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If you think French is difficult, think about how incredibly difficult English must be for non-English speakers to learn to spell and pronounce.

We are used to oddities like vowels followed by a consonant changing their pronunciation depending on whether there is another vowel after the consonant (for example rat and rate or, bit and bite, not and note).

We even take for granted vowels that are pronounced differently in different words for no apparent reason. I found six different sounds for the letter o!

1. The sound “oh!” - bone, rose, nope, note, role, go, modem, etc

2. The short o sound - rot, nod, Tom, modern (note that modem and modern aren’t even close in the sound of the o)

3. An “ah” as in lock, rock - similar to but not the same as the short o

4. An “awe” sound as in bore, ignore, fore

5. “Ow” as in “Ow!” or owl or cow or “He was noisy and made a row.” (While the verb "row", as in "row a boat", has the o sound of sound #1. Figure THAT out!)

6. Finally, and amazingly, a long u sound, or an “oo” sound – as in lose and to

However, consider words containing the letters “ough.” It’s incredible, but in English these letters have at least seven or eight distinct pronunciations.

For example, let's start with the words rough, tough, and enough. In these words the ough is pronounced as “uff”.

On the other hand consider the word through. In through the letters ough are pronounced as “oo” or the “ew” in “new”.

Then we have ought, thought, and bought. In all of these words the ough is pronounced like the word “awe” or the “aw” in “raw”.

Then we can go on to though and dough. In though and dough, the ough has a sound that rhymes with “low” as in “a low price”, or with “Oh” as in “Oh my God!”

In the word borough, the ough has the same pronunciation as the ough in dough and though in the United States. However, in England, the ough in borough is pronounced like the “a” in “above”, or perhaps the “u” in “udder”.

There are also the words plough and bough. Plough is the British spelling for plow, and plough is pronounced exactly like plow. Thus the ough in plough and bough has the sound of the “ow” in “plow” or the “ou” in “ouch”.

And we are not finished. Consider the word cough. The ough in cough is pronounced just like the word “off”.

There’s one more relatively rare word, hiccough. Hiccough is a variant spelling of hiccup, and the ough in hiccough is thus pronounced “up”.

That gives us an extraordinary eight different and distinct pronunciations for the same letter group.

And you thought French was hard!

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