Speaking English and spelling it.

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I have been absent too long. First of all I was in Portugal and trying not to use my very expensive internet connection. Then I was frantically working on a fanfic novella for a ‘big bang’ challenge which is when writers and artists collaborate on longish works and of course the timing and to-ing and fro-ing is crucial to success. That’s finished now.

I have also been discussing language with my daughter, specifically the English language, because my grandson is being taught phonics, despite the fact that he can already read and spell. I admit that phonics has a place as part of a many-pronged approach to teaching reading and spelling, but think that it might well short-change some youngsters in later years if used in isolation, which is the current practice in UK primary schools.

We started looking at some of the words people have difficulty spelling and at some they have difficulty pronouncing. We looked up some of our own ‘problem’ words and I was relieved to find that ‘valet’ could be pronounced either to rhyme with ‘chalet’ or with ‘mallet’. My daughter felt vindicated when we found that eagles can live in a thing pronounced ‘eerie’ or ‘airy’ or ‘eye-rie’. It’s interesting, too, that if you have only ever seen a word in print and never heard it, phonics does not necessarily give you any clues as to how it sounds.

We found an article about changing spelling which highlighted the historical influences.


I am frequently annoyed by people who try to tell us about our language and then base everything they say on current practice (or what was current when they went to school) without admitting that languages live and grow. The following article would have annoyed me except that it was in a newspaper I can’t take seriously. I suspect the book it is talking about is not going to be on my wish list. But that’s about usage rather than pronunciation or spelling.


Then we found the following:


I had come across something similar with a focus on words ending in ‘ough’ but I did find this to be a nice commentary on any attempt to force English into the mould of a phonetic language.

So – any words you have always wondered about?

Here’s a link to the dictionary page where we found the eyrie – you can type any word into the search box and then click on the ‘loudspeaker’ symbols to check the pronunciation.


Have fun! (I can get lost in a dictionary for hours…)

4 thoughts on “Speaking English and spelling it.

  1. You sometimes wonder how non-English speakers actually learn the language! I find the way language grows and changes fascinating – it is a living entity.

    • No-English speakers are usually warned that a phonic approach doesn’t work – go figure!! I’m fascinated by language and its evolution, too. The real linguistics experts never presume to say that the way things work at any given point is the absolute story!!

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