One of the most difficult obstacles in learning a second language is mastering the pronunciation. The English language, in particular, is full of rules, exceptions to rules and irregularities when it comes to spelling and pronunciation. Native English speakers should be aware of the challenge this presents to learners of English as a second language, and be patient with them. Students of the English language, on the other hand, should be aware of the complexity of the language and realize that at times even native English speakers struggle with pronunciation.
An excellent example of the irregularities in the English language can be found in a poem “The Chaos” written by Gerard Nolst Trenité in 1922. Trenité was a student of English and the poem first appeared in a textbook written in the 1920’s. Most native English speakers will grow frustrated and make errors in their pronunciation after only reading part of the poem.
You can find the text to the entire poem online, or by clicking here: “The Chaos” by Gerard Nolst Trenité
Here is an example of the challenging English language as portrayed by Trenité:
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak…
If that wasn’t enough to drive you crazy, here is a bit more:
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
The entire poem is over 1400 words and may cause even the smartest and brightest linguists to sweat over the pronunciation. Just remember, at times learning English may seem impossible – but don’t give up!