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Unit 35: Why is English spelling so hard?

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Unit 35: A brief history of English spellings

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Unit 35 - Why is English spelling so hard?

It can actually be very helpful to explore why our language is, at times, so hard to spell. This unit, therefore, looks at:

  • The influence of other languages
  • Recent additions to the English language
  • Spelling proper nouns
  • What about the future of English spelling
Why is English spelling so hard? It is worth remembering that the things that make English complex also make it rich, varied and beautiful. That said, you may wonder why English spelling appears to have so many inconsistencies and exceptions and why, unlike some other languages, we have so many options for spelling the same sound.

It's fun to look at the fictional word:

ghoti

How would you pronounce it? Our instinct might be something close to ‘goatee’ but what if I said this word actually spells ‘fish’?

gh as in rough   /f/
o as in women   /i/
ti as in station   /sh/

(Attributed to the brilliant playwright George Bernard Shaw)

So, for more fun, have a go at working out what these could spell. They are all animals:

  Clues
1.  ularghainth bury   leg   calendar   tough   plait   not   Thames
2.  edeigoi jumped   height   gum   tortoise
3.  tiro fiction   red   prove
4.  chamghanseo chat   manage   men   hiccough   act   nut   his   people

Click here for the answers.

Why is English spelling so hard? No wonder we find it hard! We should never blame ourselves for finding difficult. So, who can we blame?

Well, you could blame the fact that English is made up of lots of different languages, some introduced through invasions that happened many, many years ago.

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