Think about the words sit and seat. Do they sound different to you? Or the same? Try to say them out loud and pay attention to the sounds “i” and “ea”. The same happens with live and leave. These two English vowel sounds are closely linked. If you struggle with making those sounds, don’t you worry! It’s common for English learners to have difficulties when making them, and this blog post will most certainly help you feel more confident when pronouncing these words.

In this post, we’ll review the vowel sounds in English, give you some examples of them with English words, and provide you with exercises that can be very helpful when studying the difference between /ɪ/ and /i:/.

Recap: the basics of English pronunciation

Do you remember how many letters are in the English alphabet? That’s alright if not. There are 26 letters. Five of them are vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 21 letters are consonants (B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, Z).

However, letters are different from sounds. There are more than 40 vowel and consonant sounds in English. In some words, for example, the number of letters is the same as the number of sounds. Other times, two letters make one sound (green for instance). And often, you’ll find that some letters are silent, like the “t” in listen

Another thing that can confuse English learners is when two words have the same spelling but different pronunciations. That happens with the words read in the present tense and read in the past tense. Also, some words have the same pronunciation but different spellings. That’s the case with know and no. You can learn more about words like this with our post about homophones

If you want to review more basics of English pronunciation, read this blog post

The long vowel sound /i:/ 

This is a long sound that we make with the mouth spread, just like if we were smiling. You know why we say cheese when we smile? That’s why, because it forces us to smile. We usually spell it “ee” or “ea”. Here are some examples for you to practice out loud. Listen to the audio to practice.

  • fee
  • beach 
  • hea
  • mee
  • slee
  • bean
  • bea
  • stea
  • bea

The short vowel sound /ɪ/ 

This sound is a short vowel in English. You make it with barely any effort. Remember to keep your tongue close to the top and front of your mouth. It is not as strong as the /i:/ sound. Here are some words that make the /ɪ/ sound. Listen to the audio to practice.

  • listen 
  • fill 
  • bi
  • hi
  • still 
  • bi
  • kni
  • system

Exercises to practice /i:/ and /ɪ/ in English

Now, let’s practice using the /i:/ and /ɪ/ sounds in English. And, if you have a difficult time remembering the difference, listen to the audio samples above to review the two vowel sounds.

Exercise 1 – Listening to /i:/ and /ɪ/

Exercise 2 – Speaking practice

You must use the Chrome web browser in order for this activity to work. You must also give the website permission to use your microphone. This can be found if you click the 🔒 symbol to the left of the URL address bar.

If you have difficulty with this activity, try to use a microphone.

Exercise 3 – Identifying /i:/ and /ɪ/

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Great online resources to help you pronounce any word 

Whenever you are not sure about the pronunciation of a word, there are a few resources you can use to figure it out. Let’s check out some English pronunciation tips. You can type “pronunciation english [the word you want]” into Google and the first result that will appear is the pronunciation of that word for you to hear. You can even choose to hear it the American way or the British way. Or, you can also hear it slowly, which can definitely help you learn how to pronounce the word.  

Another resource is YouTube. And that’s good for anything, really. Recently, I wanted to know how to pronounce the last name of a person I was going to have a meeting with. It was the first time we were going to talk and I wanted to get her last name right. So, I searched on YouTube and found an interview with a person that had the same last name!  You can also look for the word you want next to “English pronunciation youtube” to find videos about pronunciation.

Don’t worry if it’s difficult for you to pronounce the words sit and seat. Remember that you don’t have to pronounce all the words perfectly in order to be understood. We truly hope this blog post about English pronunciation tips has been helpful to you, though. Good luck!