Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Learning English Spelling is Tuff

Did You Throw the Tough Dough in the Trough?

It is no secret that spelling in English is a daunting task, even for native English speakers. There are spelling and phonetic tools, which are supposed to help us make sense of the sounds, and then there are rules, which often make no sense to anyone. It’s kind of like Baseball.

English is a catch-all language, with the spelling rules and tools thrown into a linguistic melting pot, and it can cause spelling trouble that other languages don’t have. For example, Japanese has clear, ordered, phonetic rules. All rules, all the time. No matter what word it is, the “oh” sound always sound the same, and is always represented the same way. No wonder the Japanese trounce Americans in science and math. Japanese students don’t have to spend countless hours of extra time studying spelling just to master their language. They have more time to study math and science, since they are not worried about weekly spelling tests. You can't be a bad speller in Japanese.

Can you imagine a Japanese student, comfortable in his ordered phonetic world, trying to learn English? Give him a simple first grade spelling list in English and he will probably feel pretty good.

Cat, bat, rat, hat. These phonetic spelling tools make sense. Learn the beginning sound, and the end sound. Change the beginning sound to another beginning sound and the end sound stays the same. Just like Japanese.

Give him any fourth or fifth grade spelling test, however, and he may start to sweat.

Dough, thorough, bough, enough, trough, plough, and although

What? So much for knowledge of common letter-sound relationships. Nothing makes sense, and you have to rely on straight memorization. Is it no wonder that non-native English speakers need help with spelling? I will go so far as to say every English speaker needs help with spelling at some point in the acquisition of the language.

That’s enough. It’s making me cough. I think I need a doughnut….