In this tutorial, I am going to switch gears to speak about a vowel sound that may be mispronounced in American English by speakers whose native language is European Portuguese. The previous videos spoke more about consonant mispronunciations, but vowel pronunciation is different.
In some ways, vowel sounds are more complicated to conceptualize than consonants. Vowels vary more between dialects than consonants. For example, think about accent differences between American English and British English. There are some vocabulary differences, such as “sneakers” in American English and “trainers” in Brittish English, but vowel differences really define differences between these two accents of the same language. Even within the United States, vowel differences often define differences between regional accents, such as “New York” accents, Boston, Southern, and Mid-Western. Vowels vary from region to region and speaker to speaker! It is so important for accent students to really increase awareness about vowel sounds!
American English has more vowel sounds that Portuguese, so it is common for a vowel sound to be difficult for a native European Portuguese speaker if the vowel does not exist in Portuguese. This video tutorial focuses on a common mispronunciation, the /ɪ/ sound “as in sit,” because /ɪ/ does not exist in European Portuguese. All About Accents only focuses on one vowel at a time, because there are so many vowels and it can be overwhelming to learn about all vowel sounds in American English through one tutorial, lesson, or website.
The IPA Symbol /ɪ/
Please note that /ɪ/ is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol for the sound we are focusing on, such as “sit, hit, symbol, think, fish, win, kiss, lip.” Although I do not believe it is necessary for accent students to memorize the IPA and linguistic terminology, it is important to understand that /ɪ/ represents this sound as in “sit,” because it is a common mispronunciation for speakers with many language backgrounds.
Words with the /ɪ/ vowel sound:
How /ɪ/ (as in “sit”) may be pronounced pronounced by native Portuguese speakers?
European Portuguese speakers may replace the /ɪ/ sound (as in “sit”) with the /i/ vowel sound (as in “seat”). This mispronunciation is common because the /i/ vowel (as in “seat”) is the closest vowel that exists in Portuguese in terms of tongue position in the mouth and lip position.
As an accent student, what can I do to increase my own awareness of the /ɪ/ vowel sound?
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 “pitch” and “peach” out loud, because the only difference between these two words are the two vowel sounds /ɪ/ (the common difficult sound), and /i/ (the common replacement). Try for yourself saying these two words out loud “pitch” and “peach.” 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
There are other word pairs (aka “minimal pair sets”) that you can practice saying at home slowly, and listen to whether these words sound the same or different. Remember, if they sound the same, you might be pronouncing both vowels as /i/, the common replacement vowel for Portuguese speakers. You ideally want the vowels in these words to sound different.
10 Practice word pairs:
After completing the practice set above, you can put each word above in the /ɪ/ column into a simple sentence that you make up, and pronounce slowly. For example, the sentence for the first word might be, “I sit on a chair” and then for the next word “I live in Portugal.” Just keep the sentence simple, and continue your awareness on the /ɪ/ sound.
As always, I make the statement that there are common pronunciation trends in a foreign language by speakers of the same native language group (such as European Portuguese). However, every speaker is individual, and the trends might not always apply to you. 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.
Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!
Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP
Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist
All About Accents