English as a second language: Good choice? Bad choice?

drawing woman writing at desk

Like it or not, however, English is an awful choice for an international language, not least because its spelling and pronunciation abide by no rules. How much easier it would have been for the world, if we had, say, taken Italian as our shared language where every clearly pronounced word is immediately and impeccably spellable. However fate wished otherwise, so today we are condemned to work with what we have, English. But here are a few words of comfort for those who are often confused about the awful slip between the spelling and the pronunciation, and vice versa. Hopefully it will cheer you up. As you will see, if you are at times baffled you are not alone.

As part of our continuing program in support of the uphill battle to sustainable development, we also organise a series of master classes and seminars in association with universities and public agencies in different parts of the world. The overall site introducing the program Sustainable Development, Economy & Democracy is available at sustain.ecoplan.org.

In these seminars we are a richly polyglot lot. (This year in our just concluded graduate course with the Institut Supérieur de Gestion in Paris, our languages included of course English, as well as French, Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian, Khmer, Korean, Arabic, Romanian, Italian, and a rich array of local languages and dialects from Senegal and Nigeria.)

In all this our common lifeline is “English” which does the job most of the time. But there can be instances when a given student may need a bit of help in order to be able to express their complex thoughts in a way that can be easily shared with the group. Until now each time we seem to have found an acceptable work-around, as you can see if you check out several of the final papers for the 2015 ISG program – https://goo.gl/T02WBI

Dearest Creature in Creation

This poem was created by the Dutch writer and schoolteacher Gerard Nolst Trenité and first appeared, under the title of De Chaos, in his English textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent in 1920. He revised and enlarged it many times during his life (he died in 1946) and so there are many versions in existence. Those reproducing it have also felt free to amend it to suit their own needs.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,
Say — said, pay — paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable — admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

Hiccough has the sound of sup.
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .

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One thought on “English as a second language: Good choice? Bad choice?

  1. Many people have suggested amending our spelling to reflect our pronunciation, but I think it would be better to do the reverse. This would mean that our written records would remain valid (except for where they allude to the pronunciation, e.g. from poetry to wordplay), and etymologies would also remain as clear as they are now.

    Reply

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