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Lesson Transcript

Chihiro: In this lesson, Daniel and I are going to explain a little bit more about the writing system in English.
Daniel: Right, we’re going to briefly talk about how English is written with a pencil and paper... or printed.
Chihiro: Listeners, you most likely know the alphabet, the 26 letter writing system that consists of 21 consonants and 5 vowels either from your own language, or from studying it. It has no diacritics, which are markings on letters to show the way a letter should be pronounced. Each letter can be written in two ways, upper case and lower case.
Daniel: You probably have seen the alphabet around you, perhaps on products or on TV, even if English is not an official or even a second language for that matter in your country.
Chihiro: Some languages that use the alphabet have a phonemic system... which...
Daniel: A what system?
Chihiro: A phonemic system, which means that the sound corresponds to the letter of the alphabet. It means you can probably spell the word just by hearing it.
Daniel: Right.
Chihiro: The spelling for English is to a certain extent phonemic, but the rules are more complex than other phonemic languages. This means that the spelling is not always easy to figure out just from hearing the word. This is because it has influences from French, Greek, Latin, and other languages.
Daniel: Also, between 1400-1700 there was a major change in the pronunciation of vowels. This is called the Great Vowel Shift.
Chihiro Which also accounts for irregularities in the writing system. There are several theories behind this, but immigration could be one. The need to communicate with people with different accents meant adjusting pronunciation.
Daniel: Right. That’s for sure. That’s why today, you find so many words with similar or identical pronunciation spelled differently. For example the double o in the word food is pronounced differently from the double o in the word good.
Chihiro: That's a good example. And also I realized that since we use computers to write things these days, when I write to my friends I tend to take shortcuts in my writing... for example I drop double letters just to make things shorter... and when I find myself having to write something out, by hand, I tend to doubt my spelling!
Daniel: Ah, you’re not the first person I bet. So listeners, as you can see, spelling is not always straightforward in English!
Chihiro: No, and also British English and American English sometimes spell words differently, we suggest that once you pick a spelling form, don’t mix the two up, just stick with one or the other.
Daniel: Let’s give some examples of tricky spellings for words. Listeners, go ahead and try to spell them yourself, see if you know them! Give us one Chihiro.
Chihiro: Ok, let’s start with accommodate... that’s a-c-c-o-m-m-o-d-a-t-e
Daniel: Those double letters are a pain but necessary... which is spelt n-e-c-e-s-s-a-r-y
Chihiro: How about the word although? That’s a-l-t-h-o-u-g-h. But the word cough is c-o-u-g-h. Similar, but different pronunciation.
Daniel: Good examples. How about just plain difficult spelling... this next word is also one of my favorite drinks... daiquiri... d-a-i-q-u-i-r-i
Chihiro: And if you’re in the military, you should know how to spell colonel... c-o-l-o-n-e-l
Daniel: And one more, if you lived through the 80s, you might remember lots of fluorescent colors... Flourescent, which is spelt, f-l-o-u-r-e-s-c-e-n-t.
Chihiro: Spelling is all about memorization, so keep on practicing.
Daniel: And when working on the computer, always double check your spelling with the spell check and with your own eyes. Spelling errors are frowned upon in formal documents.
Chihiro: Right, good point. Ok, that's all we have for this lesson, thanks for listening everybody and hope you tune in next time.
Daniel: Thanks everybody, bye for now.