American English /æ/ Vowel (as in "sand") for Mandarin Chinese Speakers

In the video above, we will be focusing on the /æ/ vowel (as in "sand) in American English compared with the /ɛ/ vowel (as in send). There are common pronunciation patterns for native speakers of a specific language.  We will work on comparing how these vowels feel on the body, and comparing these two vowel sounds in words- to empower you to reach your American English accent goals. 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.  

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) Symbols

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a series of symbols that represents “sounds” made in the world’s languages, because we cannot rely on spelling to represent a sound. The IPA is very comprehensive and extensive, and it is not necessary for an accent student to know all the symbols.  However, it is recommended that you take some time to learn the symbols /æ/ (as in band) and /ɛ/ (as in “bend”).  This tutorial focuses only on these two sounds, so the IPA symbols /æ/ and /ɛ/ need to be used in this lesson to represent these sounds.  Here are some examples of words containing /æ/ and /ɛ/ so that you can become familiar with these sounds.

/æ/ /ɛ/

band bend

have get

jacket said

and metal

pass dress

bad ever

Practice Exercise 1

I will model alternating the /ɛ/ and /æ/ vowels.  Repeat my model and alternate these two vowels.  Pay special attention to “feeling” the differences of these sounds with your mouth.  With the /æ/ vowel, you should “feel” your mouth open a little wider, jaw drop, and tongue flatter on the bottom of the mouth.  Take your time to note differences of you your lips, tongue, and mouth feel when saying these vowels.  

"Sand" and "Send" - The words "sand" and "send" is an example of a minimal pair, differing only in the vowel sound.

Practice Exercise 2 - 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”).  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 correctly 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.  

 /æ/ /ɛ/

man men

bad bed

flash flesh

slapped slept

sand send

Description of the /æ/ vowel (as in “had”)

With the /æ/ vowel (as in “had”), the lips are open and not rounded at all.   The jaw is open. The tongue is low when pronouncing the /æ/ vowel and it is flat on the floor of the mouth.  

Description of the /ɛ/ vowel (as in "head")

With the /ɛ/ vowel, the tongue is slightly higher and more central than /æ/. Lips are also not round (unrounded), and tongue is towards the front of the mouth.


I hope that this tutorial was helpful for you, the accent student, in increasing your awareness of these two vowel sounds in American 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.  

Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!

Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP

Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist

All About Accents



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