OCHIENG: Pronunciation is key to mastering English - Daily Nation

Pronunciation is key to mastering the language of the colonialist

Saturday June 23 2018

Loreto Girls High School

Loreto Girls High School Kiambu students reading the Sunday Nation. Certain Latin words and phrases have become so common in English that they frequently appear even in the headlines of English-language newspapers the whole world over. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Among the chief problems posed by the language that England has imposed on much of the human world is that spelling makes it extremely difficult for many learners to master English pronunciation fully.

Very often, English spelling violates its own pronunciation rules, making life extremely difficult for classrooms the whole world.

French is the only other European world language I used to know in which pronunciation systematically ignores spelling.


Indeed, the clash between spelling and pronunciation in French makes spelling a major handicap to the learner whose mother language belongs to another continent and even to another tribe in the same continent.

An instance occurred in the June 17, 2018, number of Nairobi’s Sunday Nation.

Page one offered the following information to the reader: “The Deputy President is discreetly implementing an elaborate multi-pronged strategy for the next elections …”


That posed an immediate question to the language-conscious reader: Was it really true that Mr William Ruto was doing it “discreetly”?

I ask because the adverb “discreetly” which, in pronunciation, is identical to the adverb “discretely”, could only confound the perennially troublesome language that an economically and politically imperialistic class of Englanders has recently imposed on the educated classes of very many human societies throughout the non-European parts of the planet.

Among the first things the intelligent learner of English would have noted is that, although the words discretely and discreetly exist separately, they do not mean the same thing, even though their pronunciation is identical.

That is the source of at least one problem that perennially faces the learners of that language all over the world.

It is that discretely and discreetly are among the adverbs that England’s economic class has imposed on human beings the whole planet over.


Though English is at root Germanic, it has acquired an imposing Mediterranean (Latin and Greek) intellectual roofing which makes the language extremely troublesome, especially for non-European learners.

Words of Greco-Latin origin, in particular, cause no end of grief to classrooms all over the world.

For most English words of higher thought are rooted in the two ancient southern European languages of Latin and Greek.

Thus, practically all the key English words used worldwide in the teaching and exchange of culture, language, philosophy, religion and science have Greek or Latin roots.

By the term “higher thought” most thinkers and commentators the world over refer especially to both philosophy and the natural sciences.

Although many human beings will insist that religion is also a higher thought — indeed even the highest thought — you will allow me to leave that decision to the reader himself or herself.

However, one thing that the learner of England’s language needs to remember all the time is that the “t” in the adjective discrete is surrounded by two Es, whereas the “t” in the adjective discreet comes after the two Es.

In a word, it is absolutely important for the learner of English never to confuse the two words.

Philip Ochieng is a retired journalist