The link between English pronunciation and spelling is a nightmare for learners. One of the main reasons why there are so many English CLASSES is that it’s really quite difficult to learn English by yourself from a book, especially if you don’t have lots of audio back-up. You can quite quickly learn the pronunciation rules of, say, Spanish or German, and then – theoretically – you could bury your nose in a book and learn it by yourself.
You could – theoretically – do the same with English, learning the pronunciation from a dictionary, as long as your knowledge of phonetic symbols was good. But how many students have that skill?
So here’s part of a poem that illustrates the bonkers (and quite delightful) spelling anarchy that characterises the world’s number one language of internashional communicashun.
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
So be careful how you speak –
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and could.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Aria, Maria and malaria,
Sea, idea, Korea, area.
You can find the complete version of the poem at http://www.unique.cc/ron/estuff.htm
You may be familiar with it already. Versions have appeared in various ELT books, including Headway.
I was surprised to find out that it was actually written by a Dutchman, Gerard Nolst Trenité, who was born in Holland in 1870.
Trenité studied classics, law and political science at the University of Utrecht. In the 1890s, he worked as a private teacher in California, where he taught the sons of the Netherlands Consul-General. From 1901 to 1918, he worked as a schoolteacher in Haarlem and published several schoolbooks in English and French. From 1909 until his death in 1946, he wrote a column about linguistic matters for an Amsterdam newspaper.
Finally, go see Eddie Izzard talking about language, spelling and giving a riveting French lesson in an extract from a gig he did in the US. Warning: Eddie uses the ‘f’ word frequently.