This video tutorial is on the /æ/ vowel sound as in "had" or “bad” for native Korean speakers. This /æ/ is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol for this vowel sound, since we cannot rely on spelling to know how the sound is pronounced. The /æ/ vowel does not exist in Korean phonology, and it therefore may be replaced with this /ɛ/ vowel (as in “head” or “bed”) because /ɛ/ is closely related and it does exist in the Korean phonological sound system.
Other examples of these vowels for practice understanding these symbols include:
Accent students commonly work on the /æ/ vowel because it does not exist in many of the world’s languages, and therefore commonly gets replaced with other vowels, especially /ɛ/. However, /æ/ is a great American English vowel to practice because it is relatively visual. Let’s breakdown the sound.
I am going to briefly describe how the /æ/ vowel and /ɛ/ sounds are made, but really focus on exercises and tips so that you can feel these sounds on your body and speech system to help accent students reach their personal goals.
The /æ/ vowel is made with the lips open and not rounded, the jaw is open, and you can feel your tongue relatively flat on the bottom of your mouth.
Now try to make a /ɛ/ sound, and alternate as needed to feel the difference between these sounds. With /ɛ/, the tongue is relaxed and in a mid high position, so you can feel it a little higher than the flat tongue position of /æ/. The jaw is also slightly higher.
So to review, to make the /æ/ vowel, you want to feel and see the mouth and jaw open and low, and “feel” the tongue flat on the floor of the mouth.
Exercise 1 - Minimal Pairs
A common practice in accent coaching is saying two words out loud, where the only difference between the two words is the 1 sound you are working on (linguistically, we call this practice “minimal pairs”). For example, a student might practice saying the words “sad” and “said” out loud, because the only difference between these two words are the two vowel sounds /æ/ (the common challenging sound in American English), and /ɛ/ (the common replacement). Try for yourself saying these two words out loud “sad” and “said.”
Do these words sound the same to you when you say them out loud, or do they sound different? They should sound like they have different vowel sounds. If these two words sound the same, it is possible that one vowel is being mispronounced.
Here is a list of 5 more word sets (minimal pairs) to practice saying out loud. If these two words sound the same, it is possible that there is confusion with the /æ/ and /ɛ/ vowels. If the two words sound different, it is likely that you are pronouncing the vowels and distinguishing them in English. Please note that this is an exercise for you to listen, and to become aware of the words sound the same or different.
Practice exercise 2:
I’m going to put the list of just the /æ/ vowels back on the screen. Pause the video or write these words down, and then make up your own short sentence with this word, being aware that you are maintaining the /æ/ vowel sound. For example, “The camera had a bright flash.” This exercise is practice to carry over the vowel pronunciation from single words to a sentences, which is an important skill.
I hope that this tutorial was helpful for you, the American English accent student whose native language is Korean, in increasing your awareness of the /æ/ vowel sound in English. Since each speaker is an individual, you may be pronouncing the sound correctly, or you may need extra support from a professional accent teacher. These tutorials are designed to empower the accent student, to increase the awareness of your own pronunciation and sound trends. It is recommended that you consult an accent coach about your own personal pronunciation patterns and accent goals. Also, accent coaches with with students on promoting the pronunciation of sounds from words to longer sentences and conversation.
For more information about accent coaching or to schedule a free online 15 minute consultation, please send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!
Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP
Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist
All About Accents