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I often talk with friends using the phone and I'm not sure how to correctly pronounce the word "beach". Some people hear it as a "bitch". It really makes me upset! How do I pronounce these words correctly? What is the difference in pronunciation?

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    I happened across a village in County Durham the other day called North Bitchburn, but the nearby hamlet which presumably forms the 'Southern' part is called Beechburn, standing on Beechburn Beck. This suggests to me that the distinction wasn't always as clear-cut as it is now. Feb 21, 2011 at 3:10
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    I had a roommate in college from Greece. For him these words were all the same: seep sip sheep ship.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 4, 2011 at 22:21
  • Strongly related.
    – tchrist
    Apr 22 at 15:51

3 Answers 3

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Beach contains a long i vowel and bitch contains a short i vowel. These two are an example of a minimal pair, a pair of words which is almost the same except for one sound (in this case the long/short i sound). There is a huge list of computer-generated minimal pairs at John Higgins's website.

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    Also, the vowel in 'beach' is a diphthong, the 'i' followed by 'y'.
    – Mitch
    Apr 2, 2011 at 2:27
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    Really? I'm not nearly as good with phonemes as a lot of you folks here, but I would have thought the vowel sound in beach was closer to a long e. Miriam Webster shows it as \ˈbēch\
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 29, 2011 at 13:53
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    @Mitch: that depends on what dialect you're speaking. For many Americans, it's a simple vowel. Jul 29, 2012 at 13:31
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My slavic language speaking colleagues all have this problem, because these languages do not make a distinction between tense vowels and lax vowels. The sound in beach is a tense [i], and the sound in bitch is a lax [ɪ]. These sounds differ in two major ways.

First, the sounds are made in slightly different places in the mouth. The sound in [ɪ] is very close to [i], but is a little bit towards [e] (like the sound in "day"). So if you say [i] and hold it and then move your mouth to make [e], then somewhere along that path is something close to the sound [ɪ].

Second, the sounds differ in length. All tense vowels are slightly longer, and lax vowels are slightly shorter. If you have trouble figuring out the right way to articulate the sound, then the vowel length can be very helpful to at least help distinguish these sounds — even if it is not perfectly native sounding.

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  • Part of the difficulty may be that you are pronouncing other short i sounds as ee, so your friends grow accustomed to that as your pronunciation. Then in their ears, your ee sound in beach gets translated to a short i even though in this case you pronounced it correctly.
    – moioci
    Sep 14, 2010 at 5:40
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    French people have the same problem. With sheet for example...
    – Benjol
    Sep 29, 2010 at 12:22
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If you are like me, you need to listen to the two words to understand the difference.

This video explains how to pronounce "beach" and "bitch":

Real ESL Video #22 - Bitch or Beach? Pronouncing i and e!

Do you know how to pronounce "reach" and "rich"? It's the same thing.

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    That link is perfect. I think when it comes to pronunciation, audio links work far better than a bunch of words on a page explaining the difference.
    – OneProton
    Sep 19, 2010 at 2:00
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    I don't think it's a case of having to be like you. I'd say it's impossible to correctly pronounce a distinction you can't hear.
    – Benjol
    Feb 10, 2011 at 9:24
  • @Benjol - the alternative to listen the pronunciation is to read the phonetic symbols if you understand them well (which I don't)
    – b.roth
    Feb 11, 2011 at 9:32

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