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For a non-native English speaker like me, it's always been hard to sound æ and ɛ differently. For example, "salary" and "celery" are two words that I tend to pronounce identically.

Is it OK to go on like this or should I practice to get it right?

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Honestly, I wouldn't worry too much about it. It's exceedingly rare for those learning a second language later in life to achieve native-like pronunciation. Yet people still get along just fine. Probably not worth the untold hours of practice it would require. –  Alan Hogue Aug 13 '10 at 17:45
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many native English accents don't actually distinguish the two sounds, so you wouldn't sound wrong if you didn't either. But a good way to practice is to record yourself, and compare it to the recording of a native speaker. You should get it eventually. –  Vincent McNabb Aug 17 '10 at 0:22
    
@Vincent is correct. This particular phonetic distinguish usually doesn't cause much trouble and even the best foreign speakers of English don't always make this one. Generally, it is more likely to be considered "charming" rather than "confusing". By all means, practice as much as you like, but don't be self conscious about it. :) –  leoger Dec 15 '10 at 0:35
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You should realize that in many varieties of English, including American English, the vowel /æ/ changes before an /l/. If you just confuse /æl/ and /el/, there are native English speakers who do the same thing, and I would say this is not too big problem in speaking and understanding English. If you mix up "mat" and "met", you really do need to work on your vowels. –  Peter Shor Nov 9 '11 at 12:03
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6 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Here is a typical English vowel chart:

English vowel chart

As you can see, /æ/ and /ɛ/ are quite close to each other, and so have quite a similar sound. The difference is in the degree of openness: /æ/ is “near-open” and /ɛ/ is “open-mid”. If you want to make a clear distinction between the two, you need to practice, practice, practice. When I was learning phonetics, I found the best practice was to try to make long continuous vowels that go along the axes, like /iiiiiiiieeeeeeeeɛɛɛɛɛɛɛɛææææææææaaaaaaaa/. Once I was able to master making the entire continuum, it became easier to find individual points along the continuum.

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Great answer! Thanks. –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Aug 13 '10 at 18:03
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As I don't know Turkish, so I'm afraid I can't give you examples of pronunciation in your native language, but this may still help:

salary: SAH - lah - ree

celery: CELL - lair - ree

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Excellent answer. –  Sabuncu Aug 20 '13 at 8:42
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Celery e as in evet Salary as the e in lütfen

You could pronounce salary just as if it were a Turkish word as well.

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The /æ/ sound (which in American English is the sound present in words like cat, gap, fan, man) is pronounced by dropping your jaw down as if you were going to say [ä]; then from that position try saying /ɛ/.

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The most dictionaries I consulted show that the first e in celery is IPA e (seləri).
Read what the important phonetician Daniel Jones said about æ

The correct sound of æ can generally be obtained by remembering that æ must have a sound intermediate in quality between ɛ and a. In practising the sound, the mouth should be kept very wide open.
The sound may be obtained by imitating the baaing of a sheep which is very like ˈbæː . Those who are unable to obtain the exact quality by practising such exercises should note that it is better to err on the side of a rather than on the side of ɛ (my emphasis) . a is actually used for æ in some parts of the North of England. (Note 401 in this book).

I also noticed the emphasized part from my own experience with words such as happy and laptop.

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@Mehper C. Palavuzlar The easiest thing you can do in keeping the difference between [ɛ] and [æ]is to pronounce every [æ] like [a]. I know most people don't even realize a simple fact that for most British people [æ] is quite a foreign sound. In the Midlands, Northern Britain, Scotland, Wales, Ulster and Ireland [a] is the most usual, typical realization of [æ]. The same is true for both Canadian and Caribbean dialects &/or accents.

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