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English is tough stuff

Everyone says English is easy to learn compared to other languages. I think perhaps it may be true in speaking small sentences. However, there are many words that must be pronounced a certain way and it isn’t always easy to figure out which way that is. So, I think someone that is not completely bilingual in English would have some problems getting through this poem.  Some of the words are hard for me even if my mother tongue is English.

My French husband is pretty darn good in English after being married to me for over six years and speaking in English with me for over eight. However, I would still be interested in how well he could read the poem below.

I wonder if he would let me tape him reading it?


English is tough stuff

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.

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!!!

— Author unknown

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cathy Y. September 14, 2007, 2:29 pm

    That is a really great, poem, Pumpkin! I’m going to have to save it on my computer. This reminds me of a scene from the old “I Love Lucy” series of the 1950s where Lucy’s Cuban husband, Ricky Ricardo, gets all tongue-tied trying to pronounce different English words that end with “-ough”!

    I think a lot of this is because of the mix of different peoples who contributed to the development of English, including the Celts, Germanic tribes, and much later, the French through William the Conqueror of Normandy. English is really a “mix” and it shows! You pretty much have to memorize spelling and pronunciation, because they make no sense! I thought about this very issue regarding teaching someone English, such as you are doing. I think it would be tough!

  • Pumpkin September 14, 2007, 5:54 pm

    I think you are right about the “mix” and the fact that you just have to ‘know’ how to say many words.

    Vilay read it for me when he got home. The funny thing is that he messed up on words I thought he knew and got right the ones I thought he would get wrong. :) It was a lot of fun to do with him.

  • fleur September 16, 2007, 2:02 am

    I’m a native English speaker but continually work at learning two foreign languages. I never saw this poem before — it really puts crazy English into perspective! (I like to complain about the two I’m trying to learn). It would be great to hear a tape — did he agree to do it?

    Love your blog! I’ve been lurking (trying to learn French).

  • Cathy Y. September 16, 2007, 4:32 am

    I just found this site recently: http://www.tutorpal.com/ Even though there are some private or perhaps pay-only parts of this site, you can also, for free, read about the history of the English language as well as hear actual pronunciations and visit some public forums discussing English. Thought I’d pass this along as you may be able to use some of this information with your student.

  • Pumpkin September 16, 2007, 8:02 am

    He said no but I am working on him! :)
    Thank you. I’ll be sure to check it out. It is good for her to hear others pronunciating besides me.

  • Cathy Y. September 16, 2007, 3:20 pm

    You’re welcome, Pumpkin. Be sure to check out all the links and sublinks on that site, as they seem to have things in them you wouldn’t think you would find. I found a link to a free ESL (English as a Second Language) learning site under the links for Our English–>ESL basics–>Slang. I wouldn’t have thought to have looked for it there.

  • fleur September 17, 2007, 1:23 am

    Pumpkin, I don’t blame him. But one thing is true: we Americans usually like the way English sounds with a foreign accent. I don’t think the reverse is too often true!

  • Pumpkin September 17, 2007, 7:46 am

    He has a very beautiful (I think wonderfully sexy) French accent when he speaks English! ;)

    For some reason he thinks it is cutier and sexier when I speak in English than when I speak in French. Perhaps, it is me being so very American when I speak in my own language…I don’t know. Others tell me my accent is adorable in French. Go figure!

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