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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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Leave a Comment

Karen

says:

Yep. My daughter struggles significantly with differentiating short i and e and we are in the south eastern USA.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Aw, yes. I and E can be so tricky! Hopefully the tips and ideas in this blog post will help your daughter, Karen, but if you need further help let me know. Somehow almost everyone in the southeastern US master short I and E, but it does take time for some of them.

Annamari

says:

Great learning, love all the resources help this granny a lot because English is not our home language.
Enjoy your day

Stacey

says:

I didn’t really think this was an issue before reading this but now it makes sense why my son was mixing up some words. Fascinating! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Stacey,
I hope the tips here can help your son master these sorts of words. Let me know how it goes or if you have further questions or need more help.

Nancy

says:

This fascinates me…takes me back to linguistics discussions in my college years.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nancy,
I find regional accents fascinating too! 😊

Anne Perry

says:

I would love to introduce a spelling book to my 3rd grade son.

Stephanie

says:

Wow!! My little 5 year old daughter is smart as a whip! She turned 5 on May 7th but is on a 1st grade level and this would benefit her greatly as she’s doing such a good job learning to spell and read and yet this is one of our main struggles teaching her the difference between long and short

Marguerite Stuart

says:

Love your resources

Genie Coss

says:

So, I just discovered your website. I’m so excited to go through the information and see what I can use to support my students.

Brandy Sosa

says:

Can’t wait to get started! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the program!

Melissa

says:

This is very helpful! Thank you!

Kendra

says:

Awesome resources! Thank you!!

Krista

says:

Thank you for helping me see and hear words differently. I’m trying to help my 5th grader with her spelling.

Amanda W.

says:

This blog is amazing. I’m so glad I have found it

Julie

says:

My husband and his sister both say “cran” instead of “cray-on.” I wonder if that’s a regional pronunciation too.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julie,
I say “crayon” just like “crown”, with a clear /ow/ vowel sound. i didn’t know that was wrong until I was an adult, so I sympathize with your husband and sister-in-law. Here is a great map to show the difference in pronunciation of the word in the USA (the red shows the two syllable “cray-on” pronunciation). It is definitely a regional thing!

Lindsey Thomas

says:

We definitely live in the area where it is hard to hear the difference for “pin” and “pen.” Thanks for the tips!

Great tips, I have a 5 and 6 year old so very handy

Amy

says:

great information to help my daughter

Alta R Waldner

says:

Very helpful tips!

Ann

says:

Very helpful!

Royelle Mickelson

says:

This is a real problem for some of my dyslexic and learning disabled children. I appreciate the reminder that the vowels have different mouth shapes. That may help them.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Royelle,
You may find the website Rachel’s English helpful for additional sounds beyond short i and short e. The videos are focused toward adults learning English for the first time, but they are also helpful for teachers to view to be able to explain how to form sounds of American English to their students.

Stephanie Rojas

says:

Great tips!

Brooke Zimmerman

says:

Very interesting and thank you for the information!

Katherine F

says:

I was JUST trying to think of tricks to help my daughter with this. Thank you for the tips!

Carol Irwin

says:

Thanks for the I/e tips, especially using the mouth shape to help distinguish the sounds.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carol,
The mouth shape tip is a great one, especially for people that struggle to hear the difference between two sounds. Instead of just relying on the sound, focusing on mouth shape helps make the difference both visual (what they see, us a mirror) and tactile (what they feel in their own mouths). It can be very helpful.

Let me know if you have questions or need any help.

Diana

says:

Thank you for such a great program!

Heidi Mace

says:

So true – lots of variations based on region.

Julia Helkenn

says:

My linguistics classes in college have been so helpful in teaching my oldest how to pronounce words and listen for spelling. Great tips!

Gale

says:

Sometimes the short a is confused with the short e like in pen. ‘pin’ ‘pen’ ‘pan’. The short ‘e’ seems to be the hardest in some words for my grandson that I am teaching.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Gale. Short a and short e are the most likely to be confused vowels sounds for non-native English speakers, so there is obviously something there that makes these close. Short E is definitely a tricky sound, which is why in AAR and AAS we introduce it after all the other short vowel sounds have been learned.

Gale

says:

I have been working with my dyslexic grandson for 8 years. He is 13 and still has more trouble with the short ‘e’ than anything! It seems to be right between the ‘i’ and ‘a’ sounds.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gale,
Interesting. I think you are correct. I feel a progression of opening/widening the mouth and throat from short i to short e to short a.

How big of a problem is this? Is short E simply the sound he is most likely to misspell but he still gets it right more often than not or is he more likely to misspell short E than get it right? If this is a large problem, consider working on this sound for a few minutes every day for a long while, as this is a long-term difficulty for him. Keep a list (you can use an index card in his spelling box) and jot down every word he should know but misspells. That will give you words to work with with the tiles to review each day. You can do the same if it is more of an occasional problem, but maybe focus your review to just a couple days a week.

Let me know if you have further concerns or need help with this issue. Some spelling issues can take some kids a long period of consistent work to overcome.

Gale Rotan

says:

He misses it more times than not. He gets really upset when he finds out he has missed those words with the short e. I like the idea of making cards to review these words with him. I try to use a definition hopefully to differentiate the spellings.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gale,
Spend a few minutes a day reviewing a word or two the way All About Spelling does in the “Word Analysis” section of many Steps. (Look at Step 2 in AAS 3. It’s in the sample of that level, if you don’t own AAS 3.) Build the word he previously misspelled. Then start asking him questions. Ask him what the word is. Ask him to segment the word into its sounds. Ask what the vowel sound is and so on. Help him to deeply think through the word.

When he misspells a word in spelling, give him a chance to find his own error before you point it out to him. I like to ask my children to “CHOPS” their dictation sentences. CHOPS reminds them to check for Capitalization, Homophone usage, Organization (that includes things like handwriting errors and word spacing), Punctuation, and Spelling. Only after they have reread the dictation sentenced to check their own work and fix any errors they may find do I check it. If I find something, I give it back and tell them I found one error (or two, or whatever) and they try to find and fix it. If they can’t, I tell them what kind of error to look for. If they still can’t find it, I finally point it out and we discuss the error and how they can help to not make it again, such as reviewing how to add vowel suffixes to words ending in Y or when to use there and when to use their. Please note, we only do this deep sort of work during spelling lesson time. Any writing outside of spelling is handled more lightly, with me helping as much as they need, although I may jot notes to go over things during the next spelling time.

Anyway, if he is able to find his own errors with only a little prompting, praise him and let him know that is almost as good as never making the error in the first place. In fact, if he can find his own errors before you check it, it counts as if he never made it. Finding your own errors without help is much more a part of good writing than never making any error at all, which is of course not human.

Does this help? I’d love to hear if you notice an improvement in his use of short e after a few weeks of doing daily word review like this. If you don’t notice any improvement (not the problem going away completely, but an improvement) with a few weeks of consistent daily review, please let me know so we can come up with other ideas to help your grandson have success with this.

Christine M

says:

We are currently stationed in the South, and do a lot of treating words like homophones.

Melissa

says:

Thank you very much! So helpful

Heather

says:

Thanks for the info!

Renee P

says:

we don’t struggle with this so much as wanting to use ‘i’ for the long e sound all the time!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Renee,
One of my sons has recently starting to do this. I remind him that there are 9 ways to spell the long E sound, and the letter i is one of the less common ways. The letter i says long E usually when the long E sound is immediately before another vowel sound, such as the words radio or various.

Let me know if you need further help with this issue.

Kirsten

says:

Love the map!

Jo

says:

Currently busy with Level 2. I can definitely see growth. Can’t wait to start with Level 3. Thanks for the info!

Summer I

says:

Wow, this is great information. We are just getting in to homeschooling and there is so much to learn.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Summer,
Try not to get overwhelmed as you begin homeschooling! Yes, there is a lot to learn but you only have to learn a little ahead of your students. And just think about all you will know by the time they graduate!

Let me know if you have questions or ever need anything.

Vanessa M

says:

Thanks for the info!

Jennifer

says:

Very informative article

Carol

says:

This info was great! I love it. Your lessons are so great. Thank you!

Brooke Boyd

says:

Awesome info! Love to win level 1!!!!

Brandee

says:

I would love to win level 2😀

Cinda

says:

Interesting. I’m from Missouri and don’t think my accent is as strong as in the example. There are definitely I words and e words that sound the same to me. I appreciate these tips.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Cinda,
It is interesting. Accents are never uniform and each family and person has subtly unique speech patterns. I’m glad to hear this is helpful for the little bit of shot i and e confusion you have.

Emily

says:

Helpful article for when we get there!

Lauren

says:

We love AAS (and AAR)!! They work so well together! My 8 year old that is currently on AAR Level 4 is killing it in AAS Level 3. He can easily spell words with minimal mistakes because he has seen and read them many times before in AAR. He can remember the words and understand the rule. If anything, AAS is almost just a review for him. I recommend it to everyone!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lauren. It sounds like your 8-year-old is doing amazingly! Keep up the great work.

Tanya

says:

This is super helpful!

Jade

says:

I love the watching your mouth part.

Carly

says:

My kids are half way through level 1 and we love it. This was very helpful!

Jeren

says:

This is perfect timing. My middle child just started level 1 spelling after completing level 1 reading. Thanks.

Rachelle

says:

I have not purchase this curriculum yet, but would like to soon!

Amy McW

says:

This program is working so well for our family. Next up to obtain…level 6

Kim

says:

Looks so cute too.

Janet L.

says:

Must be great…….my friends rave about this program

Shey Co

says:

Thank you for the advise.

Jennifer Gatewood

says:

Very helpful. Can’t wait to see other useful tips.

Jennifer Cummings

says:

Thank you. This is so helpful

Crystal Clark

says:

These are my 7 year old sons hardest sounds to get! I am so glad he isnt alone in that but it is still frustrating.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Crystal,
Sound mergers can definitely be frustrating! Poor guy. It can take a while to master these tricky sounds, but if you need extra help to help your son please let me know.

A

says:

This looks so helpful thank you.

Patty

says:

Thank you soo much for the tips!

Meggan Edwards

says:

Thank you for your program and these supplemental posts! They are so helpful in teaching my children!

Jen

says:

I love the extra tips and help you post here! Thanks :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jen. Let me know if you need additional help with this problem or anything else.

Jill

says:

This is great! My husband teaches our son spelling using All About Spelling 1 – and this is his current mix up. I can’t wait to show him the blog entry :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jill,
Short i and short e are tricky for a lot of learners. Hopefully the ideas in this blog post will help, but if your husband and son need further assistance, please let us know.

Kristin

says:

Thankyou for the great info! My oldest just completed level 1, it has been a great help for us!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristin,
Thank you for letting us know this was helpful for you and your student!

AJ

says:

Thank you for the great tips. I found the map and the regional differences interesting .As a military family we’ve lived in and out of the different regions many times. Your tips will help us to distinguish between the two

Sublime Ogene Awah Rachel

says:

Dear team mates. I am so grateful for your suggestions. I am the Head of kindergarten in my school, Dewey International School of Applied Sciences in Douala Cameroon. I am also the language enhancement teacher both for kindergarten and year one. I am truly benefitting from your suggestions. Are there any possibilities for you to invite me over for the training you are offering scheduled for March? My school will be so pleased to sponsor me there as I will get in touch with very great resources to enhance the overall language skills of the learners in my school. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Best regards, Sublime.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sublime,
We are pleased to know that our suggestions have been helpful for you. However, we do not offer teacher training. Our products are designed so that teachers can use them without training.

We are happy to answer any specific questions or concerns you might have.

Michelle

says:

As always, thank you for giving us such great tips for teaching spelling. We live in one of the southern states where there is no differentiation between pen and pin. This will help me teach my son how to say the words correctly.

Jessica

says:

I am from missouri and can not hear the difference between pin and pen in the least. It’s reassuring to me to hear that this is a regional issue. My daughter stuggles so much with the short i and short e particularly before n. I look forward to trying the worksheets.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
Yes, this has to do with a regional accent that merges these two sounds together. Other regions have other accents that interfere with spelling.

Let us know how this problem goes with your daughter or if you need further help.

Andrea

says:

We are military and due to moving every couple years, all over the world, it’s been interesting to hear the different dialects. Great tips to separate.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Andrea,
Regional accents can be very fascinating to hear, think about, and discuss. And every region has their own spelling problems because of their accent; it’s not just the southeastern United States!

Megan

says:

Great ideas! My 2nd grader has the most trouble because he mis-pronounces words. He assumes he is saying it right.

Stephanie

says:

Thanks. Always so many helpful ideas from All About Reading. So great to see my daughter get it!

Natalie

says:

We’ve struggled with this as native Minnesotans who spent 5 months living in TX when our children were toddlers. Certain vocabulary that they picked up during that phase of life are cemented in their brains with different pronunciation (and idea of how to spell them)!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Natalie,
Isn’t it funny how accents form and stick? I know a man that has lived well over 50 years in Ohio, but the couple of years he lived in Florida in his childhood still shows in his accent.

Michelle Mccarley

says:

This was so helpful! Thank you!
We’re using AAR level 3 and still struggle with this some

April

says:

Love all of the tips!

Kimberly

says:

We live in the blue area. Sometimes my /i/ and /e/ words sound alike, sometimes they don’t. It sometimes confuses the kids, but we’re working on it – thank you for the helps!

Naomi

says:

YAY! This is a wonderful activity! I’ll be printing this out on cardstock for multiple uses. :) My son is about halfway through level 1 of AAS.

Chrissy

says:

Great post! Thanks for the strategies. Can’t wait to try these with my son! :)

Alexis

says:

This was so helpful! I have a student who was getting so frustrated distinguishing words with the short e and I sound. Looking forward to trying the downloadable worksheets with her!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alexis,
Let us know how it goes with your student, or if you need further help along the way.

Jessica Gilbert

says:

I love this. My son no longer struggles with one syllable CVC words with I or E but is still struggling in Level 2 through two syllable words with I and E in the second syllable. Any suggestions or just keep using the above suggestions. He will correct it now after I suggest we look back at a word, but showing down to discriminate that second syllable the first time is proving to be difficult for my dyslexic son.

Jessica Gilbert

says:

Slowing not showing

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
This is most likely not a problem with short i versus short e, but more of a problem with the schwa sound. Any vowel can take on a muffled /uh/ sort of sound in an unaccented syllable, but it is often e and i that cause the biggest problem in two syllable words.

You may have noticed that there’s a note in a gray text box in Step 4 of AAS 2 about the schwa sound and the need to pronounce words for spelling. Here’s how you can take it a step further: First, tell him that when we say words fast in our normal speech, some of the sounds get muffled–we don’t hear them correctly. We need to say them slowly. Then, when you introduce a word, say, “We normally say this word, sevin. I’m going to pronounce this one for spelling. You repeat the pronunciation and then write it. sev-EN.” Make sure he repeats the pronunciation for spelling. When he says the sounds correctly, then have him practice spelling it with the tiles or on paper. When you are done with the lesson, make sure you put all of the cards in the review tab.

Once he understands the general concept that there are sounds that get muffled and that we need to say things slowly to hear all the sounds for spelling, then he will be able to get these types of words correct over time.

When you get to the point where you are doing the review cards, then tell him, “I’m going to say these words how we normally say them. I want you to pronounce them for spelling, and then write them.” If he struggles with the pronunciation, give that to him, have him repeat it, and then write the spelling. Keep the card in review. Only when he can both pronounce them AND spell them correctly without hesitation, then move it to mastered.

Your goal is for him to reprogram how he thinks about this word. We don’t want him to think “sevin” when he says it fast. We want him to think “seven” even when he says it fast–and by saying it slow and showing that it truly is an /e/ sound, he can make that transition.

You may need to spend a lot of review time on these words. Some parents find they need to keep these word cards in the review section even after they get them correct because of their difficulty. Make sure to include them later on when the lesson says to review mastered cards. If your son struggles with any, put them back in the daily review for good awhile.

Step 6 also has a number of words that need to be pronounced for spelling, so use this strategy there as well. After that, the words in level 2 will be more straight-forward. The schwa sound is used a lot in our language though, so you’ll want to be aware of it and use this strategy whenever you come across it. Here’s a blog post about schwa sounds that you might find helpful.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Annette

says:

This is a great tool to help with early literacy!

It is such a big blessing to know this right method to learn English. It organized, with logic..

Holly Beth

says:

Great tips! We loved using AAR with my daughter with dyslexia & are now excited to be using it with my younger daughter’s.

Melissa

says:

Thanks so much for the tips and the download. My husband moved from El Salvador to North Carolina when he was about 17, so he learned to speak English with a Spanish and southern accent. I grew up in Minnesota. He will often say things like “tin” for 10. We currently live in Illinois where most people speak similar to how I learned in MN. Although, I lived in Western PA until I was 5.
A funny story happened when we visited North Carolina . My husband’s five year old niece asked me what my baby’s name was. I told her Ian. She then said, “Ian?, Ian?, Why would you name your baby the letter “n”?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
The letter ‘n’ story IS funny! Thank you for the smile.

Melanie

says:

Thanks for the extra practice sheets!

Amy

says:

Thank you for such practical tips!

Amy

says:

This is very helpful. Thank you!

Tamara H

says:

Fascinating video!

Kathleen

says:

I live in the midwest and help with kindergarten learning to read. This is definitely an issue here. Thank you for your article.

Laura A

says:

Our neighbors all have different pronunciation than I do. I grew up as a Texan Air Force kid and have my own accent. So when I do phonics instruction with my youngest I try to normalize my sounds for them.

Michelle

says:

Great tips

Kylie kopp

says:

I grew up with this issue and now I’m battling it with my son too! #southernlife

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kylie,
Just think of your shared difficulties as a family tradition! :D

Janet

says:

Wonderful tips! And the free downloads are super helpful, too!

Candace Cedar Duerksen

says:

Thanks! This is helpful!

Margarita Diaz

says:

These are awesome tips!! Always looking for ways to help my son.

Lora

says:

Great tips, thank you!!

C. E.

says:

Great tips. Look forward to trying some of these with my kids.

Elizabeth

says:

This is so helpful! I often interchange the short e and I sounds.

Shelley

says:

The “watch your mouth” tip is really helpful. Thank you!

Jessica

says:

Great tips! You always make teaching easy with your articles and tutorials! I appreciate the resources you give us!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jessica!

Nancy

says:

Wow thanks for the tips. Have always had a hard time hearing the difference.

Angie

says:

Love this! Super helpful!

Wendy

says:

This is wonderful!

Stephanie Chambers

says:

I’ve found having the kids repeat the word and having them watch my mouth helpful in clarifying pen/pin. Thanks for this article.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Stephanie,
Having students watch your mouth is a great technique for these tricky vowels!

Cindy

says:

This is just what we need right now

Katie

says:

This was so helpful!!

Lacie

says:

Looking forward to using this curriculum to teach my upcoming kindergartener next year.

Renee

says:

Thank you for sharing these helpful tips. Being from Texas makes it difficult for some of my students to distinguish between these 2 sounds.

Amanda Banks

says:

Can’t wait to try these. Thanks!

Crystal

says:

We will have to try these my 1st grader is having trouble with this.

Lily

says:

Love your program! ❤️

Carol D

says:

Love all the the extra downloads to reinforce lessons. I’m absolutely loving the reading and spelling and my kids love it!

Kelli

says:

My son and I will definitely be using these suggestions! Thank you for making reading and spelling easy to teach for someone who struggles with spelling her self!!!

Crystal McKinley

says:

My daughter age 10 struggles badly with this I and E issue!

I love your articles. I have two kids that struggle with letter sounds, reading and spelling. Thank you for the tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Jessica! We are happy to help.

Heather D.

says:

Nothing like working with an Orton-Gillingham program to make you hear your accent, even if you think you don’t have one.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Heather,
You have an excellent point there! Everyone has an accent and every accent has at least a few words that cause spelling difficulties.

Tamara

says:

Thank you for this!! I’m from Mississippi and this has been an issue for my kids.

Christi

says:

We sure do have the ‘pen/pin’ difficulty here in southwestern Virginia!

Aliesa

says:

My daughter really struggles to disringuish the difference between short i and e. I feel that the repetion built in to AAS has helped.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Aliesa,
Thank you for sharing this. It’s helpful to know that All About Spelling’s set up aided your daughter with differentiating short i and short e.

Leahsmom

says:

I love this AAR. It has helped so much!

Nicki Edmonson

says:

This makes so much sense! Thanks for the tips.

Ginger Jerzak

says:

Wjen I taught in a private school on the South this was a major hurdle to overcome with the dialect differences. I had to do the “watch my lips” tip with them. It worked.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ginger,
Thank you for letting us know the “watch my lips” tip worked in your classroom!

Missy

says:

This is very interesting. I have not really run into this problem in our family. We are in a northern state. :)

Sara

says:

Thanks for the great ideas to address this problems. After working with your curriculum for many years in a home-based program, now I use your lessons with some of my classroom students who need extra help on a skill.

Sara

says:

Whoops, I meant problem :).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sara,
Thank you for letting us know that our curriculum has been equally useful for you at home and in the classroom!

Mandy

says:

Honestly as a mom and homeschooler, these are always helpful for me too! Haha I really liked the video.

Tamara

says:

It is so helpful to be able to try out some of the lessons. They look colorful and professional and I would definitely consider purchasing a curriculum from here based on what I’m seeing here.

Gwen

says:

AAR and AAS programs truly are worth the investment! I wish that I had only found out about them sooner – five years ago! It would have saved us so much frustration and struggle! My oldest had a reading difficulty that he finally overcame, but he also has dysgraphia which will always be a challenge for him. AAS has helped immensely since we started. I am also using it with my daughter and will use it for my other 2 children as well. If you have more than one child, then it is money well spent because you can use the materials over and over. I can’t recommend these products enough!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Gwen!

Linzi

says:

Thank you very much. These are great tips! I will be using them for sure.

Sara L

says:

Thank you for the tips! It is so interesting to learn about regional variations!

Kristina S.

says:

I love All About Spelling.

Tawny

says:

Great ideas!

Jennifer Turco

says:

I enjoy all of your blog posts! Great articles and ideas!

Chantel King

says:

Great ideas! Thanks for the tips!

Gale

says:

Great video. Is there a similar thing with FIRE? In AAS it says it has ONE syllable…but I distinctly hear two syllables. FIE – ER.

Deb

says:

Very interesting! I am from the deep south and also hear two syllables, but my Mom was never out of the South until she visited my family while we were living in Iowa. She pronounced Fire as fi with a long i sound and the Iowans didn’t know what she was saying. Iowa is known for its correct diction so I thought they were correct. Since I read here that fire has only one syllable I am thinking she must have been correct all along.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gale,
R is a tricky letter because it’s hard to say without certain vowel sounds before or after it. Because of this, one-syllable words like fire (and in some regions words like care and mare too) shift to being two-syllable-ish. This can be more or less noticeable depending on your accent. If you place your hand under your chin when you say fire, however, you will feel that your chin drops just once just as it drops once for clearly one-syllable words like far.

You can acknowledge to your student that fire and similar words sound like two syllables, but that is all because R is so tricky. Switch out the R and put a V in and show that the word five is definitely one syllable.

I hope this helps, but please let us know if you would like more help with this or anything else.

Zuleyka

says:

We love All About Spelling. We are currently working on level 1 and this came just at the right time. Thank you!

Gladys

says:

This will be very helpful and I plan on using this. Thanks!

Sister Mary Peter

says:

I just wanted to let you know that for some time now, there is no video link or image when I open your newsletters. I don’t know if it is an issue on your end or just with my computer, but in case others are experiencing the same thing, I thought I would let you know.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for letting us know about this. Would you mind sharing what email program you are using (gmail, outlook, yahoo, etc.) and what browser you are using (Edge, Chrome, Firefox, etc.)? This will help our IT guy.

Katie

says:

What great ideas! Thank you for sharing

Kristine M.

says:

Thank you for posting this article.

dynal roberson

says:

This is great, we are currently going over this so it’s perfect timing! Thank you

Crystal Young

says:

Thank you for the tips!

Amanda Brown

says:

Wow! I love that you speak positively about dialects in your learning materials…most other learning to read systems don’t even address this!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amanda,
I have seen some regional accents approached as being “wrong” way to speak and this saddens me. Regional accents are apart of our personal identities and strongly reflect who we are. They should be celebrated! What especially frustrates me is that people will say they don’t have an accent. Everyone has an accent!

Cheryl Perry

says:

This will be really helpful for some of my teachers (who are still confused) who have students with this confusion. However, in your video it should be pointed out that your friend from Missouri is from southern Missouri and those of us who are from the norther part of the state or in St. Louis do not sound like that. We are able to distinguish the difference when we speak between pen and pin. Students here still have difficulty distinguishing the difference, however we typically do not speak with a southern draw.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Cheryl,
We were not suggesting that everyone from Missouri sounds the same. Rather, we used Marie’s friend, Cheryl, to show an example of an accent that merges these sounds and it just so happens that Cheryl is from Missouri. Our beige and blue map definitely shows only half of Missouri is within the area where the Pin-Pen Merger is most common.

Arlene Wilson

says:

Thank you. God bless all you do for us

Renae

says:

I am working through this confusion in spelling right now with my son. Thank you for the additional tips for helping. I know time will help him as well.
Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Renae. Time, in the form of a lot of exposure to these words with both reading and spelling, will definitely help as well.

K. Hunter

says:

Do you have anything for the e/a confusion? I try to tell my daughter that “e” is a bit shorter but that does not help her at all. I’ll def try your activities for “e”/”I”. I do exaggerate when dictating those words. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Are you referring to the short e and long a sounds? They are more typically confused than the short e and short a sounds.

In some parts of North American, long a and short e are commonly interchanged in words. Egg may be pronounced aig, for example. If this is the case, pronouncing for spelling is the way to go. Explain to your student that the way you normally pronounce this word doesn’t reflect how it is spelled, so you will pronounce it for spelling. Then, transition to you saying it as you normally do and having your student pronounce it for spelling before spelling it.

While it is helpful for students for you to exaggerate sounds when they are first learning to spell words, the goal is to get them to the point where they can spell without help. Your student will need to be able to think of a word in the normal way she speaks and know how to spell it. This will require her to start to take on the responsibility to pronounce for spelling herself.

On the other hand, if she is having trouble between short e and short a, you may want to work with her on segmenting words to clearly hear the sounds. Short e and short a aren’t a pair normally difficult for native English speakers. However, they can be a problem for English learners, and this video explains in great detail how these sounds are formed and give examples of “minimal pairs” (words were only one sound is different) to practice with. This video is very detailed, so it will be more helpful for you to watch and then teach your daughter from what you learn from it.

Does this help? Please let us know if you have further questions or need more help with this.

Kathrin

says:

Wow. Thank you for this detailed info. We have not encountered difficulties with short e / long a sound.
Her problem is the short e / short a sound. We do have keywords for it but that doesn’t help her. Especially when followed by a “l”.
I’ll def watch the video. She is bilingual and grew up learning German before English (though almost simultaneously). Interesting to hear that English speakers rarely have issues with this. Maybe it’s my wrong pronunciation (though i hardly have an accent, English is my second language).
Thank you again for your wonderful insight.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Kathrin.

Typically in English, a short A before the letter L has more of an /ah/ sound, such as ball. Is she confusing short A with short E or more of the /ah/ sound (the third sound of A)?

It may not be your accent that is the problem; I know German has some sound differences from English that just may take her longer to master each separately. Vowels can be tricky. Do let us know if she doesn’t show improvement with these sounds after reviewing and working with them.

Christy

says:

I love this! I always feel like I’m cheating when I pronounce for spelling but it really helps my eight year old because he still has this trouble. I sound more like the gal from Wisconsin when I say words. I make a special effort to do this for the vowel sounds. Thank you so much for your programs. I love them and so do my boys.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christy,
You aren’t cheating when you pronounce for spelling, but rather you are providing a scaffolding to help your student. The goal, however, is to get the student to hear the word as you normally speak and then pronounce for spelling himself. After a few times of you pronouncing for spelling, let your student know that you will be saying the word normally for now on and he will need to pronounce for spelling. Then keep the word in review until he both pronounces it for spelling and spells it correctly without difficulty.

Sherry

says:

This is so timely! We live in the beige area but I find my son struggles quite a bit with i and e sounds. Some words do sound so similar! Thank you for this great resource. I am printing the review pages to use tomorrow.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherry,
I’m glad this was timely and helpful for you!

Colleen

says:

The maps were my favorite part.

Colleen

says:

I loved the maps. Thanks!

Mary Rogers

says:

Your resources are amazing. Simple, uncluttered and easy to read and implement.
Thank you for sharing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Awww, thank you, Mary!

rebecca walters

says:

We do not live in the blue area but I have personally found that there are words I pronounce differently compared to how they are spelled, milk…we say mElk…it has caused some confusion but having the suggestion “pronounce to spell” has helped my children.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rebecca,
Every regional accent has its own spelling troubles. “Pronounce for spelling” is very effective for many words, but at times other approaches may be easier. My children and I have difficulties with the Cot-Caught Merger, where the short o and the au or aw sound are identical. We are so thoroughly ingrained into this merger, that we struggle to even hear the difference between the sounds let alone pronounce them differently. So, instead of “pronounce for spelling”, we approach au and aw as other ways to spell the short o sound, just as there are multiple ways to spell the long a sound. This has worked well for us.

Anyway, if you run across a pronunciation difference that makes spelling difficult for your child and would like some ideas on how to approach it, just ask.

Sally Chancellor

says:

Yes, we live in the blue, and this has been so frustrating! Thank you for the tips :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Sally. Dealing with a sound merger can be frustration, but with some work and patience, it can be overcome! Please let us know if you continue to have frustrations or if you need further help.

Susan Rice

says:

Thank you so much…just what I was looking for! I have a student that confuses short “i” and short “e”, both with spelling and reading. Watching the mouth shape when pronouncing the sounds should help, since he has trouble heaingr the distinction.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
Problems with short e and short i are common, but with practice they can be overcome! Let us know how it goes or if you need further help.

Brenda Green

says:

This one!

Krista

says:

My child has troubles with this. We are doing level two and did words like spent and blend. When I say them naturally it sounds like the ‘i’ sound, so I try to pronounce for spelling. I wonder how this is going to translate into spelling for her writing though. She might memorize the words that we practice, but if there are other words that she does not know how to pronounce for spelling (words not part of AAS) it will probably be a problem. Any suggestions? Thank you.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Krista,
Learning to spell words with the pin/pen merger, or other tricky patterns, is a slow process over time. Student’s build up a visual memory for which words truly have a short /i/ and which ought to have a short /e/. Initially, you will pronounce for spelling for your child, but over time your child will start pronouncing for spelling for herself.

As the map in the article suggests, huge numbers of people pronounce short /e/ as a short /i/, yet the vast majority of these people learn to spell the words correctly long before adulthood. Reading such words helps to build a visual memory for them, and misspelling them and then having to correct them does as well. You will likely have to point out that it’s an e and not an i on and off for a long time, but she will master it.

If it becomes a large issue or if she doesn’t show at least some improvement over time, let us know and we’ll help come up with ways you can reteach the issue and review it weekly (or even more often). However, I don’t think that will be necessary, as children that struggle with the pin/pen merger and other tricky patterns typically master the words slowly as they come up over time.

Krista

says:

Thank you, that is good to hear and encouraging. I will have to keep reminding myself to give it lots of time. :-)

Krista

says:

Thank you for the encouraging response. I will have to keep reminding myself to just give it time. :-)

Robin

says:

I may have to do some of these suggestions myself. I live in a purple area and have always pronounced the words like this with a short i sound. Even when I attempt to pronounce for spelling it doesn’t always sound right.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Robin,
If you can read and spell these words yourself, you don’t necessarily need to change your usual pronunciation. Yes, you may need to pronounce it for spelling for your child, but not in every day speech. Everyone has a regional accent that affects how they pronounce words; it isn’t right or wrong.

Deborah

says:

Thank you, Marie, for the time you spend on your interesting, informative, and most helpful blogs. I was especially fascinated by this post on short “i” and short “e” because of: 1. My personal interest in linguistics & languages, and 2. I am frequently correcting my children in this area of pronunciation! Now the mystery is solved for me, and I know that it is a more common occurrence than I realized. My husband and I grew up on the Illinois side of the metropolitan St. Louis area (white on the map), but several of our children were raised in south central Illinois (purple, or right near the dividing line of purple and white on your map) where we relocated 12 years after marriage. Now our family lives in NE Oklahoma, and we are tickled by the locals’ perception of our “northern accent” — noticing especially how we say words like “bag” and “root” and how the locals pronounce these words. Fascinating!!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Deborah,
I find such things very interesting too. I have some family that have roots from Oklahoma (most moved westward during the Depression), so I am very familiar with the OK “rut”. :D

katie

says:

Our family moves every couple years for military. We have been all over south from deep Cajun country to cities. We have merger problems with most vowels. I am excited to try this for i and e. Is there a special post that deals with o’s and u’s at all? My youngest especially changes things like the word problem to problum. We spend lots of time breaking words into syllables to try to hear the correct vowel. When I say pronounce for spelling it falls on flat ears, he has no idea why he would say it different while spelling.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Katie,
Saying problem as “problum” isn’t really a merger issue, but rather is a schwa issue. Every vowel can make the schwa short /u/ sound in an unaccented syllable. Here is a blog post on Making Sense of Schwas.

Since he doesn’t understand the concept of “pronounce for spelling”, start by building the word for him with tiles. Divide the word according the syllable division rules, and have your son read each syllable. Talk to him about how the word is spelled prob-lem, but when we speak normally our tongues get lazy and we muffle the short /e/ sound. It becomes short /u/, and we say prob-lum. However, in order to spell this words (and many others) correctly, we most learn to pronounce it the way it is spelled when we need to spell it. This is what “pronounce for spelling” means. When we want to spell problem, we need to say “prob-lem”, not “prob-lum”. You may need to repeat this for a couple words a day for a while before he really masters the idea.

When you get to the point where you are doing the review cards, then tell him, “I’m going to say these words how we normally say them. I want you to pronounce them for spelling, and then write them.” If he struggles to remember pronunciation, give that to him, have him repeat it, and then write the spelling. Only when he can both pronounce them AND spell them correctly without hesitation is the card moved to mastered.

I hope this helps. Let me know if there is anything further I can do for you.

CabotMama

says:

This explanation helps a lot! I too have a ten year old boy who balks when I ‘pronounce for spelling.” Not until his eight year old sister starting doing better at spelling such words did he decide maybe he needed me to pronounce for spelling after all. However, I did not go the extra step and begin saying the words normally and have him remember the spelling pronunciation. That extra step sounds vital to independent spelling mastery. I’ll begin adding it.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, CabotMama!

Many kids will just naturally do this “pronounce for spelling” themselves, often internally, and they will easily master such words. However, some have to be taught to do this and then must review and review and review before they become independent in spelling these words. It sounds like your 8 year old is on that did it naturally, and your 10 year old is one that has to be taught explicitly.

katie

says:

Thank you this did help! Today we slowed down a bit and just worked on words he says with a stronger accent. He already has a better understanding and less frustration, which was wonderful to see.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

This is great, Katie!

Melissa D

says:

In the Deep South the distinction is still preserved somewhat– the short-e words get elongated into pen=”pee-yen”… As in, “Bee-yen, hand me that pee-yen and put it in the ben. (Ben, hand me that pen and put it in the bin.)

I hear this a lot from my NC friends as well as from south GA. (We’re in Atlanta.)

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
Interesting. Thank you for sharing this distinction.

Thank you for this. The e/i struggle is real for my little man. If I give him both words side by side he can get it but not independently. I’ll definitely have him start practicing in the mirror!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Tiffany,
Have fun with the mirror, and be as silly as you can stand. It makes it more fun. :D

m.l.

says:

This is a particular issue in our home. It is very common in our area for these short vowels to sound alike, but my son also receives speech therapy for speech issues. He not only deals with the regional sounds but because he has such difficulty saying them himself and hearing himself say the words properly, his spelling is affected. It is a challenge and he is easily frustrated with short e/i but also bossy r’s. Thanks for the suggestions, I will continue to work on this with these ideas.

Jennette Gaudern

says:

My son struggles with the merger. We live right on the border line in kansas. Since we discussed the issue he asks which letter I or e with almost every spelling word.

Rachel Gray

says:

Interesting!

Meagan

says:

Thank you for this! We are from south Mississippi and my 4 year old and I have been really struggling with this. If I really exaggerate the E sound in hen/men/pen, he looks at me like I’m crazy because that’s obviously not how we say it :)

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Meagan,
He may just need more time reading such words, before he begins to understand that your usual pronunciation doesn’t reflect how the word is spelled. Then he can begin to understand the strange pronunciation needed for spelling.

Jessica

says:

thanks for this article – we’re struggling with this!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
You’re welcome. I’m glad it is helpful and timely for you.

Brigitte

says:

This is so interesting! I’m a military brat and my husband is from the Texas panhandle. We say many things differently. I’m curious to find out how my children will sound as they get older.

Tara

says:

I love this. I currently live in the south and I also grew up here. However, everywhere I’ve lived or traveled out of the south, people are always surprised that I don’t have a “southern” accent. My mom loves language and it must have rubbed off on me. The southern accent is familiar to me, but I’ve always wanted to understand and use the English language as best I can. Love this post!

sara beyda

says:

Hi and thank so for this post-we live in N.j. and have heavy N.Y. accents. I purchased your program recently and would like input in this subject-for I am teaching my kids english. For instance we say “how are you”? sounds like howa you? or” give me that” sounds like gime that or “I want to go” sounds “I wanna go”. How do I teach them that we spell differently than we speak?

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Sara,
This is one of the reasons why we recommend waiting to start spelling until the child is reading. Even though many of us say “I wanna go”, once a child starts reading they see that it is “I want to go”. Then, when they beginning spelling, they know what they need to spell. We recommend starting All About Spelling Level 1 after the child has finished All About Reading Level 1, or the equivalent reading level. This article, The Right Time to Start, explains this further.

Many regions have heavy accents that on the surface would seem to make learning to read and spell very difficult. Yet, the vast majority of people in all those regions still learn to read and spell, and most of them learn with methods that aren’t nearly as researched based or complete as All About Reading and All About Spelling. You can do it too.

If your kids struggle with a specific sound or pattern, email us for specific help. We have lots of tips and techniques available for this sort of thing.

By the way, I think a little kid speaking with a NY accent is about the cutest thing ever.

Christine Adams

says:

At first I thought it was funny when my daughter pronounced “pin” for word “pen”. But after a while, it was no longer so humorous. Now, that I see your map, I understand why she has such difficulty. Although, my husband and I are originally from the northeast, our children have been raised in the south, deep in the heart of the purple area indicated on the map. Now, that reasons behind the mispronunciation, we can begin to address it.

Thanks for the insight

Janette

says:

Thank you for all the helpful blog posts!

Diana

says:

This is soooo true. I read my daughter words from a list and she spells them. The ones she gets wrong we use as spelling words for the week. After getting became gittin and breakfast became brekfist, I realized I needed to learn to pronounce them correctly!!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Dianna,
Breakfast is one that I find easier when taught the history of the word. It is a compound word, break-fast. It refers to fasting (not eating or drinking) overnight, so in the morning we break our nightly fast with a meal. That meal became called breakfast.

Ruth

says:

Funny to read this, as my husband is from the south and I’m from the north. We were just talking this morning about how this spelling distinction is tricky for our first-grader! :)

Sarah Bridwell

says:

Very interesting! I’m in that small little dot in Cali ;)

Is that the Central Valley? I couldn’t quite pin (wink) it down.

Lauren

says:

What a helpful article! We live in TN and there is definitely a lack of distinction between short e and i.

Lori G

says:

This has always been an issue for us and we are in 9th grade now! I usually have him say the word back to me. It just seems like he has to work really hard to hear the difference. Thank you for the great information & it’s helpful to know it is a common hurdle for some.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Lori,
Yes, it is a common hurdle for many, and it is one that is really difficult to overcome if you don’t know what to do. The activities in this blog post are great, but for some students it might take reviewing the concept for a few minutes daily for quite a while before they master it.

Enlightening, informative reading!

Sara

says:

Good tips to use!

Amy

says:

Leaving in GA we notice this difference and my kids often notice it too.

Megan

says:

Oh my goodness! I thought it was just me. Thank you for all the great tips. Figures I would live in the one small purple dot in California.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Megan,
Well, someone has to live in that dot. ;). And it most definitely is not just you; lots of people struggle with the pin/pen merger.

Danielle

says:

As a new homeschooling mom, all of these amazing hands on tools look amazing. Thanks for such amazing resources!

Lacey

says:

As a homeschool mom, my most daunting task is teaching my kids how to read and spell. Thank you for coming alongside us and giving me the tools that I so desperately need.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Lacey,
You are welcome. :D

mary jones

says:

I do (NC). I am from MD and my husband relocated to NC from NY as a teenager. Neither of us pronounce “pen” as “pin,” nor do our children. Whoohoo! Interesting post.

Melissa M

says:

I’ve lived in both areas. lol The only thing I noticed was Southerners calling soda Coke and Northerners call it pop. I just call it soda now. Maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to pronunciation. I’ll have to try these exercises with other words. I started my son with AAS, but then switched him to Sequential Spelling because I thought AAS was too easy for him, but I’m going to switch back because he does better with rules and phonic spelling. He’s got a pretty good ear for it and he’s a really good reader for an eight year old. I’m hoping his siblings go the same way. :-)

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
We do recommend moving faster for children that find the spelling easy. While your son isn’t what we would call an older student, you can use the techniques outlined in this article to fast track him through the lower levels.

Melissa M

says:

I’ll do that. I’m going to have some extra money in my budget in the beginning of next month, so I was going to buy the second level. He really enjoyed it, especially the letter tiles. Using SS can be like trying to take a cat for a walk sometimes. lol

thriftystayhomemom

says:

So nice to know this is has a “REAL NAME”. My dad was in the military and I grew up smack in the middle of the blue area of your map for some of my early formative years. (ages 4,5,6) and of course just “hearing” him speak at home. I have ALWAYS said jokingly if I had learned to “talk” right, I could spell right!! How can “pillar & pillow” be pronounced the same (“piller”), and then expect a kid to ever learn to spell correctly. I am 50 and STILL struggle with some spelling. But as a homeschool mom…I get to re-learn so many things. Thanks for making spelling easier for OUR kids!

Cristina

says:

Oh the sounds of words…
Thanks for the always-helpful-tips Marie! Lord bless you!

Priscila Estrada

says:

My first language is Spanish. All About Reading is helping my first grader and momma.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Priscila,
We have heard from a number of parents that are not native English speakers, and all have told us that All About Reading and All About Spelling gave them the help they needed to teach their children well. I’m glad you are having the same experience.

Anna

says:

By the way… Is there ANY place where “get” isn’t prounced “git”?

Autumn

says:

We say “get” in Southern California. I never hear anyone say “git.”

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Anna,
Ummm, lots of places. Out west here it is typically “get”, although the word get is not usually stressed in a sentence, so the sound is more muffled and subtle.

I tend to say ‘get.’ I’m from Illinois/Michigan/Minnesota/Missouri originally.
I also say ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ differently.

Anna

says:

What?!?! There’s a cot/caught merger?! (But they ARE the same sound. I KNOW I’m right!) Just kidding.
This article is timely for me too. I have a new 3rd grade student with this pin/pen issue. I will definitely be using this, along with the auditory processing information. Thank you so much!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Anna,
Yeah, I was completely shocked to learn that the aw sound was supposed to be a different sound than short o. Even after studying it and helping others, I still find it almost impossible to even say the sound differently.

I’m glad to hear this was timely for you. You are welcome

Linda

says:

My son is dyslexic, and distinguishing the i and e give him fits. Thanks for the tips. We are plugging along, and his spelling is much better than a few years ago. I appreciate your approach that works for older students without being babyish for them, but still lets me add fun stuff for the younger students. Blessings to you!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Linda,
Blessings to you! It is good to hear that spelling is much better for your son than it was a few years ago.

Jenn

says:

Love this article! I think our guys have this, even though we live in Indianapolis…My name is Jenn, and my hubby’s oldest sister’s name is Gin (Virginia). So we make sure to drag out the I when say GIn and the E when we say JEnn.
I don’t think the map is quite right, because my hubby and dad, both from Michigan, say melk instead of milk. LOL.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jenn,
I do think the map is more of a generalization, but in the region of the map the tendency is to say short i for all short i and short e sounds (the infamous “git” instead of “get”). So, your husband and dad saying short e in place of short i isn’t exactly the same.

The longer answer is that every region as it’s own pronunciation bugbears. I have literally spent hours studying them, and still feel like I’ve barely scrapped the surface.

Jessica P

says:

This is a great article! I grew up in Minnesota, and my husband grew up in south Florida. We are always having these debates. Good information!

Jessica P

says:

This is a great article! I grew up in Minnesota? And my husband grew up in aouth Florida. We are always having these debates. Good information!

Saph

says:

Very helpful tips! My daughter hasn’t had any trouble but will keep this handy in case my younger one does.

Kortnei V

says:

Great information! My 8 year old son was running into issues today like this in our home schooling!

BreAnn Loveland

says:

I was just talking to my husband a out this last night!

betsy eash

says:

Oh this looks very good

Donna Louis

says:

Very helpful.

N Laine

says:

Very helpful tips! My toddler is quickly progressing with his vocabulary and we are working on practicing correct pronunciation early.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

I do think that will help at least some. Teaching my older two kids to read and spell made me much more conscious of how some words are pronounced. Because of that, I began pronouncing pretty as it is spelled rather than purdy, and I clearly say the t in often. Well, when we got to these “rule breakers” in AAS this last week (two different levels with two different kids), they weren’t rule breakers. Both boys couldn’t tell me which letter or letters were breaking the rules, because they normally pronounce the words as they are spelled.

Still, there are some pronunciation habits I just can’t seem to break. I still say “aigs” for eggs, and I often catch myself asking for my red “pin”. Oh, well.

angie

says:

I am with you! My papaw always called me “Aingie” not Angie. It’s difficult to teach these words to my son bc I make no distinction with the pin/pen words. They sound absolutely foreign to me when I try to say them correctly! But I’m trying…I will try this exercise with my son and hope it helps us both!

Bethany

says:

Great tips!

Elisa

says:

I love all your tips, thank you so much!!!

alicia

says:

Thanks for the wonderful tips!

Brenda F.

says:

My kids were born in the south, but my husband and I are from the north. We live in the south and my kids all have trouble reading and spelling the /i/ and /e/ sounds. I already do half of your suggestions. I want to try the worksheet soon and see how much that helps. Thanks!

I’ve been trying to find a video of my grandson (at about age 5) in which he demonstrates some linguistic flexibility.
Mom: “What do you call the place Grama puts her car?” D: The gaRAGE.
Mom:What do you call the place where you put your bike at Uncle P’s house (uncle is British/Irish)?
D: The GERHage.
Cracks me up every time I watch it.

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

That sounds so cute!!

Barbara

says:

Thank you Marie for all your words of wisdom! I am slowly understanding some of the difficulties that my son experiences in differentiating sounds as well as printed words. Your posts relieve some of my “flipping-out” tendencies in response to his not “getting it” when all my other children have understood phonics and can read. This post will help as we continue to distinguish all the vowel sounds.

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

Hi Barbara! Thanks for your comment! This post on auditory processing disorder may also be helpful to you: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/auditory-processing-disorder/

Becca

says:

This is great! You guys have to do more blogs about how to compensate for other American accents! I drive my husband nuts with my rural Ohio accent. I grow up with everyone saying “puh-tata” for potato. Then, because of his Chicago accent, my kids hear “tr” as “ch” and can’t seem to grasp the “th” sound (Da Bears!)

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

Oh Becca, I feel your pain! When I first married my husband (also from Chicago), I remember coaching him on how to speak at interviews–everything was “deese, dem, dose, dat…” He has a huge vocabulary (knows many more words than I do–I learn a lot from him!) but the pronunciation of simple words hurt my ears! Now he reserves his “d’s” for football–da coach!

Did your husband ever talk about a “frunch” room? I couldn’t figure out why all these homes had “French” rooms until I asked, and found out it was actually a FRONT room!

The chr/tr confusion is one I hear about fairly often. The pattern chr actually never occurs in English, unless the ch is standing for the hard /k/ sound, as in Christmas etc… There are no /ch/ sounds before the /r/ sound in English. So when they hear “chr,” let them know that it’s always going to be a tr. If they are only hearing a /ch/ sound with no /r/ sound, then I would show them the words with tiles first and have them practice segmenting and reading the word (point to each sound, say the sounds, then blend them into a word).

If you think about how we make the /t/ and /ch/ sound, they are almost identical. We tend to use a bit more of the tip of the tongue to make the /t/ sound, but it’s close. Then if you make the tr blend slowly, you can see how similar the tongue feels to the /ch/ position. You might talk your kids through this and have them feel how close the positions are–or even get silly in front of a mirror together. Sometimes it can help to get in front of a mirror together and be silly as you make the sounds, so the child can both see and hear how to make the sound, then try to imitate it and feel the difference in their own mouths.

Here is a short, 5-minute video put out by Rachel’s English on tr vs. chr sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK7o49tFylM

She does videos for people learning English as a second language, but I find them very helpful for understanding why kids make some mistakes like these–she clearly shows the mouth and lip positions, and it’s information you might be able to draw from when you explain to your kids how to make the sounds (and therefore how to hear and spell them). (The video is mainly for you–most kids wouldn’t be too interested!)

I hope this helps.

Rachel

says:

Hello again, just reading about the ch sounds and others. My 17 year old son is dyslexic but he can now read at a grade 6 level fairly fluently. When he first was learning the sounds the letters made he couldn’t understand why he should circle truck or train for the sound “t”. It sounded to him like chruck and chrain.
Rachel

Becca

says:

Thank you Merry! All of this will really help us out! :D

Anne

says:

I’m a Pennsylvanian living in Canada where my husband (a Michigander) and I are planting a church for Chinese immigrants. We lived in Beijing for almost 2 years, so we understand how it feels to have our Mandarin pronunciation corrected by people who speak with different accents! But I LOVED your post because we had a little girl from Taiwan staying with us this summer to practice her English. I used AAS to teach her, and she made great progress. It was so much fun! The trouble we ran into was that she couldn’t distinguish between spelling short words with /e/ or /i/. It seemed that she always picked the opposite one, and it was so frustrating for her. When I explained the trouble to her cousin (an adult who has lived here since she was 14), she said, “I STILL have trouble with that.” When I asked her how she handled it, she said sheepishly, “I just guess.” I think your handout may be a help. Thank you!

Rachel

says:

Me again. I wanted to suggest “My Fair Lady” as a good movie to watch. It really does help people understand the differences in the way people speak the same language.

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

Ooh, that’s a great suggestion! Thanks, Rachel! :)

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

Ay not I, O not Ow, Don’t say “Rine,” say “Rain”…

LOVE My Fair Lady!

Rachel

says:

Hello Marie: I am a Canadian married to a Barbadian and living in Barbados for 28 years. Both countries are part of the Commonwealth so I have “spelling corrections” to do in the American books I use. Obviously, Canada being so far north and Barbados being in the middle of the earth there are a lot of differences in the way words are pronounced. My biggest problem is hear, ear, and hair; and beer, bare, and bear etc. Barbadians think these words are homophones!!!! They can’t hear the ee at all. Of course, Canadians say “been” rhymes with “seen” not “bin” and “shone” rhymes with “on” not “bone”, so I guess it just depends on where you live.

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

How interesting, Rachel! By the way we do have some suggested adjustments for those using “British” spelling and pronunciation–feel free to email us at support@allaboutlearningpress.com for a copy.

Regina Bonnette

says:

Thank you for this! I laughed hard when I read the pen/pin merger. I was raised in Texas with Texas parents until I was 13 and moved to northern Minnesota. To say the least, people could not understand me when I used these words! Now I have a 6 year old who was born in Texas and we just moved to Florida where I am homeschooling her. Hopefully we can divert this issue!

Kim

says:

Thank you so much for this post. I was raised in Central Illinois and I never realized before trying to teach my children spelling, that I can not say pin and pen as different words. Thank you for these tips and for making me realize that I’m obviously not alone in this.

Helen B

says:

Thank you so much for this blog post! I was born in Floridia and lived there until I was 7 years old when my family moved to New Zealand. I was home educated so I haven’t lost all my accent. But every now and again I would be given a bit of grief over this exact thing. I say pin when I mean pen. More recently I’ve been asked why I spoke like this and I didn’t know. I assumed it was a family thing. So thank you. Now I know. I will say my mixed up accent is cause trouble with my kids when it comes to spelling. : )

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

It IS interesting what moving around can do to one’s accent!

RoseAnn

says:

I love this! We live in the purple area, but I am originally from the white area, so our children are exposed to both Pin-Pen! I look forward to using this worksheet.

Rachel

says:

Oh YES! This is a real problem here in Mississippi!!! We also run into short-a sounds like short-e when before /n/ Like Andrew and egg have nearly the same beginning sounds. I’ve finally just told my kids that we speak Southern and we just have to learn the spelling in the context – so funny because I’m often asked where I’m from and told I don’t have a Southern accent. :)

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

LOL, Rachel!

Nikki

says:

I grew up in Northern IL and my husband grew up in OK, I give him a hard time about it (until now) and fear our children are going to pronounce things like him. Thankfully we live in Southern CA so it’s not what they hear on a day to day basis in our community. Thank you for this post.

Aimee

says:

I am in Wisconsin, and here the trouble is between the /a/ and /e/ sounds. They pronounce flag as fleg around here. I am originally from Nebraska where we say it flag, so those 2 letters have caused us some trouble in phonics and spelling, as my children are picking up what they hear the most in our region and I am trying to teach them the correct way!

Melissa

says:

We live in North Carolina and we pronounce everything like the short /i/ and never even realized it until we began using All About Spelling. It is quite difficult to remember to stop and think how to pronounce it correctly for my son who struggles with dyslexia. Often I don’t realize my mistake until I see that he has spelled the word incorrectly. It can be frustrating for both of us, but you have done a great job in distinguishing the difference and this curriculum has helped my son son tremendously. Your work is greatly appreciated and though It has been slow and labor intensive for him, progress has been made and he is now in level 3 in both spelling and reading. I think I have learned as much as he has! :)

Merry at AALP

says: Customer Service

Hi Melissa,

It sounds like you have both worked hard. Congratulations on his progress!

Esther

says:

What about children who can’t seem to hear the /ng/ sound? For a long time I thought it was only a pronunciation issue, (“Mommy, I was sinnin’.” “You were…oh, you were SINGING!”) but I’ve recently realized that she really doesn’t HEAR the difference. I know there are some regions where the g is frequently dropped, but we don’t live in one of those regions! :-)

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Esther,
My first question is how old the child is. Some sounds take longer for a child to master. However, ng in sing is a fairly early one, so if she is above 4 or so, I would expect it to no longer be a problem. Also, does she have trouble with other sounds as well? You can refer to this chart for an idea of which sounds most kids can say at which age.

For n versus ng, take a look at this video. Depending on your daughter’s age, this video will be more for you to understand the differences in the mouth as the sounds are produced and then for you to explain and show her. Take her in front of a mirror and have some silly fun as you say lots of words. The difference is subtle, but working on it in the mirror and with eyes closed to really feel the position of the tongue and jaw may be just what she needs.

After she has a better understanding of the difference, I would use the kind of activity explained in this blog post. Say words that end in ng and words that don’t but otherwise sound the same, and see if she can point to the n tiles for the ones that don’t and to the ng tile for the ones that do. Word pairs could be sane and sang, sin and sing, tin and ting, song and son, and many more. Note, if she is younger and does not yet know letters, you could change the activity to her pointing to the front of the mouth or the back of the jaw. It may take playing like this for a little each day for a while before she really starts to self correct her own speech.

Evelyn

says:

Thank you very much for publishing this article! A few months ago, I called the AAL learning office and asked about this very topic. The information above has been printed and is already waiting for our next spelling lesson. Have a wonderful week.

sabrina

says:

We have had some difficulty with words like pin/pen and get. My grandmother was from England and spoke every word very crisply. Though I’m not like her having been raised in Eastern Virginia, I thought my pronunciation was very good…Until I started teaching and realized that I said things like, “git,” instead of “get,” as well as the tin/ten, pin/pen words. My son gets them correct when I am careful to pronounce them correctly. Love the materials and the help!!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Sabrina,
But don’t assume your English grandmother pronounced everything correctly. The English often put an /ar/ sound in place of a short a that comes before s, f, and th. Bath becomes barth. Depending on where she was from in England too, she likely dropped h from the beginning of words and/or added an r to the end of them (such as elp for help and idear for idea).

Every regional accent has it’s issues. No one of them is “right” for every word.

Patricia Eleftheriou

says:

Being raised in the south, I certainly understand the confusion. Some one once gave me this little sentence to help tell the difference. “You wouldn’t call your friend Peg a pig.” Don’t know if it will help anyone else. Love your materials and blog!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Patricia,
I love your Peg/pig memory help! Thank you for sharing.

This is timely! I have a new student who definitely has this problem! But he’s a smart cookie so I think this will really help him.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Nancy,
I love when our posts are timely for someone’s needs!

Amelie

says:

We live in NJ, where it should not be a pronunciation problem, but my son never really conquered the short e/short i difference. He has severe dyslexia and also seems to be unable to differentiate other sounds as well.

As much as I love phonics, I don’t think it is as effective for him as it should be. Could it be that some students will always struggle to learn to read by learning the sounds?

Now that he is 13, his reading is better, but not very strong. He does better with the visual configuration of the word than with the sounds. He just cannot hear the difference!

Leanne

says:

We are also from the North, but are dealing with the same issues of dyslexia and being unable to discern the sounds of short e and i.

Merry at AALP

says:

Hi Amelie,

I’m sorry that your son is struggling. This sounds like he also has an Auditory Processing struggle along with the dyslexia (which is somewhat common). This article has some tips that can help: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/auditory-processing-disorder/

Both of my kids dealt with some auditory processing struggles. One really had trouble hearing consonant blends (such as the ending of bent or beginning of plan) which affected both reading and spelling for a long time. The other struggles (as I do) with separating spoken words–the words run together and don’t make sense. Slowing down and adding visual reinforcement can really help.

When a student struggles with auditory processing, it’s all the more important to use multi-sensory methods. You want to strengthen the weaker pathway while also including their stronger pathways. This article on the SMI Method (Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction) has more information: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/the-smi-method/

That article is part of a 5-part series on memory issues that I highly recommend reading if you have time. It completely changed how I homeschooled my kids. (The other articles in the series are linked at the bottom of that one.)

Back to reading and visual methods–most students who rely on purely visual methods will bottom out at some point at a middle to upper elementary reading level. (Think about memorizing thousands of telephone numbers visually–that’s what trying to read without understanding sounds would be like). This article on word-guessing has more info on students who rely purely on visual methods: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/break-the-word-guessing-habit/

We’ve had students even with severe dyslexia (including Marie’s son) succeed with AAR and AAS. It can take a lot of work, but be encouraged that you can help your son. You may want to check out Marie’s story:

http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/our-story
http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/about

I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have additional questions.

Amelie

says:

Thank you for all the tips you gave. I will peruse the links given. This site has lots of helpful information. I appreciate it!

Jennifer Huffman

says:

Thanks for posting this! I have wondered about this and my son who is on level 1 is always asking me, “Is that a rule breaker.” This will help us both. Thanks!

Jennifer

says:

We live in South Georgia and I have already begun doing some of the things listed above…glad to know I am on the right track! Thank you for the additional activities and tips! My little girl is just in kindergarten, but is doing really well so far, with reading and the activities that go along with it. I’m wondering when spelling is typically taught? I thought it was first grade, but I’m wondering if I should go ahead and teach it as a separate subject now?

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
We recommend starting spelling after the student has completed All About Reading 1, or the equivalent reading level. While learning to read, students will pick up the basic skills that will allow them to spell more easily. This article, The Right Time to Start, explains this further.

Renee Smith

says:

I have a student who regularly mixes up short i and short a. Can I use the same process with him?

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Renee,
Definitely. You’ll have to come up with your own words for the practice activities, but the options outlined here are will work.

I haven’t heard of short i and short a mix ups. Is it possibly in just a few words, or a few patterns, and not across all words? I ask because we (live in Arizona) shift short e to long a in front of the letter g, such as egg becomes aig and leg becomes laig. However, bed is bed and not bade and men is men and not main. If the problem is just in a very few words, or in just a specific pattern, it may be better to focus on just those words or patterns, and not words that your student does fine with.

Let us know if you need specific help with how to cover this with your student.

Renee Smith

says:

Thank you for the response. This boy mixes i and a consistently. He is home schooled, but I have him an hour a day for reading. Both his mother and I use the All About Learning tools(she – reading for a younger brother; me – spelling). She asked me about this confusion and I told her I had already noted the same confusion. I will share this process with her and hopefully between the two of us, we can cure this!

Maryandra

says:

Thanks so much for posting this! My 7 yr old an I were just struggling with this today. She has so much trouble hearing the difference in these two short vowel sounds. I was at a loss today as to how to help her. We will definitely be using your tips and activities tomorrow and probably a few days before we move on. Thank you!

Maryandra

says:

I forgot to add that we are in the purple area – north Alabama, but I’m from South Africa so I don’t have problems with these vowels and it is hard for me not to over correct my whole family. My precious little southern girls are definitely needing more help in spelling. LOL

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Maryandra,
Awww, but a South African accent has it’s own issues with pronunciation and spelling, such as tendency to say /ar/ when a short a is followed by s, f, or th. Each regional accent has it’s own struggles. I have learned so much about regional accents and how they relate to spelling since working for All About Learning Press. It’s fascinating.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Maryandra,
I love when our blog posts are just in time to help someone! You are welcome.

Rena

says:

Thank you for addressing this! We are in OK and I’ve noticed my 2nd grader is having this problem.

CabotMama

says:

My fifth grader will be so relieved to learn this issue has a name other than the one we coined back in 1st grade: Southern Accent Disorder. :) We encountered it with the word “get.” After struggling for weeks, I overemphasized the pronunciation for spelling: “g-e-e-e-t”. And then “g-e-t”. My son stared at me and said, “Mom, no one says that! It’s “g-i-i-i-t”!!!” And that was pretty much the end of the spelling lesson for the day. He was done.
We later explained he needed to learn the other pronunciations so he could be understood if and when he travelled. We have made progress … but distinguishing the two sounds remains a struggle. And it runs in the family. His three younger siblings are struggling with these two sounds. I look forward to using these strategies.

Kim

says:

Yes, unfortunately I say git for get also. I’m trying so hard to change my habit so that my children learn the word correctly.

Christine

says:

I am dealing with this right now with my second grader. Actually we ran into it last year and I thought it was an age/new speller thing. I spent my first 8 years in Florida (purple) and then the rest in Washington State (white) and now we live in Arizona (white), so I now realize that it is me and the way I pronounce my words; not her. I think the good thing is she will clarify, did you say “pIgpEn” and emphasize the I and E sounds and I say, “yes”. So she discovered a way to get around my pronunciation. I also like the idea of using the word in a sentence so she knows which vowel to use in context, which will be the way she uses the word most of the time (except with a spelling list, ha).

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Christine,
I actually think this pin/pen merger is a bit more widespread than the purple suggests. I grew up in Northern California and my husband grew up in Southern California and Southwest Arizona. We live in Southwest Arizona, and my kids have all struggled a bit with short e and short i, especially in front of nasal consonants like m and n and in unaccented syllables.

The word dentist has been a terrible struggle for all of my kids. Is it dentest, dintist, dintest, or dentist? They have tried every way. I actually had to get into morphology with 8 year olds because of this word. (Dentist is formed from the root dent, which means teeth, such as dental and dentition. I told them that “teeth make dents.” Then the ist ending means “one who does something”, like artist, chemist, and racist.)

Anyway, all that to say it’s not necessarily you. Plus, out West here we are famous for an entirely different merger, the cot/caught merger. For most of us Westerners, the short o sound and the aw and au sounds are the same.

Katie

says:

Yes! We live in south Georgia and have struggled with this.

Jenbulpitt

says:

I grew up in Texas but we live in Maryland and my first grader has already run into this issue. I suspect it is because of the way I speak to her. We are taking time to pronounce as we would spell but I imagine it will take a bit of time before she can easily distinguish the difference.

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