English is a very hard language to learn. I only realised this when I started to learn other languages and realised how much simpler their rules of pronunciation, grammar and spelling are. A lot of the problem is that English has developed as a kind of literary stew over thousands of years – aspects of latin, germanic, norse and celtic have been thrown in the pot and stirred by the tongues of our ancestors. Actually, that’s a pretty gross metaphor, but you know what I mean. And we continue to add more foreign phrases every day to this smorgasbord of words which flood into our language like a tsunami.
I think the major issue is our alphabet. We don’t have the right letters to make the sounds our words need. For example, Sochi is hosting the winter Olympics at the moment, and there are notices at every venue declaring “Sochi 2014”, every competitor wears a vest showing their number and “Sochi 2014”. Except that this is only the name of the Russian town in the Latin alphabet. In Cyrillic, the alphabet used by Russia and most of eastern Europe, it is spelt СОЧИ. And I wondered, why don’t we have an equivalent letter to Ч? We have to use h if we want to write the word cheese. (And surely that should end in a z right?)
It’s not just an issue of transliteration from Cyrillic to Latin. The simple, apparently harmless word “cheese” would cause problems to an Italian who would pronounce it the same as “keys” because the letters ch in Italian become a k sound. Omitting the h is how the Italians would write the equivalent of Ч, as in cento, which in English would be spelled “chento”. All too confusing.
I am learning Icelandic at the moment (or trying to) ready for my holiday later this year, a language that has 33 letters. Admittedly it lacks w or c but it doesn’t need them as it makes do by using other homophone letters like u or s/k. The alphabet is packed with variant vowel sounds like á, æ, ö which is much more helpful when trying to work out the pronunciation. And it boasts my favourite letter of all – Þ. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the letter known as “thorn” which Icelanders use to spell the sound at the start of our word “think”.
English needs more letters like this, more accurate letters, it would make spelling and pronunciation so much simpler. Because at the moment, you cant pronounce a word like “bough” or “cough” unless you have thoroughly thought it through.