A famous poem highlights the challenges of English spelling and pronunciation.
Many readers of this blog use English as their second or even third language. Having lived in Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey and Austria for 23 of the last 28 years and learned languages myself, I know pronunciation is one of the trickiest issues. Some languages, including German, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish, are largely “phonetic languages”, ie they are written consistently with the way they are pronounced. Others, like English and French, are less predictable.
This leads to some oddities when Turkish uses French words such as “vale” (French: valet), “bisiklet” (French: bicyclette) or “otel” (French: hôtel), dispensing with unnecessary letters.
It has been said that the book on the right represents a French novel; that on the left, the same novel including only the letters which are pronounced.
For example, even speakers of near-perfect English are sometimes unsure how to pronounce “salmon”. They tend, logically enough, pronounce an “L” in the middle. But the word is pronounced Sammon: the “L” is silent.
How do you pronounce bomb? And how do you pronounce bombing? Correct: in both cases, the second “B” is silent, thus “Bomm” or “Bomming”.
The following poem highlights some common inconsistencies of English spelling. Read it out loud, and enjoy.
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough,
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heart, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like dart.
And dead. It’s said like bed not bead,
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
And moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,.
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose.
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work, and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart,
Come, come, we’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language, man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!