Have you ever wondered why there's so much humor about the English sound- and-spelling system? It comes from frustration with its supposed complexity! Probably, the most effective way to go is mastery of the major patterns and rules of Phonics & Spelling. Yet even logical, methodical learners continue to make fun of the sounds vs. letters correlations of written English. Here are examples that make us all laugh:
Don't get the jokes? Here's how they work:
The first message is common on T-shirts. It uses other possible letters for the intended sounds in standard spellings of the phrase “Hooked on Phonics Really Worked for Me.” (Hooked on Phonics is a commercial brand of educational materials.)
- In the second gag, a child supposedly uses phonics patterns to read one word in a caption as two. As a result, “African” becomes “a fricking” (a slang alternative for an offensive word expressing contempt).
- The third item is funny because when unusual spelling patterns are applied out of context into a string of sounds, the result is amazingly ridiculous.
- And of course, the title of this article, “Inglish Speling Izint Sew Badd Aftur Awl,” would conventionally be spelled “English Spelling Isn't So Bad After All.”
As we see, it's true that when the patterns and rules of English orthography are compared with those of other alphabetic writing systems, there's a lot to learn and apply! Mastering the 26 letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z-as explained in Start at the Very Beginning - is only the very beginning. Unlike languages in which one letter (usually) stands for one sound (and vice versa), in English:
- Certain single letters can produce several different sounds, like the a in bad, father, and able or the c in call cent vs. scene.
- An individual letter can combine with one or more others to produce a distinct sound different from those associated with either letter alone. For example, the letter a with -y- or -i– contributes to the “long” vowel sound /ey / in pay or ra The consonant c fuses with -h to produce /tch/, as in chair or watch-or /k/ as in chord or stomach.
- Many sounds can be produced by more than one letter or spelling combinations. One of many examples is the vowel sound /ow/: it can be spelled -o, -oa-, -o-e, –ow-or even -ough, as in go, goal, home, low, and although. And then there's the consonant sound /f/, which may appear as -f-, -ff-, -ph, -or –gh in various words like fluff, phobic, elephant, or rough.
The Sound-Spelling System of English leads to so many seeming inconsistencies that poets have expressed their reactions to it in amusing verses like these:
Not unexpectedly, there are many other Poems Showing the Absurdities of the English Language. And there are many articles recounting or continuing attempts to “reform” its system, both serious and tongue-in-cheek. Examples are English-Language Spelling Reform and Don't Like English Spelling? Tuf Luk.
In contrast to other modern languages, English has the reputation of being “impossible” to master, especially at a sound vs. symbol level. This perception impels some teachers and learners to approach it word-by-word, memorizing many, many thousands of items to “fix” their orthography and pronunciation in the mind's eyes and ears. Some people do become proficient in spelling and reading aloud in unsystematic ways, resulting in a “short-term win.” But what a waste of foundational knowledge!
So What Is True, True, True? And What to Do, Do, Do?
Recognizing-and making optimal use-of patterns and rules that do exist and work in word-level English has many advantages. To start with, here are some “truths.”
- As one-syllable words or in their stressed syllables, most lexical items follow the most common sound vs. spelling patterns. Examples from this article include much, about, make, string, deep, jokes, took, out, sound, spelling, letters, funny, pointed, really,
- All vowel-and a few consonant-sounds have alternative spellings that are still relatively common and “regular” but that appear less often. Examples are first, comes, child, work, truths, either, because, knowledge, laugh, and many more.
- There aren't exceptions to every rule, but many patterns do have a few “peculiarities,” as in does, one, been, what, are, eyes, Many of these are the most frequently used words in the language because they are the oldest; their pronunciation has changed over time.
As explained in articles such as English Gets a Bad Rap
“. . . approximately 50 percent of all English words can be spelled accurately by sound–symbol correspondence patterns alone, and another 36 percent can be spelled accurately except for one speech sound (usually a vowel). English orthography is not a senseless mess! Regularity or predictability of English orthography is not an either/or proposition. Predictability exists on a continuum. . . . some words are perfectly regular, some are a little bit odd, and others are very odd. Truly unpredictable spellings, typically leftovers from Old English, are common among the words most often used for writing. Traditionally, these words have been called "tricky" in early reading instruction. Nevertheless, they're much less common than regular, pattern-based spellings. The more a teacher understands about how English spelling works, the more likely it is that students will improve their spelling and decoding (Kroese, Mather, & Sammons, 2006)."
In fact, latest analyses on topics like illiteracy or learning disabilities suggests that a major obstacle to good reading and writing is being forced to “memorize without logic.” The post Phonics, Spelling, and Dyslexia Are Linked claims that "those who have a logical [coherent, consistent] learning style cannot memorize anything that does not make sense; they can only memorize after seeing the logic behind what they are about to memorize. Hence, they can memorize the spelling of English words only after seeing logical explanations or spelling rules."
The article Sight Words are So 2016 suggests that the “Inventive Spelling,” novice learners of English and new readers employ to “get by” in writing is a sophisticated language skill. Even if (or perhaps because) their “orthographic letter sequences” are not conventional, their ability to create comprehensible English indicates “strong phonological awareness.” Also, invented spelling may help researchers understand sound-symbol correspondences with greater depth and accuracy. It certainly proved useful in constructing the title of this blog post, INGLISH SPELING IZINT SEW BADD AFTUR AWL, as well as humor and verse on the subject.
So if you're in the know, Why Teaching English via Phonics is the Way to Go.
Following are a plethora of techniques, facts, and ideas about how to get into it, get through it, have a good time, and succeed beyond ordinary expectations:
Ready to Do Something?
Having gotten this far in this article, you deserve some rewards! Each of the underlined titles in the building blocks below are connected to a full section of helpful input, often containing but not limited to:
- Explanation of-and Steps to Following-Teaching & Learning English Phonics & Spelling
- Lists & Charts of Phonics & Spelling Patterns & Rules
- Multi-Level Ways to Adapt Info & Concepts to Your Specific Teaching & Learning Situations
- Reproducible Classroom & Self-Teaching Materials: these include (Two-Sided) Learning Cards, Game Boards, Worksheets, Puzzles, and Other Innovations.
- Extensive Reference Lists of Beginning & Intermediate Vocabulary Items to Target in Each Linguistic Topic to Cover.
Then simply click on the links, download, read and/or print out (if you wish) any or all of the Activity Ideas that follow. They're all excerpted from Phonics & Spelling: Everything to Know (Now) available as a download on our website.
Work/Life Products for You to Consider:
- Start at the Very Beginning (A Very Good Place to Start): For Students
- Let’s Start at the Very Beginning (A Very Good Place to Start): For Teachers
- Better English, Better Life: Why English Matters for Work, Life, & Happiness
- So Many Ways to Learn English: How to Decide What’s Best for You
- Now That I Really Want to Learn Language, How Can I Do It?
- I Know I Need to Learn English, So What Choices Do I Have Now?
- Why Teaching Via Phonics is the Way to Go
Related Work/Life English Products:
- Initial Consonants Activity & Idea Book (Levels 1 & 2)
- Initial Consonants Activity & Idea Book (Levels 3 & 4)
- Rhyming Words Activity & Idea Book (Level 2)
- Rhyming Words Activity & Ideas Book (Level 3)
- Rhyming Words Activity & Idea Book (Level 4)
- Vowel Sounds & Spellings Activity & Idea Book (Levels 2 to 4)
- Phonics & Spelling
- Phonics & Spelling Bingo (Level 1)
- Phonics & Spelling Bingo (Level 2)
- Phonics & Spelling Bingo (Level 3)
- Phonics & Spelling Bingo (Level 4)
- Spelling & Phonics Puzzles (Level 1)
- Spelling & Phonics Puzzles (Level 2)
- Spelling & Phonics Puzzles (Level 3)
- Spelling & Phonics Puzzles (Level 4)
- Spelling - Basic Workbook, Patterns & Principles of English Spelling
- Spelling - Practical Workbook, More Patterns & Principles of English Spelling
Free Work/Life English Samples:
- Hooked on Phonics
- Poems Showing the Absurdities of English Spelling
- English Language Spelling Reform
- Don’t Like English Spelling? Tuk Luk
- English Gets a Bad Rap
- Phonics, Spelling, and Dyslexia are Linked
- Sight Words are So 2016
About Work/Life English
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