Why is English pronunciation hard? Spelleen sirtinlee duhzint help.

Can you imagine an English speaking world without spellcheck?

Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor quotes George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright, in saying “the word ‘fish’ could legitimately be spelled ‘ghoti’, by using the ‘gh’ sound from ‘enough’, the ‘o’ sound from ‘women’, and the ‘ti’ sound from ‘action’.” (National Spelling Bee protests: Should we simplify English spelling?)

Unfortunately, this is reality. English is not a phonetic language. Often, a letter does not correspond to only one sound. As a result, it’s extremely challenging to learn the pronunciation of a word simply from its spelling. And, even in cases when a letter almost always corresponds with one sound, we must remember the rule of thumb we learned in elementary school Phonics, “There is an exception to every rule.”

To further complicate things, we have silent letters, such as the ‘b’ in “bomb”, “thumb”, and “climb”, or the ‘h’ in “honest”, “heir”, and “hour”. So what do we do about this phenomenon? When children learn to read, we think it’s cute when they make mistakes in pronunciation. We chuckle and calmly correct them, then tell all our friends about the adorable mistake little Johnny made. Yet, some people lack this patience and understanding when adult English learners make similar errors. They shake their heads and wonder why these speakers can’t just get it right. After all, they’ve taken classes about these rules, haven’t they? So, although a complete overhaul of our spelling system may loom somewhere in our future (see article referenced previously), for now, maybe we can begin by listening with compassionate ears. After all, true communication is a two-way effort; we’ll get there when this becomes everyone’s goal.