Fun November 16, 2017

I tolled ewe – English translation can be sow hard!

Katharine Marr
By Katharine Marr

It’s often said that English is one of the hardest languages for a non-English speaker to learn for translation.

Just think about some of the possible pronunciations of ‘…ough’: though, thought, through, bough, rough, cough, Clough, ought, hiccough… and the hardest of all, perhaps – Loughborough!

Clough coughed thoroughly when he thought he ought to plough his way through Loughborough!!

These pronunciation inconsistencies are bound to confuse any learner and there are plenty more examples.

But it’s not just pronunciation that cause translation issues – homophones, homonyms and heterographs cause widespread angst among some native English speakers, let alone learners who have different mother tongues.

  • Homonyms sound the same but have different meanings (you are a ewe)
  • Homophones (a type of homonym) are words that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings (pare a pair of pears – your, you’re and yaw – its and it’s)
  • Homographs are spelled the same but have different meanings (you are a very patient patient)
  • Heteronyms (a type of homograph) have the same spelling but have different meanings and sound different (your project is to project the film)
  • Heterographs are words that have different spellings and meanings but sound the same (don’t desert your dessert)

Get these wrong and a creative translation could be creative for all the wrong reasons!

So, enjoy this humorous, homonymous, homophonic, heterographic little ditty that shows why English really can be a pane pain to learn – and hats off to translators, wherever you may bee be!

What homographic/heterographic/homophonic words cause you the most trouble? We’d love to hear from you!

translation poem with misspelt words