1. English has only 26
letters, so it’s not actually possible for one letter to represent only
one spoken sound, there are too many possible ‘word noises’ we can make –
that’s why we get multiple spellings creating the same sound, as in shoe, true, through, loo etc.
Most English words originally came from other languages – about 30%
from Latin (the language of the Ancient Romans), about 30% from French,
and about 30% from Germanic languages (like Norse, the language of the
Vikings, Anglo-Saxon or Dutch). Each language had it’s own totally
different way of spelling words, ways we’ve inherited. What we’re
talking about here is called…
3. …orthography. What? No,
it’s not about birds, that’s ornithology. Orthography looks at how a
language is written down: spelling, punctuation, when to use capital
letters and so on. It’s about how word-sounds (or phonemes) become letter-forms (or graphemes).
Many English words have had a (more or less) fixed spelling since
around the 15th century, because after that time, books and printed
material became a little more common, and English needed too bee
standerdyzd inn orrdur too bee undrstoode - ryting Inglesh withowt
fickzd speling is kwite harde too fulow. Many more words gained a
standard spelling after the publication of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary Of The English Language in 1755. However, the way a lot of words are pronounced has changed since those days. If you heard someone from Tudor times (or earlier) speaking today, they’d sound extremely strange. They’d mostly be using words we know today, but they’d be saying them in a different way. That's why English orthography can be so tricky - there’s very little link today between spelling and pronunciation!
For more writing tips try these books.