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I'm an English learner and I've never been good at grammatical rules or other technical sides of English. However I need to learn them in order to graduate. And on my way to it, I'm taking a class in which we're learning about vowels and phonetic transcriptions of them. (I feel the need to clarify that we take RP - Received Pronunciation or British English - as basis)

What confuses me is that our instructor gave these two words ("date" and "diet") as an example for homophones. He said that these words are pronounced the same but differ in meaning. As far as I know, when we pronounce diet (/daɪət/), we're using an "a" while date (/deɪt/) doesn't include it.

I've been thinking that his teaching experience of decades would be superior than my knowledge, but I am really confused. Is it safe to say that my instructor has a wrong idea?

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    I'm not great at phonetic transcriptions, but "diet" is pronounced like dye-it and "date" is pronounced like dayt, so I don't know how they are homophones. Homophones are like "knight" and "night"; "bare" and "bear"; "to", "too", and "two". – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 19:27
  • I tend to agree with you and @Nick, and disagree with your teacher. However, I've not heard a speaker of RP pronounce the two words; my ear and tongue are acculturated to New York. – Jeff Zeitlin Dec 27 '17 at 19:29
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    Depends where the teacher is from. Someone who says "I went on a dite, mite" could be speaking Strine. – Weather Vane Dec 27 '17 at 19:32
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    I thought one of the characteristics of RP is excellent diction -- which means you would pronounce both syllables of "diet", while "date" is always one syllable. – Andrew Dec 27 '17 at 19:42
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    @semihcosu the good news is that your teacher is still learning. – Weather Vane Dec 27 '17 at 20:29
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As mentioned in the comments, RP is a kind of made-up posh accent, and so might not be the best one to imitate.

In any case, one of the characteristics of this accent is excellent diction, meaning that an RP speaker should clearly pronounce both syllables of a word like "diet", the first syllable with a long "i" like "eye". Meanwhile "date" is a single syllable, with a long "a" like "cake".

It's possible these still sound similar, especially to non-native speakers (or anyone unfamiliar with the accent), but with practice you should be able to acclimate your ear to the differences.

Be aware that different dialects pronounce words differently. In parts of England or Ireland there may be those who would pronounce "diet" like "date" ... but I suspect even then you will hear clear differences, once you get used to the accent.

As Nick says, there are many common homophones in English: "knight" and "night", "bare" and "bear", "to", "too", and "two", and many others. Your teacher should probably use one of these instead.

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