Yesterday, I felt like cheering when one of the high school students in the Sunday School class I help with finished reading a psalm aloud. She pronounced every letter in every word just right, actually reading "conscience" the way it appears. While that feat is commendable for any teenager, it’s amazing for this girl who has only lived in the States for two years and taught herself English.
Our language, while easy because of its simple cases, is very difficult to spell and pronounce since it’s not a phonetic language. It seems that we have more exceptions than rules for how each letter should sound. I can’t remember what any of the rules are; I just know what sounds right. When I was in language school in Romania, our professors told us that someday we’d get to the point where the mistakes we made in Romanian would hurt our ears. I had trouble believing it, but it was true. My ears were constantly ringing!
To see what I mean, try reading these words out loud: Cough, tough, dough, through. Now read bought, bough (of a tree), bow (of a boat), bow (in the hair), bowie knife, and bowl. Then there’s through, threw, and thorough. How about slough (sloo) as in a swamp, slough (sluf) to cast off, and slough (slau) of despondency. That’s all the same word! Now imagine attempting to read those words if you grew up in another country speaking a different language.
It’s a wonder any of us can speak English.