It appears that Spanish and Chinese (Pinyin) are languages which you can accurately derive the pronunciation of the words purely from their spelling. Whereas English is definitely not that type of language ("boot" and "look" are spelled with an "oo" but they are pronounced differently, or "through" and "rough", etc.).

Which other languages are similar to Chinese (Pinyin) and Spanish in this sense? Is Latin like this? Ancient Greek? Hebrew? Arabic? Other modern languages of any kind or shape?

This is so I can generate a list of pronunciations (using IPA syntax) automatically from texts and learn languages more rapidly.

Update: It appears Georgian and Finnish might be like this as well as Hebrew + Niqqud and Spanish and Chinese.

  • 1
    Could you be explicit about the connection to language learning this question has? – Tommi Dec 7 '20 at 8:04
  • Chinese Pinyin is a notation system for pronunciation—I’d guess almost all languages have such pronunciation notation (e.g. IPA). (Maybe Korean is a better choice of example.) @Tommi there are people who learn the basics of multiple languages in parallel—it’s conceivably useful for them. But maybe the question is more relevant to Linguistics.SE. – Rebecca J. Stones Dec 7 '20 at 8:59

Your question relates directly to what is know as orthographic depth. If a language has a shallow orthography then there is a close correspondence (and, importantly, a reliable correspondence) between the way that the word is written and the way that it is pronounced. In contrast, a language with a deep orthography has a poorer (and less reliable) correspondence between the way that a word is written and the way that it is pronounced. Finnish is often considered to be the archetypal shallow-orthography language, with languages such as Turkish, Italian and Spanish following close behind. English, on the other hand, has a deep orthography, nicely illustrated by the problem that you yourself mentioned, namely, the pronunciation of the notorious letter combination ough :








There is some (rather conflicting) evidence, that the ease with which children learn to read is inversely related to the orthographic depth of the language. It might seem intuitively obvious that it must be harder to learn to read a language that is orthographically deeper than another language but other factors come into play that muddy the path to a clear conclusion. See for example, this open-source article and its references.

I realize that I have not given even a semi-complete list of languages but by searching for "orthographic depth" you will find multiple resources to help you answer your question in the way that you want.


If I remember well, Modern Greek can be pronounced from reading. Portuguese is not as simplified as Spanish, but I think it works too. Vietnamese is similar to Pinyin (in the past, Vietnamese used the Chinese characters). Maybe you should check it too. And of course, you have Esperanto, the language constructed to be simple.

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