English Spelling x Pronunciation

Those of us who are not native speakers of English know well enough how English pronunciation can be unspeakably tricky. George Bernard Shaw’s spelling for ‘fish’ (ghoti = enough + women + nation: /ˈfɪʃ/) has become the quintessential example of such irregularity. Nevertheless, we non-native ESL teachers have bravely conquered the bugaboo and mastered even the finer nuances of the system… or have we? Well, first read the poem below and then watch the video to gauge your performance.

PS.: I’ve known this poem for years but still stumble here and there every time I try to read it quickly.

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.
Well done! And now you wish perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead, it’s said like bed, not bead
for goodness’ sake don’t call it ‘deed‘!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth, or brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s doze 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, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d learned to speak it when I was five!
And yet to write it, the more I sigh,
I’ll not learn how ’til the day I die.


5 Responses to English Spelling x Pronunciation

  1. gringomaclure says:

    Hi Fernando. This poem is excellent – thanks for posting. And trust you to teach native speakers new words. “Bugaboo” – something causing fear or fright. I had to look it up, thanks again!

  2. Fiona says:

    Yes, I agree entirely.There are times when you have to slow down when reading!
    It`s been a long time since I`d seen this poem. It brings back good memories!!!

  3. […] inspirational thinkers who influenced the directions of new English. Thanks to Fernando for posting this poem on the ridiculous nature of English spelling. And then there’s this one which was doing the […]

  4. gringomaclure says:

    Just one more comment. I updated my updated language post from a few days after some comments from friends and students. I’ve used it in class with a lot of success!
    Also, for one or two more links on funny poems / videos on pronunciation check my website beyondrandom.wordpress.com – thanks!

  5. Dyego says:

    yep. Bugaboo. =P

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