The connection between English spelling and pronunciation in frustratingly disjointed, irregular and unpredictable. Everyday as I work with individuals on their pronunciation skills, regardless of their native language, I am asked to help them make sense of why this is and how they can overcome this barrier to better achieve their goal of fluent speech. The problem is that English has words with the same letter groupings that our pronounced differently and words that are spelled differently yet they are pronounced the same. This dilemma is terribly frustrating for non-native language learners especially if their native language has a strong connection between spelling and pronunciation like Spanish, Italian and Finnish.
Let’s over emphasize this issue by looking at the word GHOTI. How do you pronounce this word? GHO like ghost? So it’s Goaty? Well, if we take the GH from the word laugh, the O from women, and the TI from nation, then the word GHOTI is pronounced FISH. See what I mean? This example shows the same letter groups with unpredictable pronunciation. Additionally, everyday communicating in English, non-native readers come across words like blue, chew, shoe, you, through, to, two, and too which show identically pronounced sounds with exceptionally varied spellings.
There is a movement underway to help address this issue. The English Spelling Society is spearheading a movement over the next several years to thoroughly research the issue, raise widespread awareness of the problems, and promote standardized solutions. The position they are developing is that the irregularities of modern English spelling are causing both economic and social hardships to not only non-native English speakers, but also to English speaking children learning to read, which ultimately leads to higher overall adult illiteracy rates. Their intentions are stated as:
Raising awareness and promoting research on the economic and social costs of English spelling
Providing resources on the development of English spelling and of the movement to update it
Seeking to open minds to the possibility of an eventual update of English spelling in the interests of improved literacy
The English Spelling Society’s goals may not be any closer to realization than when they were founded in 1908, but as our national economies become more globally interdependent and the use of English in international business becomes more widely used, their work becomes even more important and with the Internet, their ideas become more influential. There hasn’t been much progress in English spellings since the 1400s when printing presses became the de facto standardization of newly distributed text. It is time to move beyond the stagnant transition from Middle-Aged English to today’s Modern English towards the future of a Post-Modern Global English.
Until there is widespread change and adoption of more standardized, self-evident spellings, the only way someone can learn accurate pronunciation of English as a second language is to work with a native speaker. As a Certified Accent Modification Specialist, I work to help non-native speakers strengthen their understanding of spoken English. Learn more by visiting Atlas Speech Coaching and get started today on your path to better pronunciation.
Director of Atlas Speech Coaching