Why is English so Difficult to Pronounce?

Mon Mar 7, 2022

This is from another blog that I wrote - this is the shorter version for beginning readers.

Do you remember the movie “Spanglish”? If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great movie to show the difficulty of living in America without speaking English, but also the benefits when you take the time to do so, and the relief of people understanding you when you speak!

There are some awkward exchanges, but some important truths - you MUST learn to speak the other language if you want to communicate! And make more money as Flor wants to do! It's a great movie if you want to see it - but first see the "interview" below :)

So why is English so difficult to learn and pronounce? As a native English speaker, before I started teaching ESL, I didn’t realize how many rules and variations there were in English. It was my mother tongue, and I just learned like every other kid in kindergarten and beyond, all and accepted them.

I was always good at spelling, so the many homophones (words that sound the same like sea and see) didn’t confuse me – in fact, I enjoyed puns and wordplay because they were funny.

But there are many silent letters in English, unlike Spanish, such as the “silent e” that ends many words, and indicate a long vowel in that word, such as like or name. Other words like “knife” and “ghost” and “night” are just learned and used correctly – if you know what sounds to say, and ignore the silent letters when you speak.

Most languages have their share of silent letters, so why is English so difficult for non-native speakers?

I believe it has to do with the fact that English has so many adopted words, all with their own rules and nuances, and we have to somehow add these to our vocabulary.

For example, the word “ballet” is from French, so we pronounce ballet like /ballay/ not /ballet/, since the French don’t say their ending “t” sounds.

We also use these adopted words for different purposes, maybe to sound more formal or fancy, or even be specific about which kind of context the word is being used in
(think “ask” vs “question” vs “interrogate”).

So our English vocabulary is varied and able to accommodate many specialties – from law and medicine (French & Latin) to cooking, dancing, and fashion (French & Italian) and more.

But it's NOT easy for a non-native speaker to figure out all these variations without a little help. It's like Flor trying to get this English speaker to say the "r" in Spanish :>

So keep learning and you'll be able to hear and communicate better every day!

  Click below and watch the "interview" below for a taste of this fun movie :)

Laurel Archer
A North Carolina-based teacher and lover of language and reading. She loves to find fun ways to teach English and connect with people all over the world.

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