A Dutch poet named G. Nolst Trenité beautifully captured how terrible the English language is as regards pronunciation in his poem ‘The Chaos’, which was published in 1920 and attempted to show Nolst’s, and indeed language learners in general’s frustration at attempting to master English pronunciation. I include a few exerts from the poem in order to demonstrate how awful sight-reading in English can be…and I assure you, even I struggle with some of the pronunciation in this poem!

           ‘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.’

The true English test could be to read this poem from beginning to end without faltering – I don’t think I could pass, and to prove this, I tried myself. Recording myself on YouTube was an attempt to show language-learners that even English speakers themselves struggle at times, so we shouldn’t be disheartened by our pronunciation; we should tackle the challenge!

E. Lawrenson

Callan School
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