Oh, but how about “ough”?
Did you know that in English “ough” can be read in 9 ways?
The English is a language which requires solid reading skills reading correctly. For instance, the “ough” can be read in at least nine different ways. Here is a sentence which contains all the instances:
A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed (European Day of Languages, 2016).
1) rough [rʌf]* – opposite to smooth
2) dough [dəʊ] – usually homogeneous substance used in cooking
3) thoughtful [ˈθɑːt.fəl] – pensive
4) ploughman [ˈplaʊ.mən] – a person who makes furrows (with a “plough”) in the ground to plant seeds
5) through [θruː] – from one place to another
6) Scarborough [ˈskɑːrbəroʊ] – a district in Toronto
7) slough [slaʊ] – wet area
8) cough [kɒf] – to force air out of lungs with sound
9) hiccough [ˈhɪk.ʌp] – unintentional, usually repeated, tightening of a muscle just below the chest
A natural question that may arise in this situation is:
Why does English have such a complicated system of pronunciation?
The reason for this is that English has a long history of interacting with other languages. In the past, one of the biggest influences was the Norman conquest which changed the language considerably from the phonetic and lexical points of view. Nowadays, English is spoken on all the continents and the languages and the English language dialects which interact with Standard English (either due to the geographical vicinity or through frequent communicative contacts (e.g. via the internet)) all contribute to Standard English to a certain degree. Therefore, although English does have reading rules, there are about 50% of words which are exceptions.
The languages which are read as they are written are called “phonetic languages”. Examples of such languages are Italian, Spanish, and Ukrainian. It is relatively easy to learn to read in phonetic languages: 60 minutes may be enough to acquire basic reading skills and to be able to read a newspaper. English, in turn, requires much more time to be able to read correctly. In fact, even an adult person for whom English is the native language may experience difficulty reading a new word in English.
To balance this complicated reading system, English has a relatively simple grammar with practically no category of gender or grammatical cases. Therefore, the learners who consider learning English (or any other language) may be surprized at how easy it is to learn it. Therefore, be sure to try and learn at least one more language.
European Day of Languages (EDL) (2016). Retrieved March 6, 2016 from, http://edl.ecml.at/LanguageFun/LanguageTrivia/tabid/3129/TagID/24/language/en-GB/Default.aspx#q
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO) (2016). Retrieved March 6, 2016 from, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
* The transcription used in this post is from Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2016); the BrE version of pronunciation is transcribed.