The English language has a reputation of being a really hard language to learn among language learners. There are many things that make the English language confusing from its many contradictions to its numerous exceptions to rules. However, many people still manage to adopt English as their second language much more quickly than an English speaker adopts another language as a second language. One of the most confusing aspects of the English language is its spelling, don’t you agree? Perhaps this is why contests such as the ‘Spelling Bee’ have become an inherent part of the English speaking world. For those of you who don’t know, the spelling bee competition first originated in the United States and is a competition where contestants are invited to spell words varying in difficulty. The fact that this type of competition exists is sheer proof that English spelling is challenging and if you’re good at spelling then you deserve to be praised. Spelling is an important aspect of communication and it often reflect your level of education. The better your spelling is, the smoother your written communication will be.
But, what actually makes English spelling so confusing? Below are the three main reasons behind the chaos that English spelling is.
Ideographic languages like Chinese represent meaning rather than sound so spelling isn’t confusing. Latin based languages like Spanish are more phonetic meaning that words are spelt exactly the way they sound. However, English is none of the above because when spoken has around 44 different sounds but written English only has the 26 letters in the alphabet to represent these sounds. This means that in English one single letter could have several different pronunciations making it impossible to know how a word is pronounced just from its spelling. The phonetic chart will haunt you constantly from the moment you start learning English.
History is probably one of the biggest influences on the spelling of the English language. The English language has a rich history behind it adding to its complexity. For instance when the French invaded England in the Norman conquest many of the English were replaced with aspects of the French language. We adopted the ‘qu’, ‘gh’ and ‘ch’ from the French. You will notice that we have borrowed many words from the French language and our spelling follows the French spelling but our pronunciation is different. Take the word ‘centre’ which has the same meaning in French and English but is pronounced ‘center’ as demonstrated through the American English spelling. English is also influenced by Anglo-Saxons which gives the English, Germanic roots. In addition, English also has traces of Latin because there was a time in England when Latin was widely spoken in high-society, as it was the language of the Vatican. English, on the other hand, at that particular point in history became a peasant language. Have a look at the image below, which is a very short extract from The Tales of Canterbury by Chaucer, where you can trace the development of the English language and its sounds and spellings through the Middle English and Modern version of the texts. Note the similarities but also the differences too – They’re huge!
3. Invention of new characters
With the influence from all those languages, it is no wonder that new characters were introduced into the English language. Where European languages have adopted additional symbols to aid their speakers when pronouncing and writing a work, such as grave and acute accents. In English, suffixes such as ‘sh’, ‘ph’ and ‘th’ have arisen to ‘help’ direct speakers or should we say, confuse them.
So what can you do to tackle the spelling blues?
Every learner is different but if you’re really struggling with your spelling and you’re finding that your work is covered in red corrections because of your spelling then there are some tips that you can follow to help you address the problem:
There is no success with any hard work.
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