As a non-native English speaker, I can definitely tell you just how tricky and difficult English pronunciation can be.
English is a difficult language for many people and I have to be honest, even though I love it, it was so hard for me to learn its horrible irregular verbs, phrasal verbs and pronunciation – which I am still learning.
I can split the difficulties into 2 main points:
- Writing vs. Speaking
There’s nothing more confusing than writing and spelling the words in a different way you pronounce them. It would be so much easier to pronounce English if the written form resembled the spoken form more closely.
I hate comparisons, but let’s compare it with Spanish: In Spanish, we spell and pronounce words according to the alphabet, except for couple of letter such as J, G and Z.
For example, the letter A is pronounced like ‘ah’ in Spanish. Therefore, every word that contains that vowel will be pronounced in the same way. E.g. Atacar (ah-tah-kahr)
In English, the vowel A can be pronounced in 3 different ways /ə/ like in ago, /æ/ like in cannot, or /ɑ:/ like in can’t. However, these sounds depend on the location in the country. The second category would be used more in the north and the third one in the south.
English contains 19 vowel sounds, but it only has 5 vowels to spell them with, so who could possibly guess that ‘good’, ‘food’ and ‘blood’ all contain different vowel sounds (/ʊ/, /u:/ and /ʌ/)?
- Intonation and Stress
This is a nightmare for me! I have my Colombian accent and the stress in our words is different from the one in English. English uses a wide pitch range and four main patterns: Fall, fall and rise, rise and fall, and rise. However, sometimes I don’t know where the stress can be placed and I end up saying something weird and incomprehensible. Most of the time I am misunderstood due to misplaced stress rather than incorrect pronunciation.
To conclude, there’s a poem that is well known and it reflects why English is so hard! Enjoy it – and get frustrated!
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But a bow if repeated is never called bine,
And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.
If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular’s this and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,
So the English, I think, you all will agree,
Is the queerest language you ever did see.