Muhammed asked on Facebook:
“Why are there some letters that we don’t pronounce?”
For example: Know, Listen, Often, Neighbour

English Isn't English

29% of English is French (France was the main language after the 1066 invasion for 600 years)

Examples of French words: Beef, Pork, Pastry, Salad, Portrait, Capitalism, Camoflague


26% of English is from Germanic languages (including Old English, Old Norse and Dutch)

  • Old Norse words are often concrete nouns, things we can feel. They often have hard consonants, such as “dirt, gun, club”
  • Words with silent Ks usually come from Old Norse and the K used to be pronounced. Over time, the pronunciation changed but the spelling remained the same.
  • In Old English, the E used to be pronounced. “Bite” used to have two syllables.


6% of English comes from Greek – it’s a very old language and supposedly the first to use an alphabet with vowels (AEIOU) and consonants (BCDFG).

  • Philosophy (pronounced like “FILO..”)
  • Phobia (something you’re scared of)

English also likes to borrow words from other languages.

  • Tsunami, karate (Japanese)
  • Caravan (Persian–>French–>English)

Know – Comes from old English. The K has stopped being pronounced.

Listen – Also form Germanic languages. The T is quite hard to say so probably why it stopped

Often – Middle English – Can be pronounced both ways

Neighbour – Old English – from nēah ‘nigh, near’ + gebūr ‘inhabitant, peasant, farmer’

Game of Thrones Expressions

“Lady of Winterfell, [it] has a nice ring to it”
If something “has a nice ring” that means it sounds good or is pleasing to the ear.
“Sir John? That has a nice ring to it”

“It had its moments”
This means that an event was not completely boring or terrible. Some parts were fun or interesting.
“The party last night had its moments”

“I’m sure you weren’t thrilled to hear the Lannister armies are marching North.”
To be thrilled means to be happy about something.
“I’m sure you weren’t thrilled to see it’s raining today.”

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7 thoughts on “#4 Why Does English Have Weird Spelling?”

  1. Hello Michael, I just want to say that it’s a pleasure to hear your voice because your voice has a nice ring. Thank you so much for another interesting episode.

    1. Well spotted!
      The truth is that there is a lot of crossover these days. Many words are pronounced the American way by most people because of their influence in movies and TV shows (schedule, lieutenant, garage, wrath…) Sometimes pronouncing things the British way can even sound too posh! It’s interesting.

  2. I agree with you Alanoud. As a foreigner, Michael popcast is easy to understand and no need too much concentration to understanding the meaning . Thats why I enjoy listening your popcast when driving.

  3. Hi,
    I would like to say that you are the best teacher. I listened to several podcasts previously, but to be honest your podcasts are amazing I just began to listen and I didn’t get bored.There is a saying in my culture that says that someone who does not thank people does not deserve to be thanked. Sothanks a lot for your podcasts and I’ll listen to all of them.

    1. Hi Alanoud, thank you x100000! I really appreciate that and I’m glad what I’m doing is providing some kind of value. Let me know if there’s any way I can improve in the future. 🙂

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