How to distinguish between /e/ and /a/ in pronunciation?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by ilikeenglish, Jul 22, 2006.

  1. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    I know that there is a difference in the degree of openess of the mouth when one is to pronounce /e/ and /a/, such as in words like "effect" and "fact", "every time" and "agriculture".

    In the past, I thought they should be distinguishable and pronounced differently all the time.

    But I noticed that the /e/ sound in "effect" (the second letter "e") is often pronounced by me to be similar to the /a/ sound in "fact", unless I deliberately intend to controll the openess of the mouth or adjust the natural movement of the tongue.

    I find that, in some words, the /e/ sound may seem close to /a/ sound, if the speaker is excited, shouting or speaking in a high voice.

    If the speaker doesn't want to emphasize the word, or he wants to keep the talk casual, he may keep a less open mouth pronounicating the /a/ sound. I heard in a movie, the hero (a British English speaker) said "thank you" in a way that can be heard to the similar effect of saying "thenk you".

    So I am rather confuesd.
    And I feel painful to have to make an effort when I see the next sound is /e/ when I am reading aloud or speaking something?

    Besides, I know that American English speakers generally tend to open the mouth more exaggerated than British English speakers.
    And I generally adopt British way. I still want to keep it.
    So the mixed listening to both American English and British English may also be a real reason that causes this confusion about the distinction of /e/ and /a/.

    The same problem is witnessed in not a few English learners in our country. But some may not care or notice, and keep pronounciating in a way they feel comfortable and natural. I used to do that.

    I know in communication this is not a big problem. I also do not have this problem in listening. But if I will be a teacher, I certainly want my English to be as standard as possible. Certainly this problem does not apply to all words with /e/ sound. Some are easy to pronounce. Maybe because of the sounds beside it? Maybe just because I haven't tried hard enough? I don't really know.
  2. languageGuy Senior Member

    Kansas City, MO
    USA and English
    Yes, these sounds can be confusing for non-native speakers. First master the sounds: the short a or 'ae' and the short e or 'E'.

    Ham and hem should sound quite different, as do bat and bet.

    Second, remember that it is the accented vowel that is the most important. Unstressed vowels all tend to become more neutral, moving toward the schwa (the sound of 'the'). The short 'a' and 'e' are almost the same for unaccented syllables.
  3. A90Six Senior Member

    England - English.
    Hello ilikeenglish,

    The sound of the a and e you describe are as in man and men/bad and bed/mat and met. In standard English, these sounds would always be distinguishable. However, in some dialectal or colloquial use thank may well sound like thenk or even think.

    When Australian English is spoken, a British English listener may hear pan as pen, pen as pin and pin as pn.

    If you wish to hear the difference between these sounds, I suggest that you obtain some old English black and white films. These films tend to have more speakers of standard English than films of today. Many of the words and phrases you hear in these films will be rather dated and old-fashioned, but for pronunciation purposes they are ideal.
  4. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    Thank you for you careful work to correct my mistakes! Thank you also for your suggestion!
    I have to add a little here: Some of my mistakes are made because of not enough time and not wanting to spend time to correct by myself.

    I know I can often forget to add an "s" here and there, esp. in speaking. But in writing, I can notice it if given enough time. Sometimes, plurals are not treated as plurals. "S" behind verbs are not done. Punctuations can also be inaccurate. That's because I often tend to wrte casually. 'Cauz, being formal takes much efforts. In normal situations, I just want to get relaxed and allow myself to make a few mistakes and let my nerves not so stressed. Besides, when natives speak, they do make various kinds of mistakes, right?

    Many of my expressions are not concise. Maybe that's because I am struggling to transform my meanings into the English system. Sometimes I feel my way is Ok, but you may not agree.

    I've read a lot already. Maybe I need to read more carefully.
  5. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    I can see my mistakes again. But I just cannot do it right all at once if I am trying to post a long letter.
  6. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    "S" behind verbs is not done.
    'Cauz, being formal takes many efforts.
  7. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    Hi ilikeenglish,

    I just wanted to tell you not to take A90Six's corrections as anything but learning tools. Many of us correct others (and are corrected by others) for the sole purpose of teaching them new things about the language, not for pointing out that they are wrong or for implying that their writing skills are bad in some way. So please do not be offended if someone corrects your English.

    Also, you don't really have to explain why you made some mistakes because after all, everyone here makes mistakes and that's why we're here! Nevertheless, I did like your explanation of allowing yourself to make a few mistakes to calm your nerves (that's a better expression) because I think that's very important in learning a language--not to be to stressed about getting every minor detail correct.

    That's all for now. And welcome to WR! :D


    P.S. I can't believe I forgot to mention the one thing I was thinking as I was reading all the posts--your English is superb! The few mistakes that I see are very minor, and your sentence structures are fantastic, especially for a native of a non-romantic language.
  8. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    Thank you for your soothing words, brain8733. I am flattered by you actually.
    I would like to thank you all who have actively involved in resolving my puzzles.
    My teacher once said, we tend to be less critical in noticing our own errors and mistakes in English writing. That's very true in this instance. Of course, my lack of sufficient grammar knowledge is another reason for my poor writing here.
    Although my mother tongue, Chinese, is a non-romantic language, it has included a critical set of structures, which are a part of unviersal grammar. So it is still not difficult for a Chinese to master English up to my level. Chinese people do tend to omit things here and there, or arrange things in flexible ways that are difficult to summarize in their writing or speaking. I think that does not mean the covert or interior strucuture of Chinese is not somewhat similar to universal grammar. But certainly, to write well in English, we have to spend more time and be more careful.

    But I do find Germen annoying. There are too many changes for me to memorize. To speak a Germen sentence completely correct is a terrible struggle!

    Now turn to my theme:
    man and men /bad and bed/ mat and met, seem to me not easy to pronounce distinctively. I just hope my audiences can get which word I have said according to the context. That applies to me when I am listening to others.

    My teachers did suggest the difference. I seemed to understand then, but only turned out to find it hard to stick to.
  9. ilikeenglish Senior Member

    South Africa
    Let me correct myself:
    .. it includes a critical set of structures which ...
    In their writing or speaking, the Chinese people do tend to omit things here and there in , or arrange things in flexible ways that are difficult to summarize.
    But I do find (the) Germen (language) annoying. (to avoide misunderstanding)

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