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Pronunciation
Why do so many people have problems with English spelling?

You may find it strange to find a question about spelling in an article on pronunciation! The answer to the question is that people have problems because many English words are spelt very differently from the way they are pronounced. There are also many words which are spelt in a similar way but which have very different pronunciations.

Example

cough (rhymes with off)

plough (rhymes with now)

These problems do not exist in Spanish, for example, because when you learn the Spanish alphabet, you can learn the sound of each letter. English, on the other hand, has 26 letters in the alphabet (from A to Z) but has many more sounds. To be precise, there are 44 sounds, but some people would argue that there are more if we include "triphthongs" (where three vowel sounds are pronounced very quickly, one after the other). We have five vowels in the alphabet - A, E, I, O, U, but there are actually twelve vowel sounds in English. So, in English, it is not very helpful to associate letters of the alphabet with sounds; it will work only in a very few cases.

Is there anything we can do to learn more about the pronunciation of English?

Yes. It can help to know what the 44 sounds are. There is an international phonetic alphabet which has a symbol for each sound. At first, all the strange symbols may seem a little daunting, but if you try to learn a few at a time, it should not be too difficult. When you know the symbols and you know which sounds they represent, you will be able to find out how a new word is pronounced by looking in a dictionary. Most good English-English dictionaries show the pronunciation of words by giving the phonetic symbols. There is usually a phonetic chart, with examples, in the introduction to the dictionary. If you are reading a book or a newspaper and come across a new word, look up both the meaning and the pronunciation in the dictionary.

Look up the following words and work out how to pronounce them.

1. rough 2. tour 3. thought 4. house
5. bough 6. although 7. ought 8. couple

Here are some more difficult words. Do the same with these words and practise repeating some of the words that are new to you.

1. renounce 2. tout 3. insouciance 4. oust
5. soul 6. rouse 7. source 8. acoustic
   


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