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My first language is Russian. I tried to learn American English pronunciation of the word "lee" and other words containing / li / sound, like "delete". When I compared the recording of my voice with the given example of correct pronunciation, they sounded quite different. My pronunciation sounded like / li /, and the correct one sounded like / lɪi / with the sound ɪ being very short. I believe, that my pronunciation was not correct, but I was told my pronunciation was ok.

I listened to many examples of pronunciation in dictionaries and in YouGlish and I still believe my pronunciation had a distinguishable Russian accent.

I would be glad if any American Native Speakers could confirm one of the two things:

  1. there was a Russian or other Foreign accent in my pronunciation or...
  2. my pronunciation sounded like an American Native Speaker without any foreign accent would pronounce it.

I attached a screen recording video. In this recoding I first press a button and the correct dictionary pronunciation plays, and then I press another button and a recording of my pronunciation plays.

Update: I found an article saying that /iː/ is a diphthong.

Here’s John Wells on FLEECE in Accents of English, 1982:

the general phonetic nature of this vowel could be adequately represented as /i/, as /iː/, or indeed as /ɪi/, /ɪj/ (p. 140)

Gussenhoven & Broeders (English pronunciation for student teachers, 2nd ed., 1997):

RP /iː/, as in piece, sea, is a close, front, unrounded vowel. It is typically somewhat diphthongised, much like [ɪi] (p. 95)

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    No, /iː/ is not a diphthong. It's a vowel phoneme as in FLEECE. However, depending on the speaker, it can be a diphthong or a pure vowel, for instance, most English speakers pronounce it [ɪi] or even [ɪj]. (Note the difference between /ˈslæʃɪz/ and [ˈbɹʷɛkʰɨts] i.e. /iː/ can be realised in [many different ways].) – Void Mar 17 at 16:26
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    @FumbleFingers I'm pretty sure that the initial "e" in "delete" is a schwa sound, not a short "i" sound like in "remit". – nick012000 Mar 18 at 1:19
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    @nick012000 dialectal variation, I'd guess. – Leif Willerts Mar 18 at 10:55
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    @nick012000: The full OED says Brit. /dᵻˈliːt/, U.S. /dəˈlit/, /diˈlit/ (i.e. - one of the US versions has schwa). But I'm a BrE speaker, and most of the time I don't really notice meaningless variations in how other people pronounce things (precisely because they're meaningless, so there's no point in noticing them). – FumbleFingers Mar 18 at 11:20
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    Yup. When I try to sound Russian I push the front middle part of my tongue against my palate. For American English it's just the tip of the tongue right behind the teeth. You'll probably need to work on holding down the rest of your tongue to resist your tendency to palatalize. – JonathanZ supports MonicaC Mar 18 at 15:24
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In my opinion his soft L is what clearly indicates his Russian accent. Considering, L followed by EE always requires L to be soft in Russian language it's an easy indicator of his native language. Lastly, the vowel sound seems higher pitch yet less nasal, although I don't believe that would clearly identify him as a native Russian speaker.

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    "Considering, all consonant sounds are soft ... in the Russian language" - what do you mean by that? – Dan M. Mar 18 at 12:36
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    Native Russian speaker here - (nearly) all consonants in Russian have both forms and can be either soft or hard. In fact, the hard consonants are often even harder than their English counterparts. But yes, just like native English speakers often have trouble getting the soft form of Russian consonants right, native Russian speakers often have hard time "unlearning" the "softening" of the consonants in certain sound combinations. – moonwalker Mar 19 at 2:30
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I'm not sure I would identify this is as a Russian accent just from the single word, but yes, this pronunciation does not sound like a typical American pronunciation.

Some tips that may get you closer to what you're going for:

  • it sounds like in your pronunciation, during the "L", your tongue may be wide at the front of your mouth (~4 teeth), not very contracted, and you are expelling a small amount of air around/under your tongue. Try pointing/pushing your tongue firmly against your two front teeth, and start the transition to the "e" sound immediately without expelling any air right at the beginning.
  • keep the "E" sound unmodulated - do not change your vocal tone during the "E".

In my (American) pronunciation of "Lee", my tongue first starts very firmly pushing my top two front teeth with no vocalization or air expelled, and the entire word is a quick retraction of my tongue to the resting position while saying the "E" sound.

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  • Yes, his L sounds like some slightly-aspirated plosive. I am surprised this is called a "soft" L, I guess because the tongue is floppy? Anyway +1, great answer; you really nailed the physiological descriptions of everything that should be going on here. – theonlygusti Mar 18 at 23:41
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/i:/ is not a diphthong. It's a pure vowel. In this case it sounds like a diphthong because the preceding consonant is a velarized l (hard / tvyordyy [ l ]) therefore it sounds like лыи. You must make sure that your l is not soft.

Therefore it's a diphthongoid.

Yours is ли. That l is soft making the vowel even purer. This is OK since it's in line with the British and its sister accents. If you want an American accent, pronounce лыи: лы + и with ы being very short and transition between ы and и being very smooth.

To practice that, try it with different vowels: la, lu, lo and when you're ready pronounce li without changing the way you pronounce l. As I said, it may feel like a diphthong.

To reduce your Russian accent, you may try relaxing the back of your tongue.

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You have a great ear, the pronunciation isn't correct, because of:

  1. palatalized (soft) L sound
  2. wrong /iː/ sound

There is a really great channel on YouTube dedicated to phonetics (both American and British) with a lot of stuff for Russian English learners.

The video on how to distinguish and pronounce /iː/ and /ɪ/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mMzVLHTp1s

This one about palatalization in general https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guIiad8mT2Q

This one on alveolar consonants including L (see timing 10:30​) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTFVpLusAcY

Also, I'd recommend watching other videos about the IPA chart (both vowels and consonants) to understand better the tongue position when pronouncing sounds.

Best of luck in practicing your accent!

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Yes, while completely understandable and well-pronounced, I still detect a Russian accent

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    Hi, your answer has been flagged as "not an answer". Could you write a bit more and elaborate on the exact things that you perceive to be traces of Russian accent and how OP might improve based on your answer. – Eddie Kal Mar 17 at 16:01
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    @EddieKal Do you still detect a Russian accent? If so, can you describe why, I can't. It just sounds like a Russian accent. As for it not being an answer, I answered the question that was asked – Kevin Mar 17 at 16:15
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    @EddieKal, @Kevin Well, if I tried to describe it myself, I would say that my l sound is modified by the sound, so my l sounds softer. Even the tongue position is modified when I pronounce l. My I and kind of start at the same time. I am not sure Americans can even easily reproduce that kind of accept, but we say it that way in Russian language. – Andrej Adamenko Mar 17 at 18:27
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One other element that differs in the articulatory settings of English and Russian that shows up in your vowel is that Russian is often pronounced farther back in the mouth than American English. The corresponding 'live' spot of American English is just behind the teeth. The front of the tongue is busy, and almost nothing else.

To me, this palatal resonance is one of the most prominent markers of a Russian accent.

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