Thursday, April 16, 2009

Learning English

I saw a post on Craigslist from the local library. They need to find volunteers to become adult literacy tutors. There's a waiting list of 200 students, and no foreign language skills are needed. Tutors work one-on-one or in small groups to teach others to read and write English.

My first reaction was what a noble thing to do. Help other people educate themselves so they can have a better life. What could be more rewarding than that?

My next reaction was what a hard thing to do. The English language is not easy. Most of it is memorization. There are a few rules, but every rule has at least one word that breaks it.

When my dad taught me, we started with the sounds the letters make.
(ay, bee, see, dee, ee, ef, jee, aich, eye, jay, kay, el, em, en, o, pee, kew, ar, es, tee, yu, vee, double u, eks, why, zee.)

Then those sounds grew into three letter words.
(van, man, bed, bud)

From there, we learned common syllables.
(th, er, ed, re, sh, ch)

After that came spelling and learning the phonetic rules. I suppose having ONLY heard English growing up, and reading along with the story as my dad read it, I learned fairly quickly. Now that I think about it, English has to be pretty hard to learn.

How exactly does "tion" sound like "shun"?

What's up with C? Sometimes it's sounds like an S, sometimes a K.
(catch, ceiling, cold, cilia)

Then there's PH that sounds like an F.
(phone, Philadelphia)

The inevitable confusion between V and F.
(leaf, leave, proof, prove, roof, rooves, hoof, hooves)

Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently according to context.
(Did you read that?, I read it. The bandage was wound around the wound. The farm was used to produce produce.)

"I before E except after C or when sounding like A as in NEIGHBOR or WEIGH."
Right, so where does PROTEIN fit in?

CH can sound differently word to word.
(church, checkers, cholesterol, chords)

Don't forget our love with the silent G.
(gnat, strength, eighth)

And our favorite homophones.
(dear, deer, bare, bear, band, banned)

If someone questioned me why these things are the way they are, my answer would be "I don't know, just memorize it." That's a pretty poor excuse for a teacher.

In fact, that's why I hated chemistry. Why was the ethanol compound composed of 2 carbon, 6 hydrogen, and 1 oxygen? Why did it have to be drawn that way? The answer was always "it just is. Do it like this or you'll get it wrong." That whole science never made sense to me because it was founded on memorization.

Because I don't know why some words break the rules, why they are spelled differently yet pronounced the same, or why some syllables have different sounds depending on the word...means I probably shouldn't be teaching.


Lisa Logan said...

Not necessarily! If people couldn't teach without knowing all the "whys," there would be no churches, no science, no English, botany, etc.

More important than the whys are the hows. The hows of the easiest way to teach a thing, and the hows of how the student learns best. Answer these and it won't matter that you can't reason out -tion making "shun."

Good luck if you decide to do this! By the way, pick up a copy of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ IN 100 EASY LESSONS from the library. Might find some inspiration for how the nonsensicals of English are most easily conveyed.


Tabitha Shay said...

Interesting, Laura, you always come up with the unusual subject to pun