English Spelling: Hi, I’m Mark and welcome to another episode of Everyday English with E2 where every week we focus on English grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation – but this week we’re doing something a little different. We’re going to focus on English spelling and I’m going to try to convince you that English spelling is – mostly – logical, with maybe a few strange exceptions to the rules. I’ll be sure to quiz you as you go so you can get better at understanding the sound-letter relationships in English. It’ll help your English overall!

So… let’s start by understanding what spelling is. Well, when we speak, we say words and the words are made of sounds. And when we write, we write words and the words are made of letters and the letters represent the sounds. You see, there needs to be some relationship between how we say a word and how we write a word. So we use the alphabet! The alphabet consists of little squiggles, and each squiggle represents a sound – or two, or three… or more. 

So English is often criticised for having crazy spelling, and in contrast to some languages, it’s kind of true. In Russian, Korean or Arabic the relationship between their letters and their sounds is perfect; they are one to one. One letter represents one sound. There are no hidden surprises when you go to spell, or indeed, read a word.

English is mostly perfect… If we take the sound W, for example, it is generally spelt with the letter W. W = W in English. And 99% of words in English that have a W sound use the letter W to represent that sound: Woman, Windmill, Walrus, Water…  

But… then you have other spellings, like W H – as in what, when, whip or, Whitney Houston. Or the letter U as in quick, quietly or quintessential. And there is even one word in English – that uses an O for the W sound – that’s the spelling of the number one – O N E. 

So W is a consonant sound, and there are 24 of these sounds in English, others include S, T, R, P, M, F and G… And for each of those sounds that I just made could you imagine in your mind which letter represents the sound? 

Ready? Let’s play a little game. I’ll make a consonant sound and you think of the letter that represents that sound. 

H – (3 second pause) that’s right, the letter H.

What about F (3 second pause) – well, that’s the letter F

What about N (3 second pause) – well, that’s the letter N

And what about L (3 second pause) – did you get that? That’s the letter L.

Now let’s play a little game. I’m going to say a word and I want you to listen to the final sound – the end sound – and I want you to imagine which letter you should use to spell that final sound:

RENT – that’s right the letter T because it made a T sound

TOMORROW – so the final sound is a W sound and we use the letter W for that sound.

So we’ve just thought about consonants – the spelling of the sounds M, T, R G, H and L, but what about vowels? Sounds like a, e, i, o , u, or A, E, I, O, U or OI, or AY…

Now these spellings, I have to admit, are pretty inconsistent. There are many different ways to spell vowel sounds.

Let’s play another game. I’ll make a vowel sound, and I want you to think of the correct letter in your mind. 


a – hopefully you thought of the letter A

What about i – perhaps the letter I

And what about o – perhaps the letter O

Now, I don’t want to mislead you. There are actually many different ways to spell these vowel sounds, but in this lesson, I just wanted to introduce the concept of spelling to you – again, it’s the sound-letter relationship – most of the time the t sound is represented by the letter T, the d sound is represented by the letter = D, m = M, a – sometimes is an A letter.

And most of the time, English is consistent – trustworthy in the way you spell words, and at other times, it’s not.

Alright… that’s all from me today. The next time we look at spelling we’ll dive in-depth into some of the more confusing aspects of spelling so you can become a spelling whizz in no time. Remember to subscribe to this podcast to become fluent and confident in English!

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