English is inconsistent! I am truly sorry. There are languages in which the spelling will tell you how a word is pronounced and a sound is always spelled the same way. Unfortunately, English is not one of those languages. Sure, there are some rules, but the rules have exceptions- sometimes a lot of exceptions. Take the words believe and receive: the vowel sound of the second syllable is the same in each word, so why are they spelled differently? And then there is then and than. You may think there are pronounced differently, and they are, if you say each word in isolation, but in a sentence- most Americans say them just the same. Hear and here are pronounced the same but spelled differently.
Oh, my. How can we remember which is which?
There are little tricks we can use to help us remember. A fancy word for such a trick is mnemonic (the first m is silent), which is related to the word meaning memory in ancient Greek. A mnemonic device could be an expression, a poem, an image, or an acronym. For example, English speakers learning to read sheet music learn the sentence “Every good boy deserves favor” because the first letter of each word (EGBDF) indicates the notes on the lines.
The short rhyme, “April showers bring May flowers” reminds us that in many areas of the US and Europe, the month of April is often rainy and the month of May is when many flowers bloom. It also teaches us to tolerate uncomfortableness (rain) that will bring future benefits (flowers).
What are some mnemonic devices to remember how to spell words in English? Let’s go back to believe and receive. Native English speakers are taught in school the sentence “I before E except after C.” Repeat out loud it several times so it stays in your memory. When you need it, let it roll out in your mind. I use it myself. I’ll be scribbling along, then I’ll hesitate. How do I spell perceive? I’ll ask myself. Then I say to myself, “I before E except after C.” There’s the C, so it must be followed by EI.
How about then and than? I tell my students to remember that the word time has an E in it, and so does then. Then is used when talking about something that happened at a certain time or after something else happened.
“I enjoyed my time in college. I made a lot of friends then.”
” First I went to New York. Then I visited Washington, DC.”
Both than and comparison have the letter A. Than is used in sentences comparing one thing to another.
“My sister is shorter than me.”
How about the difference between hear and here? Hear contains the word ear, so you have to use your EAR to HEAR.
Try making up your own mnemonics.