Most Ukrainian/Russian learners can't distinguish between [ɛ] and [æ] sounds.

[ɛ] as in:

pen [pɛn], text [tɛkst], pet [pɛt]

[æ] as in:

pan [pæn], fat [fæt], happy [hæpi]

These hear as same:

man [mæn], men [mɛn]

So I can't hear the difference and can't speak so another able distinguish.

What practice used by native speakers to help child pronounce these sound or by speech therapist?

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    There isn’t a huge difference in the way I say them. A lot of understanding will just come from context, so the better help will probably just be to work on sentence structure and grammar so that you are providing listeners with predictable structures where they can more easily “fill in the blanks”. – Tyler James Young Jul 15 '14 at 21:48
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    Get recordings of minimal pairs like back/beck, bad/bed, bat/bet, crapped/crept, fast/fest, hack/heck, hacks/hex, mad/med, man/men, mat/met, knack/neck, NAT/net, pack/peck, packed/pecked, pan/pen, past/pest, pat/pet, sacks/sex, sat/set, track/trek, VAX/vex, etc., and drill yourself on them every day. Eventually it'll get easier as your brain retrains itself. – user230 Jul 15 '14 at 22:27
  • @Void I've learnt so many about English phonetics since the question... I cannot share my experience, I'm not a professional phonetician. There are so many pitfalls... Like diphthongization of æ before nasals in GA. I could pronounce them almost right from the day 1. But it took many years to develop awareness of those sounds (psychological / mental)... an example: I developed sensing of a vowel in word dance as a single phoneme regardless of RP / GA way of pronunciation: /dɑːns dæns/. The problem is a way more difficult than just pointing to some position in IPA (tip of an iceberg). – gavenkoa Jan 23 at 21:29
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    @gavenkoa: That's good to hear. It's been 6 years lol. I'm sure you found it interesting. I understand how difficult it is. Plus English phonetics/Phonology can be hard partly because of its awesome history. /// Anyway, There's another process 'epenthesis' that turns dance into dants, sense into sents etc.... I've got plenty of phonetics/Phonology books on my laptop, if you need any, you can ping me in the chat, or comment on any of my post. I'm super active on ELL these days, so you can also ask questions if you have any. – Void Jan 24 at 2:57
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    I linked the question above as duplicate, because I was going through the 'pronunciation' tag and there were lots of duplicates... I closed so many questions these days. – Void Jan 24 at 2:59

Snailplane's advice of listening to minimal pairings of words which contain the two sounds is excellent. Being able to hear the difference is the first step in learning to say the two sounds distinctly, as you'll be able to tell which one you're saying and can correct yourself when wrong. Listen to the recordings a few times, then follow along and try your best to imitate the sounds, even if you can't get it right.

To start learning how to make the sounds properly, get a native speaker to make the sounds for you, slowly and with exaggerated enunciation. If you can't get a native speaker, find a fluent one, but because your native tongue doesn't distinguish the two sounds, someone who speaks Russian natively might not pronounce the English sounds well enough. If you can't get a person then find some videos, but they are far less useful for this. Watch the way their mouth moves, and ask them to describe the position of their lips and tongue, as well as where and how the air moves in their throat and mouth.

These two sounds are very similar; no doubt that's why you're having such difficulty. Both are aspirated vowels. The shape of the air exiting your mouth will make the distinction between the two sounds. In my speech, the main difference is that when saying /ɛ/, the tip of my tongue touches the top half of the back of my bottom teeth; when saying /æ/, my tongue sits more or less level in the middle of my mouth and doesn't touch my teeth. Also, when I say /æ/, my mouth opens wider than with /ɛ/.

Placing my hand in front of my mouth, I can feel a difference in where the bulk of the air exits my mouth. Air from /æ/ comes out much higher, from the middle and top, than with /ɛ/, which comes out the bottom. This is because of the shape of my tongue. When saying /ɛ/, my tongue is curved downward from the middle to the tip. With /æ/, there's very little curvature.


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