Having ha Hlaugh

When we started house-sitting for friends in Spain, since I had absolutely no Spanish, I downloaded a podcast called Coffee Break Spanish to my iPod. I didn’t make huge progress but at least I learned some basic pleasantries and some numbers, all of which helped in the local markets. I’d like to do better and should find the time to do more.

Having discovered podcasts, Carol decided to improve her French. In addition to Coffee Break French (I think the Coffee Break series from Radio Lingua Network is very good), she pointed me at a French series called Learn French by Podcast. I tried it for the first time yesterday.

One of the topics covered in the lesson I chose – I think it was lesson 2 – was the fact that an “h” at the beginning of French a word is always silent.  Repetition is said to be a good thing, I know, but this guy’s explanations began to drive me nuts. Bearing in mind that this is an audio device, phoenetically, all his explanations went something like this:

The haitch on the front of French words is always silent; it is a mute haitch.

Arghh! How can someone unashamedly bang on about a French mute “h” (I think I’d have referred to it as a non-aspirant “h”) when he insists on sticking a pronounced “h” (an aspirant “h”) onto the front of a word that doesn’t actually start with one at all? The name of the letter “h” in English is “aitch”. If he can grasp this concept in French, why hasn’t he grasped it in English?

Aitch does not start with an aitch, though a disturbing number of people seem to labour under the misapprehension that the name of a letter must begin with that letter itself. Maybe they don’t realize that letters have names with spellings? In day to day English listening to people saying “haitch” drives me to distraction but in a language lesson it’s unforgivable.

The French was good, though, so I’ll give more lessons a try.

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