The Trickery of English

I recently found a poem which I really liked, called ‘English Pronunciation’ by G. Nolst Trenité (actually not even a native speaker; a Dutchman, although they are renowned to be excellent at English). It demonstrates how difficult English is to learn as regards pronunciation. I’ve given it a go, and to be honest I’m surprised we ever learn to read as children…poor things!

Some of the words I wasn’t even sure of; I think either many are dated or not common in everyday usage. The majority, however, are; and I found it a huge challenge to read aloud! I wanted to do it though, to show learners that even English speakers can be baffled by their own language.

And here’s the poem if you want to read along:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!


Just Your Average Brit

I’ve been sick for a while recently, what with a root canal and needing three fillings, topped off with a throat infection, and then finally a standard season-change cold. I then finally fell prey to what La Rambla is famous for here (pickpockets), and had my phone stolen, although I’m not really surprised, as I’ve been pretty lucky to keep all personal possessions in check for almost two years now. For this, I haven’t felt too inspired recently, even though there have been a few things I’ve wanted to write about. So, finally, when it’s a beautiful, sunny day off for me, I’m going to sit inside my stuffy room and write rather than go and enjoy those rays. What in the Spanish has got into me?

Our school has had a different sort of week, what with the bank holiday in the middle of it; normally if there’s a bank holiday set at that time, people don’t come to classes the day after, so they were all cancelled, and instead we ran some different activities. Seminars, and the purpose of my writing; conversation classes. Running from the lower levels to the higher, and separated into two, we casually chatted with students rather than being in our usual positions behind a high table. Time and time again people clamour for conversational English; really wanting to practice. We were provided with certain topics to discuss, and certain ones to avoid (Catalan independence being a big no-no, for example). Time and time again, we diverted from the original topics to differences between our two nations.

You simply can’t avoid it. We try and try to find common ground, and whilst on the surface we’re all the same, and just people all in a society together, the basic differences and the subtle cultural changes always crop up. From living here for over a year now, I think I’ve managed to gauge an idea of what the Spanish see as the typical Brit. Now, it’s not scientific, nor do I pretend to be highly accurate, or intend on offending anyone, but my findings are as follows:


1. People in the United Kingdom have no idea what a vegetable is.

You may think I am exaggerating this point for humour. Please think again. This is almost a direct quote from a student yesterday, who told me that supermarkets in London did not contain vegetables. I’d really like to know a) which supermarkets she went to and b) if she visited each supermarket in the Greater London area. Naturally, I disputed this idea, but after being asked where I was from (the North of England), it was decided by general consensus that I was not the authority on London, despite having a brother living there, and having visited there multiple times more than they all had.

Stock this, please, Spain.
Stock this, please, Spain.

I am so sick of the idea that we don’t have any clue about cooking, and that the Mediterranean diet is the best in the world. I love the food here. But it can’t hold a candle to a good Indian dish. I’m hoping as immigration increases here, so will awareness of other food and cultural delicacies. I can’t find a great deal of stuff that I use to cook with in the UK, which is such a pity as I really think a nation which prides itself on its food should be more accepting of importing other foodstuffs rather than sticking with the staples. I call on you, Spain, to start selling more than one type of cream, proper fresh milk as standard, have more variety of winter fruits, and have the bog standard ingredients for a chicken korma on hand in the supermarkets. Then tell me the English don’t know cooking.

2. British people have no concept of a life of sun and believe that Spain is practically The Caribbean in comparison to their own dreary climate.

The average day in London. I thought the Houses of Parliament were a watery blur for years, until I finally went to London.
The average day in London. I thought the Houses of Parliament were a watery blur for years, until I finally went to London.

As it rains in Britain every day of the year (except for maybe one day in August, and that memorable time at twelve o’clock last Saturday), Brits are impervious to rain. We mustn’t notice it. It is just like white noise for us. We should probably be out gallivanting in the streets the moment a downpour shows itself. I hate rain. Everybody hates rain. It makes my shoes wet. It makes me look like a crazy Einstein with a finger in a socket. My washing doesn’t dry. I have the same feelings as the Spaniards about this weather…but no, no, no; when it’s raining I can’t complain; when it’s cold I can’t shiver, because I should be ‘accustomed’ to it.

It’s actually colder in winter here than it is at home…

3. People in the United Kingdom are incredibly polite and friendly (when on their own turf).

True. Next.

4. We drink an awful lot and are lairy, loud, and irritating when on holiday.

I am inclined to agree. When drinking with Spaniards, I pace myself much more. I went out recently and lined up the shot of Jaeger with a glass next to it, dash of Red Bull at the ready. In I dropped the alcohol, and one, two, three, down the hatch. One go. My companions, on the other hand, struggled to do it in one. More like in three. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, by the way. I don’t class it as a talent to down-in-one one part Jaeger two parts Red Bull. This said, it’s something most university students, and indeed twenty-somethings, have down pat. The culture here is much more relaxed as regards drinking. I genuinely think they drink more than we do; the difference is the speed. Your average holidaymaker here drinks in the space of an hour what a native here drinks over five hours, or the whole evening. No wonder the seaside resorts are full of idiots hurling themselves into pools from balconies, and getting tattoos on their bum cheeks. No wonder the residents have this idea of us.

5. We look like lobsters the minute we step onto a beach.

100% true. Even worse for the Irish.


6. British women wear a lot of make up and wear very little clothing.

images (1)

7. We’re all fat. 

Again, I’m going to find it hard to dispute this one. Well, I don’t really want to. Obesity rates in the UK are shocking, and I’d really rather this stereotype wasn’t true, but it is. However, I would like to say that it isn’t because we cook everything in butter (because we don’t…I like my vegetable oil, thanks). I think it has more to do with our more commercial-centred and less family-orientated society, and availability of fast food, plus abject laziness.

We're in the dark; but as you can see, the rest of Europe is following closely behind.
We’re in the dark; but as you can see, the rest of Europe is following closely behind.

I’m worried for Spain, though – the amount of sugar they eat here surprises me, especially for such a ‘healthy’ country. Having lived with families of the country for a while, I saw it was commonplace for a child to have hot chocolate (like Nesquik) every single morning. To me, that’s already too much. But then, I wouldn’t give my kids the standard UHT milk they get here, it tastes far too synthetic and horrible. I’d have to spend more and get the fresh milk, which you can find here, but it’s not so common. Hot chocolate is often drunk with cereal in, and many children have biscuits for breakfast, which I find absolutely ridiculous and not at all a substitute for a healthy brekky. People who give their children biscuits for breakfast in the UK, are to the best of my knowledge, not seen as the shining examples of parenting. The sugar levels must make these kids, who already have to study absolutely ridiculous amounts, go completely berserk by 9:30am. The morning break usually consists of a croissant, or more biscuits, and in some cases a sandwich (which I’m sure would make a better breakfast, but what do I know…). A yoghurt can’t be eaten without ten spoons of sugar added to it. What happened to the nice, fresh taste of natural yoghurt? I’m shunned like a leper when I tell people I really don’t want extra sugar, or, in fact, any, thanks.



I sound like I’m being incredibly rude about a country where I’ve chosen to go and live, and has been very good to me so far. I’m not; I promise. There are so many good things here. I just want to defend a few points that are so often said about us and our silly little nation; mostly for the purposes of humour, and to see if any of my fellow countrymen will nod their heads along with what I say, as may some foreigners.

I’ve said many a time why I love it here, and I promise I’ll sing Catalonia’s praises next time; providing no more pickpockets take advantage of me, and illness doesn’t plague me any longer, so I can start to go out and enjoy the wonderful weather.