Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/
Together with the page possible pronunciation difficulties, this page sets out some common words teachers can use to help their students become more aware of how they can improve their pronunciation of the vowel sounds /ɪ/ and /i:/.
Depending on their mother tongue (L1), students may have difficulty distinguishing between these two sounds. More often than not, these supposed difficulties depend more on the interference of L1 than on the actual difficulties posed by English, and many, if not most students will greatly improve their pronunciation by simply becoming aware of certain differences - together with a minimum of practice. A simple way of introducing the difficulty is with common words like eat vs it; seat vs sit and we'll/wheel vs will.
- it - is - his - him - kit - sit - in - six;
- eat - feel - feet - fleece - meet/meat;
/ɪ/ vs /i:/
- bit - beat; bitch - beach; dip - deep; each - itch; fill - feel; filled - field; fit - feet/feat; heal/heel - hill; hip - heap; heat - hit; eat - it; keep - kip; keel - kill; leak/leek - lick; meal - mill; pill - peal/peel; pit - Pete; seat - sit; rid - read/reed; scene/seen - sin; scheme - skim; seek - sick; slip - sleep; sleet - slit; steal/steel- still; teak - tick; team - Tim; will - wheel/we'll; wheat - wit; weep - whip;
This is certainly the case of students whose L1 is Spanish, be they from Madrid, Spain or from Madrid, Mexico. Basically the "problem" is that, both /ɪ/ and /iː/ sound alike to Spanish speaking ears and akin to the Spanish vowel "i". /ɪ/ is particularly problematic because when a Spanish speaker pronounces /i/ instead of /ɪ/ it's heard by English Speakers as /iː/. For example "It is" sounds like "Eet ees". The opposite is also true, the tendency being to shorten the /iː/ so it is heard as /ɪ/, with unfortunate consequences in words like "sheet".