Accent Reduction - ill or eel


The way we pronounce a word can immediately tell the listener where we are from. This is because of our "accent." I grew up in Texas. When I was young, I had a very strong accent. When I spoke, people knew I was from Texas. This caused problems when I started college and wanted to be in theater.

I was cast in a Noel Coward production. I didn't have much trouble until it came to the word "ill".

As much as I tried to say "I feel ill." The sentence came out "I feel eel." My director tried to help me. We did so many exercises. But after weeks of work, "I still felt eel." Even today, if I am not careful, I can feel eel. So the director changed it to "I feel sick."

I am not the only one with this problem. ESL students from around the world suffer the letter I. Minimal pairs are difficult and English words where the relaxed “i” /I/ tends to get replaced with a tense “e” /i/, making it “sheep”. Spanish-speakers often make vowel sounds tense, or “long,” and confuse pairs of “short” and “long” English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking.

It is also difficult for Chinese-speakers for the same reason, because of the differences between Chinese vowels and English vowels. Chinese-speakers tend to replace the relaxed “i” /I/ with a tense “e” /i/, making it “sheep”. Chinese-speakers often make vowel sounds tense, or “long,” and confuse pairs of “short” and “long” English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking.

This can be quite embarrassing if you ask for a "sheet of paper", ask the hotel clerk to "change the sheets on the bed," or say "look at the lovely beach." Very innocent, but it can be met with laughter from English speakers.

Minimal Pair Practice. Say the below words. Listen to the sounds of the words as you say them. Hear the difference in the word. Then say the phrase. Make sure you are using your proper pronunciation.

Sign up for a General English Class here.

Lower Level English Upper Level English


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