Mind your spelling

On a former post I had written about how weird the English language was and this text by Richard Leverer proves it once again. But, among all this jungle of weirdness, probably one of the big challenges for most English learners is spelling and pronunciation. It is even a big issue for native speakers who may have difficulties spelling correctly.

Some words have different meanings, but are pronounced the same (homophones); others share the same sounds but are spelt differently, and there are silent letters (debt) and disappearing syllables (as in strawberry, because of word stress)….enough to make anyone go crazy!


There is a poem that illustrates this wonderfully. The title is ‘The Chaos’ (by the way, are you sure you know how “chaos” is pronounced?) and it was written by  Gerard Nolst Trenité in 1922. You can read the whole poem on this post . How do you feel about it? Do you agree with the Frenchman who said he’d rather spend six months of labour than reading six lines aloud ever again?

The Spelling Reform

Watch the following video and find out the speaker’s main argument.

There are many people who advocate a spelling reform, in fact many proposals have been put forward to bring English up to date, arguing that the current spelling system has a significant economic and social cost.

What do you think about this? Would you like English spelling to be easier? Do you think there is no point in changing it ?


  1. Keep your own pronunciation record. I always recommend dedicating a few pages on your notebooks to grouping words according to their pronunciation. This is particularly helpful with vowels and vocalic groups. When you learn a new word which has a “weird” pronunciation, write it down with other words that contain the same sound. It can be useful also when there is a word you always seem to be getting wrong.
  2. Learn the symbols of the IPA (international phonetic alphabet). The IPA is an essential tool for language learners. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to learn to transcribe or even be familiar with every single sound, but you should be aware of some phonemes, as it will enable to pronounce any word at all by simply looking it up in the dictionary. The interactive phonetic chart below may be of some help to get started:

3. Learn to recognize word stress and sentence stress. Stress is the most important features of the English phonological system. Being aware that some syllables and words will not be heard because they are weak forms, while others will surely stand out because they are strong, will make it a little easier for you to start prediciting certain phrases because of their stress patterns. And you’ll finally get to understand the reason why “the English seem to eat up all the words”.

4. Be patient!


English Is Weird, But…

No one doubts that English is the lingua franca nowadays. While you are reading this text there are millions of people right now around the world engaged in some activity to help them learn the language.

The following infographic shows some figures on English as a global language. It also points out some of the most challenging aspects that most learners have to struggle with. Is there anything you find surprising?

@2012 - Kathleen Connors

@2012 – Kathleen Connors

In class we don’t usually have time to learn some of the history of the English language, but I am sure you will find it helpful to have some information on how the language evolved. Then, you will understand why some of its grammar, vocabulary and phonetics are so “weird”

If you are keen on watching more about the English language here is a selection of four short videos.


If we all assume that English is “weird”, why do we go through so much trouble to learn it?

Post a comment and participate in a discussion that starts with this:

“English may be weird, but..”

You may continue it in as many ways as you wish: why are you learning it? what are the advantages? Also, what part of the English language do you find most interesting, fascinating or amusing.

The discussion can go on on Twitter, too.

All you have to do is post a tweet and use the hashtag #occeoic

Me, Myself and My Selfie

Language is a human production. And humans evolve and change. We have the power of transforming ourselves and our environment. Sometimes for the good, and unfortunately sometimes, for the bad. But almost everything has the power of transformation. In fact,  I once heard that the only one thing which remains unmoved in life is change. So, I can only but welcome changes in language, too.

There are many new words that enter language that bring about controversy and debate. An example of this is the word selfie Definition. Macmillan Dictionary which has just been accepted as the new word of the year due to its drastic climb in usage.  If you are interested in the topic, I recommend reading  Oxford Dictionary blog where the question How do you decide whether a new word should be included in an Oxford dictionary? is answered.

Also, the following articles might be a good read:

The origin of the word selfie explained in CNN Living

Taking selfies and its popularity in Daily Mail

If you would like to test your listening skills try with this comprehension exercise with available on PDF: Me, Myself and My Selfie LC