Why is English Spelling so Strange?

Posted on January 26, 2012

English spelling is quite irregular due to several factors. The spelling may reflect the way people pronounced the word in English historically, and it has now evolved to a different pronunciation. A great deal of words come from other languages such as French and Greek, and they retain elements of the original spelling although these words are pronounced differently in English.English spelling can trick people learning English into pronouncing words incorrectly.

I often hear people pronounce the “l” in words like “salmon” or “calm” when it should be silent: /sæmən/ and /kɑːm/. The weak vowel sound called “schwa” is the most common vowel in English but we have no special letter to transcribe it in everyday spelling. If you say “A car” the word “A” is pronounced with a schwa. It is written like this in the International Phonetic Alphabet: /ə/.

People studying English have a tendency to pronounce each vowel in a word as if it’s a strong vowel but in fact it is often a schwa especially in unstressed syllables. The word “above” has a schwa as its unstressed first syllable and the second syllable rhymes with “love”: /əˈbʌv/.

Watching TV or films with subtitles is great for improving your pronunciation as well as your listening. As you listen and read you may notice words that are pronounced very differently from the spelling.

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