The Same Sounds: How to Learn Pronunciation from Strange Spellings

Posted on April 5, 2016

By Emily Stallard

This week I thought it would be useful to present some words that are commonly mispronounced by learners of English as a second language because of strange spellings. Often, a word used to be pronounced in a certain way and this has changed over time.

Typical vowel pronunciation mistakes

In the list below are some words that I regularly hear mispronounced in our company English classes. As there are many vowel sounds and many strange spellings in English I will only talk about 5 short vowel sounds in this blog post.


I reference the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, which is a very useful way to write sounds. There is a good introduction to the IPA from the phonetics department at UCL where I went here.

I have taught many students who have taught themselves this system and it is very useful to them in learning new pronunciations of words. In fact, it tends to be the advanced students who know the IPA.

The following pronunciations are correct for a standard southern British accent:

Words with the sound /æ/ in IPA like in the word “sat”

Reality (but not in Real) National (but not in Nation)

Words with the sound /e/ in IPA like in the word “let”

Bury Cleanliness and Cleanse (but not in Clean) Deaf Debt (the “b” is silent) Jeopardy Leisure

Words with the sound /ɪ/ in IPA like in the word “bit”

Cynical Build Busy Circuit Women Rhythm Syllable Syringe System Gym

Words with the sound /ɒ/ in IPA like in the word “hot”

Acknowledge and Knowledge (but not in Know) Bureaucracy Cough Honest Wallet Want

Words with the sound /ʌ/ in IPA like in the word “up”

Among Cover Comfortable Enough Front Money Love London Button Rough Touch Southern (but not in South) Won Worry

Which of these pronunciations were new to you? Go back and read them aloud to remember them.

An extra tip

Now for a spelling tip. I recommend writing words with other words that share the same sound to develop “spelling families” of words that refer to the same sound. This is how I learned to spell as a child and you will start to see patterns.

Do you live in London?

I can’t count the number of times I have heard students pronounce “London” with the same first vowel as “of”. But when you consider that “London” is in the same spelling family as “front”, “money”, “love”, “won” and “worry”, it starts to seem more intuitive.

Good luck! Let us know your experience learning pronunciation from strange spellings too.

Get in touch on 020 8150 7239 for engaging English speaking classes at your company in London, or online.

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