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The [ɛ] vs. [æ] sounds have proven to be a difficult set for many English language learners to produce. This is because these lax vowel sounds are not heard in many of the world’s languages.
It’s important to distinguish the [ɛ] vs. [æ] sounds (such as in “bet” vs. “bat”), not because you need to sound like a native speaker or speak perfect English, but because there are plenty of words where these two sounds [ɛ] and [æ] are the only difference between two words’ pronunciations.
- “bet” vs. “bat”
- “set” vs. “sat”
- “letter” vs. “latter” (or “ladder”)
- “said” vs. “sad”
So, if you mix up the sounds [ɛ] and [æ] here, you run the risk of being misunderstood. Practice the techniques illustrated below to improve your pronunciation of these vowel sounds.
How to Pronounce [ɛ] and [æ]
- Your lips are slightly open
- Your lips are mostly relaxed
- Your tongue rests at the bottom of your mouth
- Your mouth should open more than with [ɛ], open halfway
- Your lips are tighter, pulled back more than with [ɛ]
- You tongue rests at the bottom of your mouth
Practice with the audio
- “bet” – “bat”
- “set” – “sat”
- “letter” – “latter” (or “ladder”)
- “said” – “sad”
- “better” – “batter”
(I’ve underlined the target sounds for you to focus on):
- “I bet he’ll be good up at bat.” (referring to baseball)
- “I sat on the bench and set my watch.”
- “He climbed the ladder and fetched the letter for me.”
- “She said she was sad.”
- “He’s the better batter on the team.” (again, referring to baseball)
Remember, the key to improving your pronunciation is first being aware of the problems you make and the technique to pronouncing sounds correctly, and then practicing those sounds! You must practice correcting yourself and practice retraining your muscles. Practice and repetition, combined with the awareness of the target language and your errors, are the keys to improving your English language pronunciation.
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