Teaching English pronunciation and spelling is often a thankless task.
All of those soul destroying exceptions tend to make the rules less than golden.
Over the years, I’ve learnt never to say never; as in you should never split infinitives, never use double negatives or never talk about emotions using the ‘-ing’ form of the verb.
TV shows, pop songs or adverts will quickly make a mockery of such statements whether it’s Captain Kirk explaining the Starship Enterprise’s mission “to boldly go”, Mick Jagger bemoaning he “can’t get no satisfaction” or Ronald MacDonald enthusing “I’m loving it”.
The ground is just as slippery when it comes to pronunciation. My dad was fond of quoting George Bernard Shaw’s retort when a woman informed him that ‘sugar’ was the only word in the English language where ‘s’ is pronounced ‘sh’. “Are you sure?” he asked her.
Yet still there’s that fatal temptation to pretend that some rules work so when, in an advanced class today, a student asked me to spell ‘foreigner’ I was glad to oblige and smugly add a mnemonic I learned in primary school which was ‘I before E except after C’. After writing this below the word ‘foreigner’ I immediately realised I’d made an embarrassing gaffe.
Just consider for a moment some of the other exceptions to this spelling rule and tell me if it really serves any educational purpose whatsoever.
You can only grieve for foreign scientists who have to write their theses in English and seize upon weird rules believing they are receiving sound advice only to find them insufficient‘.
And, while we’re about it just remember that the M ‘mnemonic’ is silent – like the D in Django.