by Jacqueline Schaalje
In some languages, like Spanish or Hebrew and many more, there is only one i-sound. This is a problem when people who are born in that language want to speak English. They are able to say only one i-sound, but in English there are three:
1 There is [i] in pig.
2 There is [i:] in see.
3 And there is [ie] in beer.
We won’t talk about the third sound now, but we’re going to discuss the first two sounds.
Hey hey, wait a minute, I hear you saying, I don’t need an English accent. I come from such and such a place, and I’m proud of it. Yes, but the problem is, when you say words like shit and sheet or ship and sheep with the same i, English people won’t know what you mean. A former student of mine, who is now the mayor of a city where I use to live, told me that he made a speech at Harvard University, and he told his audience that the bitches in Israel are simply beautiful. Everybody started laughing. He meant the beaches.
See what I mean?
The best way to get an English accent is not by listening to sound files and trying to imitate what you hear. You can do that to practise your fluency, but you won’t get the right accent in this way. The problem is that when you are used to a certain language which is your mother tongue, your perception of English is different than that of a native English speaker. And even if your perception is excellent, you’re going to have a hard time trying to imitate the sounds because your tongue and mouth are used to making the sounds of your native language.
What you need to do is practise the sounds separately. Read the following explanations about how you make the sounds, and then you try on your own. You can use a mirror to look at what your mouth and tongue are doing.
Instructions how to make [i] and [i:]
Vowels are made in your mouth by opening your mouth and letting the air come through.
(Vowels in English are i, o, e, a, and u.)
Your mouth can be more open or be more closed. Your tongue can be raised or lowered or be in the middle. The tongue can spread more or be more relaxed. And finally, your lips can be rounded or flat.
How to make [i] (sometimes written with a small capital I)
Your mouth is relaxed.
Your tongue is relaxed and slightly raised.
Your mouth is half open.
Your lips are relaxed and not rounded.
The sound is made in the front part of your mouth, but not close to your lips.
The sound is made in the upper half of your mouth, slightly higher than the middle.
Now say these words:
Only continue with the next part if you’re sure your [i] is perfect.
Here is how to make [i:]
Your lips are spread wide, like in a big smile.
Your tongue is spread and raised.
Your mouth is almost closed.
The sound is made in the front of your mouth, and also high up in your mouth.
Now say these words:
Here are a diagram of vowel sounds:
What you see is a diagram of the mouth, the left side is the front of your mouth (where your lips are). The [i] is in the front and above the middle. The [i:] is in front and up in the mouth.
And this movie shows how to make the sounds in front of your mouth. The lady in the video demonstrates how to make [i] and [i:], and some words that have these vowels. Start watching the movie from 5:00 minutes:
And here is a YouTube movie that is taken from the Pink Panther:
Steve Martin tries to say: “I would like to buy a hamburger.” He drives his English teacher nuts. This hilarious sketch shows you exactly what happens when a non-English speaker, in this case a supposed Frenchman, tries to imitate English. Even after a million times, he still gets it wrong. That’s not going to happen when you try the above method, I promise you. You need to take things step by step. Slowly but surely, your sounds will come out right. Then people will ask you where you got your English accent.