When you speak English, you will need to pronounce your vowel sounds clearly. Two particularly troublesome sounds are the high front unrounded lax vowel, i.e., “hit” and the high front unrounded tense vowel, i.e., “heat.”
If you can pronounce these two sounds clearly and distinctly, your speaking intelligibility will increase, making it easier for listeners to understand you. Additionally, if you have a mastery of these two sounds, it will prevent mispronunciations which obscure meaning. Therefore, TOEFL iBT human raters will give you a high TOEFL iBT speaking score.
These two vowel sounds are problematic at best for non-native speakers, unfortunately. Quite often, non-native speakers, especially those whose languages do not have the high front unrounded lax vowel, i.e., “hit,” will use the high front unrounded tense vowel, i.e., “heat” for both of these sounds. As a result, whenever these English learners try to pronounce a word like “bit,” they will pronounce it as “beat.” Hence, their intelligibility is compromised.
To advance in your TOEFL iBT pronunciation skills, you need to master these vowels sounds. You should consider how these sounds are produced in the vocal tract. Both sounds are made with the front of the mouth less open because the tongue body is raised. With both sounds, the body of the tongue is pushed forward and raised so that it is just under the hard palate of the mouth. With both sounds, the lips are unrounded.
However, these two vowel sounds differ with respect to the tenseness of the tongue. With the vowel sound in the word “kit,” it is produced when the tongue is soft and its position has deviated very little from the mid central position. Unlike the vowel sound in “kit,” the vowel sound in the word “beet’ is produced when the tongue is hard and its position is farther from the mid central position.
Keeping these characteristics of these two vowel sounds in mind, you should practice extensively until you are sure you can pronounce these sounds accurately, distinctly, and clearly.
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