So how do you spell the “oo” sound in English? Um, it depends.
The English language represents a mixing of cultures because it has borrowed words from many other tongues and pronunciation has evolved. Often, this leads to confusion about pronouncing words in general because there aren’t standard rules for many letter combinations. We grabbed words from everywhere, so the word may have been anglicized or the spelling from the original source might remain in some form.
I have often been glad that English is my first language because learning it later in life would probably feel like picking grains of rice out of pile of mud – tedious to say the least. I read a poem to this effect a long time ago and saved it in my files. It’s a brilliant summary of the difficulties of pronunciation in our English language. Take a look.
Recovering Sounds from Orthography
Brush Up Your English
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, through, plough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness’s sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five.
The funny thing is that most people do master English – more or less. We’re not all great spellers, and we have to scratch our heads now and then to think about which letters to use. But we mostly get it.
Why is that? First, we typically learn the sound of a word before its spelling. So while the spelling may strike us as unusual, we still know that [throo] is a word which we now associate with “through.”
Second, although we are often taught as children to sound things out, it is better to memorize whole words. And what’s the best way to memorize words? Well, if you read a lot (whether novels, comic books, magazines, online, etc.) and practice writing words correctly, pronouncing and spelling them becomes second nature.
What pronunciations do you find particularly quirky in the English language? What amazes you about our ability to master our native tongue? If English is your second language, has pronouncing words tripped you up at times?