American English /i/ Vowel for Mandarin Chinese Speakers


This video tutorial is about the American English /i/ sound for native Mandarin Chinese speakers. /i/ is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol representing the vowel sound as in "heat" or "seen." Please watch the video link above to hear the sounds and practice words. Read the text below about the video:

Typically when I make a video tutorial, it is about a sound that exists in English, but does not in the native language.  When a sound does not exist in your native language, it can make it difficult for students to “perceive” (hear) the sound, or to pronounce the sound.


The /i/ sound in English for Mandarin Chinese speakers is a little different, because the /i/ vowel does exist in Mandarin Chinese phonology.  However, the distribution or “rules” of this vowel differ a little between Mandarin Chinese and English, making the /i/ vowel “sometimes” mispronounced in English at the end of words.


International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Before going over some practice exercises to increase your awareness of this /i/ vowel at the end of words, lets go over 2 IPA symbols that will help you with this video tutorial.  The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a set of symbols that represent sounds in the world’s languages, since we cannot rely on “spelling” to know what the sound is- especially in English where the spelling is not phonetic!  For this video- it will help to become familiar with 2 IPA vowel symbols.

The first symbol is the /i/.  This is pronounced as “eeeeeee” as in “he.” This vowel is pronounced with the tongue high in the mouth, tongue tip towards the front of the mouth, and the lips are spread.  

The second IPA symbol to become familiar with is the /eɪ/ IPA vowel symbol.  This symbol represents the vowel sound in “hey.” Sometimes, the /i/ vowel in English is replaced with the  /eɪ/ vowel at the end of words by Mandarin Chinese speakers. 

Let’s take a moment to practice some word minimal pairs to help increase your awareness of these two vowel sounds.  Then, we will practice some more complicated words that end in /i/.  

Practice exercise 1:

Compare the vowels in these word pairs.  The first word has the /i/ vowel (as in he) where the tongue is high and front in the mouth, and lips are spread (not rounded).  

The vowel in the second word is the /eɪ/ vowel (as in “hey”).  Feel your tongue move to a more central position in your mouth (not as high and not as front).  Also, feel your lips move from a spread position to a more neutral position (not spread, but not rounded)

/i/ /eɪ/

we way

see say

me may

Practice exercise 2:

Now let’s practice some words in American English that end in the /i/ vowel sound.  Remember how this sound feels on your body, with this vowel having the tongue high, front, and lips spread.  Repeat after my model, being aware that the last sound in these words should all be /i/ and not /eɪ/.

Words ending in /i/ vowel







I hope that this tutorial was helpful for you, the accent student, in increasing your awareness of the /i/ vowel sound 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.  

For more information about accent coaching or to schedule a free online 15 minute consultation, please send me an e-mail at

Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!

Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP

Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist

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