Why does English have so many silent letters?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Why does English have so many silent letters?There are two main reasons:

1. The English language is constantly evolving. Silent letters in the past actually used to be pronounced, but phonetic changes over several centuries were never intended to be so confusing. Now the reality is that about 60% of all English words contain a silent letter. Too many!

The word knead (to massage or squeeze with the hands) comes from the Old English verb cnedan and Middle English kneden. At that time, the “k” sound was pronounced but it went silent in Modern English. This included other kn- words, such as knight, knife, and know. The same is also true for many other consonants, like the final “b” in words like dumb and comb.

English also continues to develop due to the addition of new words. For example, 640 new words were added to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary in 2019. To be considered, there must be citations to prove that a word is widely used. A few of the new words for 2019 include Goldilocks, go-cup, bioabsorbable, and buzzy. 

2. We like to borrow words from other languages, like the French, for example. The final “s”, “t”, or “x” is usually silent, such as in debris, fillet, chalet, ballet, faux pas, etc. Italian words that are common in the English language, like spaghetti and ghetto, have a silent “h”.

So, you see, there isn’t one good answer or example for why English has so many silent letters. If you're interested in further detail, a study of English etymology (the origin and history of words) would provide a complete history. Just remember that silent letters are not there to confuse you, even though you may think otherwise, and you will become a more confident speaker, writer, and speller when you recognize and understand them.

*Photo by Kristina Flour

Taking Notes

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Take notes: that is my suggestion to all English language learners. 

This seems rather obvious for a topic centered on education, but most of the adults I help (and all the young learners) don’t write anything down. This boggles my mind, especially since language learning requires lots of memorization, understanding of grammar rules, and organization.

Taking notes is a key to success in mastering a language. Good notes reinforce what you have learned as well as help you remember what you saw or heard. They boost your comprehension and retention of material too. 

Notes don’t have to be written by hand. They can be taken digitally too, so choose the method that suits you, but be disciplined and take notes to master English (or any language) quicker. 

*Photo by Matt Botsford


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Do you know what pretty means in the following sentences?

  • Natalie has a pretty good memory. 
  • I'm a pretty informal guy. I ride a Harley.
  • Tom lives a pretty simple life. 

In the above cases, pretty is an adverb. Adverbs give more meaning to adjectives and adverbs, so in those sentences pretty defines the adjectives good, informal, and simpleThus, pretty means to a moderately high degree, or fairly.

The adjective pretty means to be attractive, such as a pretty dress, a pretty little girl, a pretty flower.

If you incorporate the adverb pretty into your vocabulary, you’ll be a pretty good English speaker. It’s pretty simple, don’t you agree?

American culture: chef Leah Chase

Monday, June 3, 2019

Food brings people together. We mark occasions like birthdays and holidays with special dishes and meals meant to be shared. Food can unify people in other ways too. A remarkable example of that is in the life of Leah Chase, the legendary queen of Creole cuisine. 

Leah Chase, who passed away on June 2, 2019 at age 96, was a Creole chef and promoter of civil rights. She used her Creole restaurant, Dookie Chase, and her cooking talents to create the first fine dining restaurant for black customers in New Orleans. She broke segregation laws by seating blacks and whites in the same dining room and she fed the main players in the civil rights movement as well as tourists, musicians, athletes, and presidents.  

Creole (the food) is a blend of the various cultures of Louisiana (primarily the city of New Orleans), which includes French, Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese. Creole dishes have names that are hard to forget (gumbo, jambalaya, dirty rice, for example) and I’m happy to give them all a try. 

Leah Chase believed in the power of food to change a day, a city, and make people feel good. 

Learning a language through music

Monday, April 15, 2019

Music is a powerful language learning tool in so many ways. You can learn about culture in an entertaining way. It improves your communication skills. You can incorporate music into life almost anywhere. Besides, it’s so fun.

1) Do you play a musical instrument? If so, playing a musical instrument has great benefits for language learners. According to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, children who took music lessons for two years not only became better at playing an instrument, they became better at processing language. A double bonus!

2) Music is motivating, and you can learn more comfortably and faster. I love singing along with my favorite artists but, first, I need to know the words (the lyrics) to the song. Then I can understand the song. Listening really helps with pronouncing words correctly too. I listen to my favorite songs over and over.

3) Sometimes it’s difficult to memorize new words. The tone, rhythm, and modulation help us with the memorization process. I also make it a point to write down every word I don’t know to study and improve. It’s important for fluency to learn and understand new words.

4) There are so many everyday opportunities to be exposed to the language if you listen to music in that language: while exercising, going to and from work, shopping, singing in the shower, dancing, going to concerts, cooking, doing household chores, and more. Keep your ears open. Stay in contact with the language by regularly listening to music and you will increase your fluency faster.

Improve your English at home

Friday, March 15, 2019

There are several ways to strengthen your English skills at home. Some people don’t like classes and prefer independent study. Others lack time or a language community to support them. Whatever your situation, try the following different methods for good results: 

  1. Most important: Enjoy what you are doing! If you don’t like it, you won’t practice…and you must practice every day. 
  2. Establish your goal and focus on it (ex: improve listening comprehension, reduce accent, know all the irregular verbs in the past tense, increase vocabulary, etc.)
  3. Practice reading out loud. This is a great way to understand English sentence construction, learn word placement, and verb conjugation. Hearing yourself saying English words out loud is also helpful for improving conversation and writing skills. First try reading simple English texts to increase your fluency and confidence, and move on to more advanced material. 
  4. Speak online and practice with native speakers on a free language exchange website. It's free and you can strengthen your skills while making new friends. 
  5. Writing is a valuable way to reinforce spelling, sentence construction, verb conjugation, prepositions, vocabulary, and so much more. Keep a journal, write English sentences in an exercise book, translate a passage (without any help) and see how you do. Good English speakers aren’t necessarily good writers, so work on this skill and you will benefit in many ways. 
  6. Watch a film that’s easy to understand in English to improve listening comprehension. 
  7. Listen to music lyrics. If you’re a music lover, you can do this anywhere. You’ll be surprised at how much you will understand when words are put to music. 

Practice every day, do what you like, and make measurable goals to improve your English at home. 

Book Recommendation: A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life

Friday, February 15, 2019

Reading an English novel is a big achievement in the processing of mastering a new language. The thought of committing to a book (a novel!) may be a little intimidating but the feeling of satisfaction you will have after completing it will motivate you to read more books in English. 

A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen is a best selling book and true story about James, a struggling street musician in the UK, and his friendship with a stray cat named Bob. The English text is easy to follow and you will quickly learn how Bob makes a positive impact on James’s life. 

This is a complete novel, not simplified in any way for English learners, and I encourage you to try it. I hope that reading more books in English will open new worlds for you.