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How To Learn English - Pronunciation, Spelling and Grammar

Updated on October 29, 2011

GHOTI - this was the word used by a German friend when she was learning English which encapsulates perfectly the vagaries of spelling and pronunciation in the English language. For the word GHOTI is pronounced fish. Looks impossible, doesn't it ? Take the words cough, rough, tough and the end two letters are pronounced as the letter F so foreign language students could assume that all words ending in gh are pronounced in the same way except that it does not work with bough and although and in Ireland gh in the names of loughs is pronounced as ck as in lock!

The letter O has two sound - o as in hot and O as in low but in the written word it has 2 more sounds - O as in now and in the word women it becomes and i and when there are 2 os together they become U as in July and in the verb to come they sound like the U in put.

The letters TI should not present a problem - TI as in tin and it changes when the vowel e is added after the letter N then it becomes tine. When a O or an A is added after the N it then becomes an E as in Tina. Did I mention that when ti is followed by on as in mention it then sounds like the letters sh as in sheep! Hence GHOTI becomes fish.

One reasonably easy aspect of the English language is the fact that verbs do not have a personal pronoun ending as in most other European languages, the only change being to the ending of the third person singular to which the letter s or es in the case of the verbs to go and to do. In modern English there is no distinction between made you in the singular or familiar or you in the plural or formal (polite) forms especially in the written form. It is interesting to note that the exception to this does occur in the more rural parts of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire where thee, thou and thine is still used by some of the older generation when talking among themselves e.g What's thou doing? Is thee going to town? and in the latter case the third person singular of the verb 'to be' is used. It is also notable in these parts that the possessive pronouns mine (which stays the same) yours, theirs, ours, his and hers have the letter n added and so become yourn, theirn, ourn, hisn and hern. 'Our' in the singular becomes 'us' as in 'What time do we have us dinner?The use of the third person singular as a polite form e.g 'Would Sir prefer tea or coffee? is seldom used today.

Generally speaking the past imperfect tense adds 'd' or 'ed' as in'baked' and 'slaked' to just to make things more difficult take and shake become 'took' and 'shook' and then in the perfect tense take an 'n' as in 'taken' and 'shaken'. There are the usual irregular verbs such as 'to be' 'to do' and these are best learned by rote. English is the only language as far as I am aware that, as a general rule, uses the verb to be with another verb to express action as in 'I am making a cake' 'Are you asking a question?' In Italian it is sometimes used for emphasis e.g 'Io sto parlando',( I am talking ) but means 'shut up, I am talking'

The sentence structure in English is not rigid. It is quite acceptable and usual to say 'Please give me the book' or 'I gave her a cake' where the book and the cake are the direct objects in the sentence and her and me are the indirect objects. To be grammatically correct the order of the words should be changed to 'Please give the book to me' and 'I gave a cake to her' so the correct order of the sentence grammatically is subject(personal pronoun) verb, object, indirect object but as there are no declension of nouns in the English language the word order is not crucial.

To any student learning English as a foreign language I would suggest that the best way to learn the correct pronunciation is to listen to the BBC world service. It may not be the most exciting thing you will hear but it will improve your spoken English.


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    • kerlynb profile image

      kerlynb 6 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      Wow, you covered a lot of grounds here. Thanks for this mini-lesson :) I try to learn English as a Second Language so I really appreciate hubs like this.