Spanish. I love the language. Its rich vocabulary, expressions and pronunciation, which can be a mouthful and leave your tongue in seizures, is a dance with romance and passion. What I like most is that it’s still fairly easy. The grammar is less complex than French and more rational than English and you get a guide with the accents in the pronunciation. The particularly vowel sounds and rolling r’s can be tricky: always pronounced; no lazy tongues in this language, which is probably the reason why people of the Latin cultures have always been considered the best lovers.
I’ve always maintained that Spanish is the door to the romantic languages. I also enjoy its hybridity between Latin and Arabic. Then when Latin Americans (especially Hondurans) begin adding slang or pockets of their indigenous languages, your ears end up in seizures, along with your tongue. You are then thrown a life-line when the speaker chucks in a few Anglo-derived words, such as Oh my God or Have a nice day, and your hope rises, even though they are pronounced in a Spanish (or American) twang and not always used correctly in the matrices and discourse of a sentence.
Teaching the odd class in Honduras, students often run a mile when you introduce them to pronunciation and intonation. They enjoy grammar (and games and learning the meaning of vocabulary). There’s no assistance through accents or speech marks, like in other Latin languages, the short and long vowel sounds can’t be distinguished (give me a Lempira for the amount of times I’ve had to stifle laughs when hearing mispronounced faux pas’, such as, “You lay a s–t on bed” and “I’d like to drink a sick pack of beer” amongst the million others), the homophones, the homographs, the heteronyms…egh! You get asked why it is like that, almost pleadingly, yet you can’t say exactly. “That’s the way it is….get over it.”
You can understand why English language learners hate pronunciation is confusing. I teach such classes with care, trying to raise confidence, giving them assistance bit by bit. On my blog though, I will do no such thing. I want to bruise their brains with a hurricane of the horrors in the confusing English language. While looking for a lesson, I came across a poem which did just that. Funnily enough, the poem was written by Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), an observer of the English language born in Holland, so if anyone knows the chaos of the idioma, it’s him. The Chaos demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling and first appeared as an appendix to his 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.
I recommend it to intermediate or advanced students, or any smart arse students who think they know everything there is to know about the language.
Without further ado, below is the poem. Enjoy.
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.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
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.
Foeffer 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!!!