What is the difference between the pronunciation of "a" and "e" in a closed syllable? For instance, between the words than and then? I was told the first should be pronounced with [æ], and the second with [e].
I was studying English from the age of 7, initially before school, then in school, and then in a university. And I still do not know the difference between the two. I have asked several teachers about it, but nobody could answer me. Some of them tried to reproduce the difference by pronouncing the "a" with a widely open mouth and showing the difference with mimics and effort on the face, but the sounds they produced were exactly the same for me. Honestly I think they did not know the difference themselves.
In the university we had some lectures in English by foreigners (I do not know whether English was their native tongue though), and still I did not hear the difference, but the foreigners often could not understand me.
Please tell me the difference.