All the words on the chart have been carefully selected so that they form minimal pairs.
beat and bit are an example of a minimal pair. The words sound the same apart from one sound – the vowel in the middle. Notice the IPA transcriptions: /biːt/ – /bɪt/. By listening to minimal pairs, you can hear the difference between vowels more easily.
Many of the words also show the effects of pre-fortis clipping. If you click the FLEECE words, you will see beat and bead. The first word has a shorter vowel because it is before the unvoiced (or fortis) consonant /t/; the second has a longer vowel because it is before the voiced (or lenis) consonant /d/. Essentially the vowel is clipped (=made shorter) before a fortis consonant. You might transcribe these words narrowly (=more detailed) as [biˑt] and [biːd] (where ˑ indicates a shorter vowel and ː indicates a longer vowel).
The effects of pre-fortis clipping are most perceptible in the long vowels and diphthongs. Have a listen to the 2nd (shorter vowel) and 3rd (longer vowel) words listed in the following vowels on the chart: FLEECE, GOOSE, CHOICE, GOAT, NORTH, FACE, START, MOUTH, and PRICE. Although traditionally described as a short vowel, the TRAP vowel /a/ quite clearly has a big difference in vowel length before unvoiced/voiced consonants – listen to bat/bad. The short vowels do have a slight difference in length, but not as much as the other vowels.
You can find some interesting vowel contrasts below (find the words on the chart and listen). If you find it challenging to make a difference between some of these vowels, you will benefit from signing up to my online course.
FLEECE /iː/ – KIT /ɪ/: beat /biːt/ – bit /bɪt/, bead /biːd/ – bid /bɪd/
DRESS /ԑ/ – TRAP /a/: bet /bԑt/ – bat /bat/, bed /bԑd/ – bad /bad/
DRESS /ԑ/ – FACE /eɪ/: bet /bԑt/ – bait /beɪt/, bed /bԑd/ – bade /beɪd/
DRESS /ԑ/ – KIT /ɪ/: bet /bԑt/ – bit /bɪt/, bed /bԑd/ – bid /bɪd/
GOOSE /uː/ – FOOT /ʊ/: cooed /ku:d/ – could /kʊd/
GOOSE /uː/ – GHOUL /uː/: coot /kuːt/ – cool /kuːl/*
GOOSE /uː/ – CUTE /juː/: coot /kuːt/ – cute /kjuːt/, cooed /kuːd/ – queued /kjuːd/
GOOSE /uː/ – GOAT /əʊ/: coot /kuːt/ – coat /kəʊt/
NURSE /əː/ – SQUARE /ԑː/: curd /kəːd/ – cared /kԑːd/, bird /bəːd/ – bared /bԑːd/
NURSE /əː/ – DRESS /ԑ/: bird /bəːd/ – bed /bԑd/
NURSE /əː/ – START /ɑː/: bird /bəːd/ – barred /bɑːd/
NURSE /əː/ – STRUT /ʌ/: curd /kəːd/ – cud /kʌd/
NURSE /əː/ – NORTH /ɔː/: curd /kəːd/ – cord /kɔːd/
NORTH /ɔː/ – GOAT /əʊ/: caught /kɔːt/ – coat /kəʊt/, cord /kɔːd/ – code /kəʊd/
NORTH /ɔː/ – LOT /ɒ/: caught /kɔːt/ – cot /kɒt/, cord /kɔːd/ – cod /kɒd/
GOAT /əʊ/ – LOT /ɒ/: coat /kəʊt/ – cot /kɒt/, code /kəʊd/ – cod /kɒd/
GOAT /əʊ/ – GOAL /əʊ/: goat /gəʊt/ – goal /gəʊl/*, coat /kəʊt/ – coal /kəʊl/*, code /kəʊd/ – cold /kəʊld/*
TRAP /a/ – START /ɑː/: bat /bat/ – Bart /bɑːt/, bad /bad/ – barred /bɑːd/
STRUT /ʌ/ – LOT /ɒ/: cut /kʌt/ – cot /kɒt/, cud /kʌd/ – cod /kɒd/
STRUT /ʌ/ – FOOT /ʊ/: cud /kʌd/ – could /kʊd/
SQUARE /ԑː/ – NEAR /ɪə/: bared /bԑːd/ – beard /bɪəd/
PRICE /aɪ/ – FACE /eɪ/: bite /baɪt/ – bait /beɪt/, bide /baɪd/ – bade /beɪd/
PRICE /aɪ/ – TRAP /a/: bite /baɪt/ – bat /bat/, bide /baɪd/ – bad /bad/
PRICE /aɪ/ – START /ɑː/: bite /baɪt/ – Bart /bɑːt/, bide /baɪd/ – barred /bɑːd/
MOUTH /aʊ/ – START /ɑː/: bout /baʊt/ – Bart /bɑːt/, bowed /baʊd/ – barred /bɑːd/
MOUTH /aʊ/ – TRAP /a/: bout /baʊt/ – bat /bat/, bowed /baʊd/ – bad /bad/
*These are near-minimal pairs. So there is more than one sound that is different, but it should be easy to hear the vowel contrast.