Archive for the ‘Pronunciation Difficulties in English’ Category

Fast and Garbled Oral Reading is Due to Social Pressure Among Students

February 21, 2015

Groups Mohamed, one of my tutoring students, was already in Grade 7 with a serious reading problem; his reading level was only about Grade 5.  In order to disguise this, whenever he was asked to read aloud, either in class, or in a small group, he would read twice as fast as he normally spoke, only pronounced the beginnings of words, slurred the rest, and mumbled as much as possible.  This way, students hear his voice reading quickly, even if what he says is not understood.

However, the surprising thing is that even excellent readers are in the habit of reading aloud in the same way.  When I investigated as to why this was so, I discovered that students judge each other, and even bully each other, based upon their reading speed in class!  The reason for reading so quickly, no matter that it sounds like, “”blethebletheblethebletheblethebletheblethe…” is to show off one’s quick reading ability to other students, to show that one can read at least as fast, if not faster than, other students.  This style of reading is equally common from elementary school through high school.

Reading Aloud

Mohamed was an intelligent boy who had lost all confidence in himself.  Mohamed attends an American School in an African country, and Mohamed was threatened with being expelled from school the following year if his grades did not improve (the policy of schools in this country if one has poor grades for two years in a row) .  Unfortunately, this is what it took before Mohamed’s parents took his problem seriously.

I worked with Mohamed for two years to bring both his reading and math up to grade level.  His reading is still far below what it should be, but it is greatly improved, and his oral reading is now excellent.  In order to start by breaking his bad habits, as well as not wanting him to get hung up on vocabulary he did not know, we went all the way down to a Kindergarten primer.  I keep the McGuffey Readers at home for students who need a graduated program that starts simply.  I insisted both on reading slowly enough to enunciate the ending of every word clearly, and on reading with great expression, as if we were putting on a play.  Sometimes we took turns reading sentences, or various dialog parts in a story.  We also read fairy tales with great expression.  We moved gradually through the books, and by the time we got halfway through the Grade 2 book, completely new reading habits had been established with easy material.  It was then easy to move on to harder material.

Now Mohamed is having to read more difficult books in school, books such as The Outsiders and Animal Farm, which on his own are still above his reading level.  Yet, Mohamed’s spoken English (not his native language) is excellent, better than most other students in the school.  He has the right pronunciation, rhythm, and inflection, all of which help him tremendously.  So with these more difficult books, I have taken another approach.  I read aloud with expression, while he follows along silently.  We stop frequently to discuss and clarify what’s happening, new vocabulary, discuss how we feel about what’s happening, what we think might happen next, whether we agree with the characters’ decisions, what we might do in the same situations, etc.  Then when Mohamed is asked to read in class in his small group, he has no trouble doing this and understanding what he is reading, following our sessions.

Surprisingly, even though he now reads aloud far better than others in his class, the others still try to bully him because his oral reading speed is slower than theirs, even though he is reading at a normal adult-speaking speed, and very clearly.  He has gone to several teachers at school and they all tell him that he is reading aloud better than the others now.  What this means is that dominant students want to pressure others into doing it “their way,” even if that way is not correct.

–Lynne Diligent

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English Chaos!

January 16, 2012

G. Nolst Trenité, aka Charivarius

This amazing poem, containing over 800 notorious irregularities in English spelling, is better known abroad by foreigners than by native speakers.  (I only learned, myself, of its existence from foreign speakers.)

The Chaos was written by G. Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), a Dutchman, in 1922.   Trenité was a student of classics, law, and political science, and a teacher in the Netherlands, later in California, and finally in Haarlem.  He published several textbooks in English and French, and wrote many columns for an Amsterdam weekly newspaper using the pen name Charivarius.

The poem is extremely difficult for non-native speakers to read correctly.  The author originally added it as an appendix to a book of English pronunciation exercises.  The point is that non-native speakers can never tell how to pronounce words encountered in writing.

For any non-native speakers, YouTube has a reading aloud by an Englishman HERE.

Several versions, which have been added to by others over the years, are in circulation.  Some of these circulating versions have nearly doubled the length of the poem.  Below is the author’s original version.

The Chaos, by G. Nolst Trenité, aka “Charivarius”

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.


I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.


Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it! 10

Just compare heart, hear and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word.


Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Say – said, pay – paid, laid but plaid.


Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,

Say: gush, bush, steak, streakbreak, bleak, 20


Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;

Woven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, shoe, poemtoe.


Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

Missiles, similes, reviles.


Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining, 30

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far.


From “desire”: desirable – admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,

Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,


One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind, 40


Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, broochninth, plinth.


Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,

Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

Peter, petrol and patrol?


Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet. 50

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.


Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discount, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward,


Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live. 60


Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes with Thalia.

Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyant, minute, but minute.


Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;

Would it tally with my rhyme

If I mentioned paradigm?


Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy? 70

Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

Rabies, but lullabies.


Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

You’ll envelop lists, I hope,

In a linen envelope.


Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.

To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache. 80


Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed but vowed.


Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice,


Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label. 90

Petal, penal, and canal,

Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,


Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,

But it is not hard to tell

Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.


Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor, 100


Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the A of drachm and hammer.

Pussy, hussy and possess,

Desert, but desert, address.


Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

Cow, but Cowper, some and home.


Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“, 110

Making, it is sad but true,

In bravado, much ado.


Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.

Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.


Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.

Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,

Paradise, rise, rose, and dose. 120


Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

Mind! Meandering but mean,

Valentine and magazine.


And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,

Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

Tier (one who ties), but tier.


Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring? 130

Prison, bison, treasure trove,

Treason, hover, cover, cove,


Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.

Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.


Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;

Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn. 140


Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

Evil, devil, mezzotint,

Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)


Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,

Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

Rhyming with the pronoun yours;


Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did, 150

Funny rhymes to unicorn,

Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.


No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.

No. Yet Froude compared with proud

Is no better than McLeod.


But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,

Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme. 160


Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

But you’re not supposed to say

Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.


Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,

How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

When for Portsmouth I had booked!


Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty, 170

Episodes, antipodes,

Acquiesce, and obsequies.


Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,

Rather say in accents pure:

Nature, stature and mature.


Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

Wan, sedan and artisan. 180


The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.


Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em –

Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.


The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight – you see it; 190

With and forthwith, one has voice,

One has not, you make your choice.


Shoes, goes, does [1]. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,


Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry, fury, bury,

Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath. 200


Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisne, truism, use, to use?


Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,

Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

Put, nut, granite, and unite


Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer. 210

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.


Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;

Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.


Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry. 220


Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.


Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,

Rally with ally; yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!


Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver. 230

Never guess – it is not safe,

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.


Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

Face, but preface, then grimace,

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.


Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

Ear, but earn; and ere and tear

Do not rhyme with here but heir. 240


Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,

With the sound of saw and sauce;

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.


Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable, but Parliament.


Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen, 250

Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.


A of valour, vapid, vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),

G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

I of antichrist and grist,


Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.

Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

Polish, Polish, poll and poll. 260


Pronunciation – think of Psyche! –
Is a paling, stout and spiky.

Won’t it make you lose your wits

Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?


It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington, and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.


Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father? 270

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Though, through, bough, coughhough, sough, tough??


Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

–Posted by Lynne Diligent