77: Comparing /i/, /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and /ʌ/ (long e, short i, short e, and short u)

Understanding a sequence of very similar sounds (as in 'bead,' 'bid,' 'bed,' and 'bud')


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 77th episode.

Today is a back-to-basics podcast exploring four vowel sounds that I have talked about in the past: long e, short i, short e, and short u. Today I'm going to talk about them as a sequence of sounds. When I say "sequence of sounds" I mean that these sounds occur in a related series of vocal tract movements. The similarities between these sounds make them extra important to explore as a series. Learning how they relate to one another can help you learn to hear them, and you must be able to hear the difference if you are going to be able to pronounce the difference.

Again, today's sounds are the long e, short i, short e, and short u, and we are going to explore them in that order. Remember, don't get confused by the names of the sounds, they don't really mean anything. I call them by their well-known American names so I know that you know which sound I am talking about. If I just said the sound, it would do no good if your ear is not trained to differentiate between similar sounds. And these sound are all very similar.

I'm going to start by giving you a minimal set that contains all four of these sounds. I'll start with the long e, then go to the short i, then the short e, then the short u.


beat, bit, bet, but


Here is it again.


beat, bit, bet, but


The vowel sounds of those words were long e, short i, short e, short u, (long e, short i, short e, short u).



(long e, short i, short e, short u)


These sounds exist as a sequence of tongue movements from very high in the body of the tongue for the long e, to a central, relaxed tongue position for the short u. The short i and short e are in between those two sounds. As I describe these sounds, you will notice that with each sound, the jaw opens slightly more, and the body of the tongue drops slightly more as well.

Let's start with the long e, the sound in beat.

To create the long e sound, the body of the tongue is high and close to the tooth ridge and hard palate. The jaw is mostly closed, allowing very a narrow stream of air to pass through the vocal tract.


(long e), beat


To create the short i sound (short i), the tongue and jaw lower slightly from the long e position.


short i, (short i), bit


Let's compare the long e and short i sounds.


(long e, short i) beat, bit


To go from the short i to the short e sound, the tongue drops to the central area of the interior of the mouth. The tip and underside of the tongue may very lightly touch the bottom teeth during the short e sound.


short e, (short e), bet


Let's compare the long e, short i, and short e sounds.


(long e, short i, short e), beat, bit, bet


I'll say those again.


(long e, short i, short e), beat, bit, bet


The jaw lowers again to go from the short e position to the short u (short u). The body of the tongue will drop lightly into the bottom teeth to create the short u sound. During the short u sound the bottom your teeth can be clearly felt alongside the tongue.


short u, (short u), but


Now let's compare the long e, short i, short e, and short u sounds.


(long e, short i, short e, short u), beat, bit, bet, but


And, one more time.


(long e, short i, short e, short u), beat, bit, bet, but


Okay, now it's your turn to repeat after me. I'm going to say the entire set of four, then pause for you to repeat. I want you to notice the way your tongue gradually moves from very high in your mouth to a low/central position. Ready?

peak, pick, peck, puck
deed, did, dead, dud
cheek, chick, check, chuck
neat, knit, net, nut
teen, tin, ten, ton

I cannot express enough how important these kinds of activities are for training your ear to hear these sounds. If you want more practice, there is a brand new free lesson up on Pronuncian that highlights the comparison of these four sounds. It is easier to play with the audio there because you can practice each sound and word as many times as you want. If you are a Pronuncian subscriber, you can also test yourself on these sounds by taking the quiz at the bottom of the lesson. After taking the quiz, check out your recommendation page to see which lessons and sounds you should practice more of. The quiz checks which specific sounds you are hearing incorrectly, and so if you are only getting the long e and short i mixed up, your recommendation will reflect that.

I'll link to the free lesson that corresponds to this episode from the transcripts for this page. Just visit pronuncian.com/podcasts, and click episode 77.

Click "join now" to purchase your Pronuncian subscription and get full access to all the Pronuncian quizzes, exercises, and videos.

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

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