Michael Jackson presents /i/ versus /ɪ/
For English learners, the tense high front unrounded vowel /i/ is often indistinguishable from the lax high front unrounded vowel /ɪ/. In other words, it's hard to hear the difference between beat /bit/ and bit /bɪt/.
That's because for many English learners the sound /ɪ/ does not exist in their native language. And if you haven't grown up hearing a sound, it's challenging to pronounce it in a foreign language, at least one that you learn after the age of ten or so.
Spanish is a good example. It does not contain the vowel sound /ɪ/. So, for many Spanish speakers learning English, fill is pronounced feel, list is pronounced least, and bit is pronounced beat. And that's a problem we need to beat.
Michael Jackson to the rescue! Though his hit single, "Beat It", was released way back in 1983, the phonetic lesson it contains is a classic. You'll find the video below.
MJ's enunciation of beat /bit/ and it /ɪt/ is very precise throughout the song, allowing you to clearly hear the contrast between the two vowel sounds. At 2:44 into the video, there's a close-up of him singing beat it several times. Close your eyes and keep replaying the video. You should start the hear the difference.
Then what the heck, sing along with Michael. It's a super fun way to practice /i/ versus /ɪ/. Use these tips to help your pronunciation:
For /i/ (as in beat):
Tips and tidbits about speaking English well from Karen Schiff, founder of Well Said Coaching.