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I have an issue with /æ/ sound. There is no such vowel sound in my native language, which is Russian, so it's quite problematic for me to master this sound. The main problem is I can't even HEAR it as the same sound in different words. For example, word "can" sounds to me more like there is /e/ sound, but in word "back" it sounds closer to the /ɑ/. I can clearly hear difference between "man" and "men" but when it comes to words with different consonants around /æ/ (like can/back) I hear completely different sounds.

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There are multiple ways of pronouncing this phoneme. The “pure” pronunciation is a near-open front unrounded vowel [æ] (as in cap and back), which as you can see on a vowel chart is directly between [ɛ] (Э) and [a] (А).

Before a nasal consonant such as /n/, it is also pronounced as [eə] or [εə] (as in can and Mary) in many accents.

Furthermore, in English, unstressed consonants are usually pronounced [ə], so “can” is often pronounced [kən] as in “I can do that”.

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    Dayum is not an attempt at writing the [εə ~ eə] found in many different US dialects; it’s an attempt at writing the [æʲə] found in a much more limited group of dialects in the South. This Wikipedia table gives a very good overview of what happens where. It’s far too confusing for anyone to remember by heart, like all English vowel developments in recent times … Feb 6 '15 at 23:03
  • For further research, you might find some of the links on this page useful: photransedit.com/Resources/Links.aspx Feb 6 '15 at 23:50
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: I thought of that—honestly I would guess it’s both. Removing that bit.
    – Jon Purdy
    Feb 7 '15 at 1:03

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