Word Perfect… English as she is spelled…

‘You should give lessons,’ a friend said to me, years ago now. ‘After all, you can speak perfect English.’

I reckoned it was a good idea. Here in sunny Switzerland there are lots of people who want to learn English. So I did the appropriate courses and emerged a while later as an English Language Course Instructor. And that was when my problems started.

Very soon I realised that firstly, people don’t like being corrected, and secondly, there is absolutely nothing logical about the English language. Take spelling, for instance. A typical evening class often went something like this…

I often eat apples, but I never eat pairs, Heidi wrote one Thursday.
Gently, I pointed out that we eat pears.
‘Ach!’ she exclaimed. ‘But it is stairs, chairs and hairs. Why not pairs???’
I tried to explain that pairs exist too, but only pears are edible.
‘Ey ey ey!’ she cried. ‘Pairs – pears – eat – and why isn’t it ait, then???’
I really didn’t want to start a lesson on the difference between ‘eat’ and ‘ait’…

Klaus was having problems too. What kind of food doo yoo like? he wrote in his exercise book.
I took a deep breath. ‘Um – it’s ‘do’, actually, Klaus. And ‘you’.’
He glared at me. ‘Two o’s are ooooo,’ he protested. ‘Look – food – wood – book!!!’
And of course he was absolutely right. I opened my mouth to explain, but he wasn’t finished yet.
‘And so – no – go – yo-yo!!’ he cried, waving his pencil in the air. ‘Why is it ‘do’?????’
Maria joined in. ‘And out – and pound – and found – and YOU??????

Heidi was pulling at my sleeve. ‘Doo I poot the biscuits on the plait or on the pleat?’ she demanded, thrusting her book under my nose.
‘On the plate, actually,’ I said, smiling bravely, and she flung her arms in the air.

‘Pair – pear – plate.’ She gave me a very suspicious look and sat down again, muttering something to her neighbour. They both nodded indignantly. Obviously, I wasn’t being persuasive enough here.

Meanwhile, Christian was scribbling away.
‘Sunday lunch is deer to my mother’s hart,’ he said, beaming at me. ‘OK, yes?’
‘Two tiny mistakes,’ I said nervously. ‘It’s ‘dear’ and ‘heart’.’

Complete silence fell in the classroom at this announcement.
‘Dear’ and ‘heart’, said Christian slowly. ‘But…’
He subsided, muttering ‘ear – air – eer – are’ to Maria, who patted his shoulder in silent sympathy.

Klaus took up cudgels again. ‘You have start and tart and part and cart,’ he said, jabbing his pencil in the direction of my nervously churning middle. ‘Why doo yoo not have hart??????’

I swallowed. Why, oh why had I ever started this? I should have been content with merely speaking ‘perfect’ English. Nobody could ever teach such an impossible language.
The whole class was looking at me expectantly.
‘I don’t know,’ I whispered, and suddenly they were all laughing.

‘But I doo no – I mean I do know how difficult it is,’ I said, trying to sound encouraging.
‘Yoo are sew write,’ Klaus said happily. ‘I think wee’ll all bee DEED beefore wee can speek good English!’

Oh well. It was nice to hear some good Scots words again – but I didn’t go into that!

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6 Responses to Word Perfect… English as she is spelled…

  1. You probably know this already, but, if you don’t, it might be fun to use with your Heidis and Klauses.

    I take it you already know
    Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
    Others may stumble but not you
    On hiccough, thorough, slough 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’ 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, or brother,
    And here is not a match for there,
    Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
    And then there’s doze 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, I’ve hardly made a start!
    A dreadful language? Man alive!
    I’d learned to speak it when I was five!
    And yet to write it, the more I sigh,
    I’ll not learn how ’til the day I die.

    Does Heidi only ever eat apples singly, I wonder? 😉

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    • lindahuber says:

      Yes, thanks, Christina – I’ve used it with my more advanced people – but somehow they never find it as amusing as I do, can’t think why!! 🙂

      There’s another one, too:
      When the English tongue we speak
      Why is break not rhymed with weak
      Won’t you tell me why it’s true
      We say sew but also few?
      And the maker of a verse
      Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
      Beard is not the same in heard,
      Cord is different from word,
      Cow is cow, but low is low
      Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
      Think of hose and dose – and lose,
      And think of goose and yet of choose,
      Think of comb and tomb and bomb,
      Doll and roll and home and some.
      And since pay is rhymed with paid,
      Why not paid with said I pray?
      Think of blood – and food and good,
      Mould is not pronounced like could.
      Why is it done – but gone, and lone –
      Is there any reason known?
      To sum it up, it seems to me
      That sounds and letters don’t agree!

      That one’s for very advanced people!! Really makes me admire those who do master a language to this standard.

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  2. lindahuber says:

    Wonder if there are poems like the above in German too. Must find out!

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  3. Jane says:

    Lets face it, Linda – many British people don’t know their/there/they’re spellings either and particularly those annoying homophones! Frankly, I am always amazed how well even the less educated Europeans speak our language – so much better than the average British person’s futile attempts at French or German for example.

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    • lindahuber says:

      I know – even quite young children here will have a go at really using another language to communicate. I think the whole language culture is different in the UK; people there see a foreign language as something they learn – or don’t learn, as the case may be! – at school, whereas here we travel an hour in one direction and speak French, two hours in another and speak Italian. Now that folk in the UK travel abroad more this may change, but as so many ‘foreigners’ are only too delighted to practise their English, any change won’t come fast.
      (My own horror spelling is ‘assistant’ – I always have to try out where the double ‘s’ goes, usually when I’m standing trying to write it on the whiteboard! 🙂 )
      Where I work we teach for the Cambridge exams, and the students always find it incredible when I tell them that there are thousands and millions of people walking about in the UK who would not pass these exams. The luckiest ones are people like my kids who grow up bilingual, that’s a great gift and I wish I had it. My own (Swiss-)German is fluent and passable but far from perfect!

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