Monday, May 13, 2013

Six Wonderful Things About the English Language

alphabet letters
Ever since preschool, Big Sister E has loved to learn.

She has been eager to label colors, count higher and higher, and, in particular, learn to read. After all, for someone who adores books, it only makes sense that the next step would be to decipher what those letters mean when they're all put together, right?

Fortunately, the combination of her awesome preschool and kindergarten teachers (and the time that my husband and I have put in with practice) have come together to make for one happy 6-year-old as she is able to now read quite well.

However, in the time that my daughter has spent deciphering and learning the English Language, it has managed to show me just how many strange idiosyncrasies that we have and use every day. Who came up with these things? It didn't raise a red flag for anyone when words were continually introduced that didn't follow any of the traditional "rules" that our language already followed?

Is there any wonder that some kids struggle to make sense of it all?

girl in classroom

In no particular order, here are six of my wonderful (stress on the sarcasm) thoughts about the English language:

1. Silent letters.

Really? Someone thought that adding in an H to "while" and a K to "know" was a good idea? We spend so long teaching kids all of the 26 letters of the alphabet and the sound that each one makes... and then we add random ones to words and say to just not pronounce them in that particular word. Nice.

2. Same letters, different sounds.

Instead of simply making letters silent, our language also includes letters that typically make one sound... but sometimes make another. The letter C, for instance, is just there to make kids guess if it is making an S sound or a K sound? Along the same lines, we stress and stress that CH make the ch- sound as in "check" or "cherry" but then we place it at the end of "stomach" and suddenly it makes a different sound?

3. Same sounds, different spellings and meanings.

Effect/affect? Where/wear? Whether/weather? They're/their/there? Accept/except? Patient (as in waiting) vs patient (as in a hospital)? State (as in the one you live in) vs state (as in something you said)? Oh, come on now. Could we have possibly made this more difficult?

4. Spelled the same, pronounced differently.

Oh wait, we can make this more difficult. Depending on the surrounding sentence, there are words that are spelled exactly the same but are pronounced differently. For instance, "Let's read this book," and "I just read a good book" both have "read" in them, but it's in totally different tenses.

And don't even get me started on trying to figure out why "read" in past tense has an A in it when "red" the color doesn't.

5. Rules don't always apply.

We all grew up with "I before E except after C" rule, right? But not nearly as many of us know the addendum to this rule, the "Or when sounded as A, as in neighbor and weigh."

But it's not just words with a long A that are exceptions to the I before E except after C... what about "deity" and "science?" Or words ending in "cy" that are made plural such as "fallacies," "frequencies," and "vacancies?" So basically I should just tell my child that it's probably I before E?

6. The English language is constantly changing.

We turn nouns into verbs ("He hosed off the dog" and "The way that they parent their child"); we declare that there should be commas everywhere in a list of items... and then change our minds and decide that they're not always needed; we state that all names and sentences start with capital letters and then words like "iPad" become common and that rule gets ignored; etc.

Is the silver lining at least that I'm teaching our written language to someone who isn't just now learning English? I can't imagine the difficulties that adults go through when they are trying to learn English as a second language and they encounter all of the strange exceptions, sayings and more that we use daily!

Can you think of any more wonderful things about the English language?

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Anonymous said...

I never understood why they did this. It is so difficult for children to learn all this nonsense. Zoe dislikes it as well and will still do an f for phone. Wish it was just easy for our children so they can all be better readers and writers.

Paula V said...

The English language is crazy. I can't imagine speaking another language and trying to figure out some of the non-sense our language has. You highlighted them very well.

Unknown said...

The silent letter always killed me growing up.

Unknown said...

I agree with previous comments! There are always things changing-- it must be SO hard for someone to learn English as a second language and for a small child.

adjn1104 said...

You couldn't be more correct!! I can't tell you how many times I've found myself stumbling when trying to explain to my son why something is spelled or pronounced a certain way!

Unknown said...

My Godson, Jordan, struggles with even the easiest of tasks, I can't imagine trying to teach him to read.

Gala said...

Well, talking as a non-native speaker -- your language and rules are not so difficult, yes some things are archaic but it's a way how any language is developing and if we will start simplify any language now our kids wouldn't be able to read and understand books which were written long/or just some time ago. And my kids are speaking almost 3 languages and they didn't start learning English before school and it never was a problem/stragle for them-- for kids it's not a big deal, I think they just accept that there are rules (even if they are strange). But I can speak only for a fraction of people. If you look in my native language -- Russian, oh my, Lord have mercy on you :-)

Unknown said...

I always enjoyed English classes in school.

atabanana29 said...

Growing up, I always had a pretty easy time with English. Math on the other!