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6 Tips to Help Distinguish Between Short I and Short E

Does your child have a hard time spelling words with the sounds of short I and short E? If so, it may be because he struggles to differentiate between these two vowel sounds. It’s a common spelling problem for young children. In this post, you’ll learn what causes this issue and how to solve it.

First let’s talk about some regional differences. Listen to this short video clip to hear how I (a Wisconsinite) and Cheryl (who is from Missouri) pronounce some common words.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with either pronunciation—both are completely correct! But this video really illustrates the root of the short I/short E confusion, doesn’t it? In some areas of the country, pairs of words such as sit and set, bit and bet, and when and win are pronounced identically. And you may be interested to know that there’s actually an official name for this: the Pin-Pen Merger.

Areas of the U.S. Affected by the Pin-Pen Merger

Are you curious how the Pin-Pen Merger affects you? Find your location on the map below. If you live in a blue area—the Southern states, Texas, and a few other scattered areas—chances are good that most people in your area pronounce pin and pen identically. Most commonly, the merger comes into play when I and E come before nasal consonants like M and N.

Map showing the areas where the pin-pen merger occurs

Regional Variations Are the Spice of Life!

Before we continue, I want to make an important point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having different pronunciations for words in various areas of the country or the English-speaking world. Regional differences are fascinating! Our only goal here is to help your child spell words that contain short I and short E sounds.

So let’s dig in!

6 Ways to Help Your Child Spell Words with Short I and Short E

Here are six things you can do to tackle short I and short E spelling problems.

  1. For beginning spellers, teach words with short I and short E in different lessons. If you try to teach them in the same lesson, you drastically increase the chances that your child will become confused. As a good example of proper spacing, the All About Spelling Level 1 program teaches words with short I in Lesson 7. Then 3 lessons later, in Lesson 10, words with short E are taught. The space between these lessons gives your child the chance to master one set of words before new (and potentially confusable) words are introduced.
  2. first page from Steps 1-10 in All About Spelling
  3. Provide extra practice. The free activity below will give your child extra practice in distinguishing between short I and short E.
  4. Pin or Pen Download
  5. “Pronounce for spelling.” Pronouncing for spelling means that we say the word very clearly, exaggerating the vowel sound. In the normal rhythm of speech, vowel sounds are often muffled. So when it’s time to spell, it’s important to slow down and drag out the pronunciation so your child can hear the vowel sound very clearly.
  6. Pin or Pen? Solving Short I / Short E Confusion
  7. Watch your mouth. Have your child watch your mouth as you make the sounds /ĭ/ and /ĕ/. The mouth should be open taller when you say the short E sound than when you say the short I sound. Now have your child make the sounds while watching himself in the mirror. For some kids, it may be easier to feel this with their mouth than to see it. This part can seem silly, so have fun playing with the sounds as you do this exercise.
  8. Have your child repeat the dictated word back to you. When you dictate a word for your child to spell, have him say it back to you with the exaggerated pronunciation before he spells it. Make any necessary corrections and have him repeat the pronunciation. When it’s time to work on Word Cards, follow this procedure. Say the word normally to see if your child can come up with the correct pronunciation for spelling before he tries to spell the word. For words where this is necessary, your child should remember both the pronunciation and the spelling before moving the card behind the Mastered divider.
  9. Treat some words as homophones. Finally, you may need to treat some words as homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Where I live, bin and Ben are pronounced differently, but they may sound alike in your area. If this is the case, dictate the word in a sentence so your child has the additional help of hearing the word used in context.

Learning to discriminate between the /ĭ/ and /ĕ/ sounds will help your student immensely in spelling. So working on this skill is well worth the time spent.

Do you live in the beige area on the map or in the blue area? Are your kids affected by the Pin-Pen Merger? Let us know in the comments below! And then download my free “6 Ways We Make Spelling Easy” e-book to learn about more great ways to help your child with spelling.

6 Ways We Make Spelling Easy

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Kari

says:

My students live in Southern California, a beige area. While they are not affected by the Pin-Pen Merger exactly, for many, their primary language is Spanish. In Spanish, the letter i is named e, and the letter e is named /e/ as in the short e sound. That causes so much confusion!

amelia

says:

it happend to me too

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, yes! Great point, Kari! Learning English as a second language adds challenges, especially when students are already reading in their first language.

If you have specific questions or need some ideas, please ask. We’re happy to help!

Chatel

says:

I’m actually struggling with this right now with 3 of my kids. And even myself have to stop and think cause they do sound the same. We are in Los Angeles! Perfect timing, thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was good timing for you, Chatel!

Sita Greenlee

says:

I watched this video with my daughter who struggled with this same concept today! It made her feel better that she wasn’t alone in her frustrations. I appreciate the tips and look forward to implementing them tomorrow and in our future lessons.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was encouraging for your daughter, Sita! No, she is not alone! I hope the tips and ideas here help, but if you need more suggestions, please feel free to ask.

Rocio

says:

Thanks for these tips! They are really helpful, much appreciated!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rocio! I’m pleased to hear they are really helpful for you.

amelia

says:

i’m also new

Tracy

says:

Thank you! This is such a struggle for my youngest. I always appreciate your extra tips and free downloads!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Tracy. I hope this is helpful for child, but if you need additional help or suggestions, please let me know.

Nadine K Clifford

says:

Thank you for this information! I had no idea there was a name for this preventing sound discrimination!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Nadine! I’m glad this was informative for you.

Jennilyn

says:

Thank you so much!!! We have people in the house that talk both ways so this was helpful. I noticed this week that my daughter had this issue. I’m so glad k found this blog post.

(I probably went through this 5 years ago with an older sibling and completely forgot) Haahaa

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennilyn,
I’m glad you found this post and it’s helpful! It is a common issue, but something we don’t think about once we’ve mastered it.

Heather

says:

Great tip!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you!

Katharine Gindin

says:

These are very helpful. It sounds obvious, but I hadn’t thought to treat the words as homophones when you are working with someone who pronounces a short i and a short e word the same. Makes so much sense.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katharine,
I’m glad this was helpful for you!

RaShell Southerland

says:

This was so helpful! Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, RaShell!

Joyce

says:

This is so helpful! Thank you for the tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Joyce! You’re welcome.

Sandra

says:

I teach K-2 ELA. This is great! Can’t wait to use it in small groups!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad this will be helpful for your students, Sandra!

Caitlin

says:

We’ve been having to review this a lot lately. Great tips – thank you!

Merry

says: Customer Service

It’s definitely tricky for a lot of people! I hope the tips help :-).

Heather

says:

This is so helpful! We’re struggling with this now

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Heather!

Julie Herd

says:

These are excellent tips and the activity is a fun reinforcement tool!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Julie!

Lori Wilson

says:

This blog post is so helpful to me because this is something my 9 year old still struggles with. All About Reading and Spelling have really been a game changer for him in breaking through on learning, but weekly he misspells or says the i for e and vice versa. I am going to try these tricks. Thank you for your amazing program. It really has made my homeschooler a reader finally.

Angie

says:

Definite tricky for kids when we pronounce them the same! Thanks fir the tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Angie! Yes, they are tricky.

Becca

says:

This was very helpful. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Becca.

Kelly Mazurak

says:

Wonderful! Thank you for the extra practice sheets also! We LOVE AAR!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kelly! I hope they will be helpful for you.

Rebecca

says:

I’m so glad I saw this! This is one of the things my 7 year old is struggling with the most. Thanks for the info!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rebecca. I’m glad this is helpful, but if you need more ideas about this or any other topic one of your children has trouble with, please let us know. We love to help!

Amy

says:

Wow. This is extremely interesting. My young son has some difficulties pronouncing words. This will definitely help him.

Vidhya G

says:

Wonderful tips. Thank you for clearing the confusion of teaching E and I. One tip that resonated with me is teach in different lessons. Thank you.

Sarah M.

says:

Great article! Very helpful!

Brandie

says:

I was always so scared to teach reading and spelling. But this curriculum has made it SO easy and my girls love it!

Sabrina Cody

says:

Helpful tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad it’s helpful, Sabrina!

Holly

says:

I’m going to have my kids watch this video!

Sara

says:

Thanks for the help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sara!

Sharon M

says:

This has been so helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear this is helpful for you, Sharon! However, if you have questions or need anything, just let me know.

Geetika

says:

Very helpful tip

Allison

says:

This is great

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad you like it, Allison!