If you want to learn to speak better English you probably need to learn to listen better first. It’s unfortunate that such a large part of English teaching focusses on looking at books. This would be fine if all other languages shared the same alphabet and phonetic characteristics as English but they don’t. The sounds of English words do not relate well to their spelling from the point of view of other languages, as the same sound can be produced using various different letter combinations, such as in bear, care, fair, their and where which all share the same vowel sound. The same letter combinations can also be pronounced differently as in thought, through, tough, cough, plough and dough.

Many other languages have a much more rigid relationship between spelling and pronunciation, even though they use the same alphabet. This means that the initial temptation is to read English as if it shared the same phonetics as the native language. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work and I often get asked about pronunciation rules. The number one rule is to listen before you read as this is how children assimilate language skills from their parents, by listening and repeating. They learn grammar and spelling rules much later. Adults can do the same thing and they can do it faster as they have already developed an understanding of how languages work, to some extent. The second rule is to accept it. It’s unlikely that you are going to change the spelling rules of the English language.