Listening · phonetics

Phonetics long vowel sounds VS short vowel sounds /i:/ /I/

I have a friend who works as a receptionist (as many people on this island do), who one day complained about one of the worst moments she constantly finds herself in at work.

‘I have a problem at work that I  just can’t seem to get right’ she said. ‘I don’t know what I say wrong, but whenever I say it, I can see the guests grinning and trying not to laugh’. ‘Well what is it?’ I asked very intrigued about the whole thing. ‘Well, it’s basically when I tell them that they are going to have their sheets changed. The thing is, I can’t distinguish between sheets and shits. I know I’m going to get it wrong but I don’t know why.’  While my friend was explaining this, I must say that I was trying to look really understanding and concerned about her problem, but as a matter of fact, I was tempted to throw myself all over the place in absolute hysterics.

What was wrong? Well, in Spanish if you make a vowel sound longer than usual, you won’t change the meaning of the word. That means, if you say something like ‘la botella veeeeerde’ it will still be a green bottle and the only effect you’ll probably cause is that your interlocutor may think that you drank all the contents from ‘the green bottle’ and that’s probably why you’re articulating sounds in such a peculiar way.  However, in English this is very different. In this language stretching vowels makes a whole difference in meaning. Thus my receptionist friend was giving the wrong information to the guests.

In this lesson, we’re going to see some of these ‘problematic’ vowel sounds.


 / for ship

  • This sound is a short ‘i’.
  • In English words the sound is in: ship, chip and bitter.
  • The transcriptions of the words above are: /ʃɪp/ /tʃɪp/  /’bɪtə/

/iː/ for sheep

  • This sound is a long ‘i’.
  • In English words the sound is in: sheep, cheap and beetle.
  • The transcriptions of the words above are: /ʃi:p/ /tʃi:p/  /’bi:tl/

/i/ for happy

  • This sound is a long ‘i’ but not as long as /i:/.
  • In English words the sound is in and always at the end of these words: funny, honey and funky.
  • The transcriptions of the words above are: /ˈfuni/ /ˈhʌni /  /fʌnki /

Problems usually happen when a learner of the English language doesn’t pronounce some English words correctly. Words that are often confused are: sheep/ship, sheet/shit, beach/bitch, cheap/chip, leave/live, etc,. Which basically means making mistakes between long i /i:/ and short i /I/.

Here’s an activity that focuses on these different sounds.

Click to activity

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