History tells us that English spelling made sense back during the reign of Henry VIII. Written letters correspondedto speech sounds in the language, so spelling was reasonably "phonemic." Ironically, that was a time when very few people could read (much less spell!) and less than a hundred years later the phonemic spelling system had deteriorated. It has gone "down hill" ever since, as this anonymous poem so devastatingly demonstrates:

Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead --
For goodness sake don't call it 'deed'!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear;
And then there's dose and rose and lose --
Just look them up -- and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart --
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I'd mastered it when I was five!

Modern dictionaries are forced by our hopelessly outdated English spelling system to re-spell and/or use diacritics to inform us how our words are actually pronounced. Luckily for native American speakers most of the common words in our vocabularies we learned to pronounce from the spoken models of other natives. Consequently, pronunciation is not a major problem when we are just talking. Problems only arise when we attempt to cue what we are saying. Then why, one may ask, should spelling interfere with cueing?

The answer to that question probably lies in our early learning of language. As hearing children our first contact with language was through speech. The speech we "heard" was not perceived as separate word units but as total thought groups: "Washyourhands!" "Eatyourcereal." "Timetogetup!" etc. Separate words did not exist for us until we discovered that these total thought groups could be broken down:

"Washyour -- hands."
"Washyour -- face."
"Washyour -- ears."
"Washyour -- legs."
Notice that the contexts helped you to zero in on the names of various parts of the body.

A little later in our child development we discovered that words in different contexts changed forms: "fish," "fishy," "fish's," "fished," "fishing," "fisherman," etc. But as oral language-learning children we never really perceived words as broken down into syllables until we were exposed to English spelling (or reading if taught via phonics) in grade school.

As adults, whenever we think of syllables they are firmly linked with a visual memory of spelled syllables -- not spoken syllables. The individual sounds (or phonemes) which make up those syllables we mentally see as letters on a page rather than hear as separate and distinctive sounds. This mental set causes very few -- if any -- speaking problems until one tries to learn phonemic transcription using phonetic symbols, or when one tries to learn Cued Speech -- which is a phonemes-within-syllables system. You may very well be one of those people (most of us are!) who must now learn to "hear" phonemes and become "blind" to a skill you already have -- the ability to see written words in your mind's eye. Unlearning can be tougher than learning, so let's approach this systematically.

1. Learn to listen for the phonemes in syllables by counting them. First some examples to get you listening and thinking. How many phonemes in each of these one-syllable words -- and what are they?

"Aw!" = 1, "Caw" = 2 /k/+/aw/, "caught" = 3 /k/+/aw/+/t/
"Oh!" = 1, "comb" = 3 /k/+oh/+/m/, "I" = 1, "Aye" = 1, "rye" = 2 /r/+ie/
"rite" = 3, /r/+/ie/+/t/, "right" = 3 /r/+/ie/+/t/, "write" = 3, "Wright" = 3,
"Lee" = 2 /l/+/ee/, "Leigh" = 2 [what are they?], "s" = 2 /e/+/s/, "guess" = 3
/g/+/e/+/s/, "Loy" = 2 /L/+/oi/, "Lloys" = 3 /LL/+/oi/+/d/, "all" = 2 /aw/+/l/
"fall" = 3 /f/+/aw/+/l/, "ell" = 2 /e/+/l/, "elf" = 3 /e/+/l/+/f/, "self" = 4
/s/+/e/+/l/+/f/ [finally a word where the spelling is phonemic!] "half" [watch out]
= 3 /h/+/a/+/f/, "own" = 2 /oh+/n/, "phone = 3 /f/+/oh/+/n/, "phones" = 4,
"psalm" = 3 /s/+/ah/+/m/

Now that you know how to listen and count, cue-and-say the words above. Then figure how many phonemes are in the following words. Cue-and-say them when you're sure you are right:

"Al" ____ "Ralph" ____ "Fay" ____ "Faith" ____ "hiss" ____ "this" ____
"mist" ____ "missed" ____ "pea" ____ "peace" ____ "piece" ____ "pie" ____
"pry" ____ "spry" ____ "way" ____ "weigh" ____ "wait" ____ "weight" ____
"our" ____ "hour" ____ "who" ____ "whose" ____ "win" ____ "wing" ____
"wink" ____ "food" ____ "feud" ____ "moot" ____ "mute" ____ "psalm" ____
"know" ____ "knight" ____ "knee" ____ "cite" ____ "sight" ____ "hoot" ____

2. Watch out for words where consonant letters are not spoken at all:

"ache" "knock" ptomaine" "calm" "half "listen" "bands" "wrap" whole" "damn" "wall" "knit" "flight" "school" "scheme" "pneumatic" "swimming" "yellow" "hurry" "honor" "FONT COLOR=RED>pseudo" "psycho" "FONT COLOR=RED>Djakarta"

3. Don't be thrown for a loss by strange spellings which seem to bear little resemblance to the spoken words. Follow your ear -- not your eye.

"one" "biscuit" "women" "school" "whose" "who" "iron" "Aesop" "draught" "Sioux" "enough" "Butte" "Worcester" "Leominster" "Pelham" "vacuum" "usual" "Asia" "minute" (meaning 60 seconds) "minute" (meaning very small) "machine" "chasm" "chassis"

Specific variations in the spelling of English phonemes are listed in the sections of the manual devoted to vowels, diphthongs, and certain consonants. These variations should be noted carefully and practiced if necessary. A separate section is devoted to /s/ - /z/ pronunciation rules. This should help you to kick the spelling habit when cueing.

Advance to /s/-/z/ rules
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