English is not phonetic – which causes a huge headache for non-native and native speakers alike!
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Today we’re going to take a look at why studying English pronunciation can be so hard.
Let’s step through a series of words and see what happens to the sounds as we change some of the letters. Through. Step through. That’s a good place to start. Through, a preposition, a handy little word, begins with the unvoiced TH. Th, the R consonant, thr-, and the oo vowel. Through. Through. Now what would happen if we drop the R? Thoo, thoo, no, that’s not right. Through, drop the R, not thoo, but actually, though. So, the TH, th, th, is now voiced. And the vowel sound has changed to the OH diphthong. Though. Ok. What would happen if we add a T? Thowt. Thowt. No, that’s not right. That word is pronounced ‘thought’. Ok, so we’ve switched back to an unvoiced TH, now we have the AW vowel, and a final T. Thought. Thought. Ok.
So what would happen if we drop the TH and add a B? Thought becomes bought. And that IS how that word is pronounced. Excellent! Bought. Now what would happen if we drop the final T? Bought becomes bah. But it doesn’t, it’s not pronounced ‘bah’. It’s pronounced bough. Ok, so the AW vowel changes to the ‘ow’ diphthong. Bough, bough. Ok. What would happen now if we switched out the B for a C? Bough becomes cow. Yes! Cow is a word. But wait, that’s now how cow is spelled, this is how cow is spelled. So this, even though it was bough, isn’t cow, it’s cough. Cough. So we have the AW vowel, and somehow, an F consonant has crept in. Cough. Ok, cough. What would happen then if we drop the C, add an EN? Since it was cough, surely this must be enough. No, that’s not what it is. It’s enough. So the AW vowel changes to the UH vowel. But somehow that F sound stays in there. Enough, enough. And I think that’s about what I’ve had. I think I’ve had about enough of OUGH and its thousands of pronunciations. That’s it, I’m out.