it is a little more accurate a description. You can think about it whichever way makes it easier for you to fully produce both sounds of the long a and long i (long a, long i).

Now let's practice some minimal sets between the long a, long i, and long e sounds. I will say all three words, then leave time for you to repeat after me.

bay, bye, be
fail, file, feel
mail, mile, meal
wade, wide, weed
whale, while, wheel
bake, bike, beak
fate, fight, feet

I already mentioned the new lesson on Pronuncian that compares these three sounds. I should also mention that there is a quiz attached to that lesson. Only subscribers have access to that quiz. If you have a current subscription, I would recommend taking that quiz to help you get your ears ready to fully hear these sounds. Also, there is a new free lesson up for each of these sounds individually. All of the new individual sound lessons include the most common spellings for these sounds, and a description of how to create the sound along with an illustration. Plus the lesson includes a list of high-frequency words that are pronounced with the sound that do not follow the common spelling patterns. I'm almost finished with all the long and short vowels, so if you haven't been to Pronuncian in a while, go and check out the new free lessons. I'll link to the lessons associated with this show on the transcripts page for this episode.

If you'd like to join Pronuncian and offer us financial support as well as get yourself access to all of Pronuncian's quizzes and video lessons, just go to www.pronuncian.com/join. 6-month subscriptions cost only $15 per month. We think that's a great deal for you, and it allows us to continue to create this kind of educational content.

Also, don't forget about our forums! Forums are free for anyone to use. Go browse other people's questions, or post your own. There is getting to be a lot of interesting information on the forums. You can find them at www.pronuncian.com/forums.

That's all for today. Thanks for listening everyone.

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