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Making Sense Of Phonics

Baby phonics

@ Sketch by Me

As we get ready for our daughter’s phonics lessons , it is time for us to experience the English phonics lessons ourselves which we have never studied as students back in our native country. Coming from a non-English speaking country(India) pronouncing English according to Phonics as taught in the American schools is a new a different experience. Even though many of us learn in convent English medium schools back in our home country, the way English is pronounced is influenced by the native language phonetics. So we grow up learning to pronounce English the way we would do in our native languages. That results in an accent way different from native English speaker’s English, which though not obvious to non-English speaker’s ears, sounds unusual to the native English speakers. Often ridiculed to be wacky  and subject of satire  in some English movies and stand up comedy shows (If you have seen Russel Peters stand-up comedy you can recall Indian English accent getting tormented…. “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad” ?? ). On the other side, non native speakers wonder why English speakers speak the way they do.

The same goes with writing English words following phonics. Non-Native English speakers who are used to writing as they hear and pronounce words find it difficult and confusing when certain words are not written the way they are pronounced per phonetics. It is challenging at the same time to explain why many words are not written the same way as they are pronounced to a kid who has just started learning phonics.” Cow”, “Cat”, “Cap” makes sense but “CYCLE”  which sounds as “S” does not make sense, why not write “Sycle” instead?. Why are many words which sound like “S” written starting with “C” , like  “Cinema”, “City” , “Circus” etc. It is difficult to explain these subtle differences to the curious little minds for which we struggle to seek an answer ourselves. When I ask my daughter which letter does “cereal”, that she is fond of eating daily for her breakfast, starts with, She replies with ease , “S”. When I say, “No” , it starts with “C” she questions me why? I do not have an answer why it should start with “C” rather than “S”. Many times it is confusing to make a difference between words that start with “K” and “C” the same way. And all those silent killers? Knee, Know, Knob, Knight.. Why use them when they don’t sound in the first place?. But off course , there must have been some reason the word structure is made the way it is. Back in the days as a student, we did not have much choice when learning in English medium in our native country. If the teacher said “Cereal” starts with “C”, it had to start with “C”, no questions asked. It would had been so much fun, if we were exposed to this area of learning English with phonics. Learning wouldn’t have seemed a liability but a joy. With all the complexities in phonics , writing and several exceptions to the stated rule however, English language remains “exceptional” indeed.


Funny English Language!

English is a nice language. The language of the Imperial that once  ruled 3/4th of the globe. The language of Shakespeare  and Wordsworth. It is the only language that is officially accepted as a universal language in the world.  Spanish and French give it some competition but not sufficient enough to come close to it. Thanks (or curse)  to the English Empire that ruled the world from east to west that imposed English language, enabling easy communication around the world.

Aside its nobility, English language is complicated and funny at its best . It is one of those languages that does not follow a hard and fast rule on its structure. Most of the grammatical rules have some or the other exceptions. English grammar is one of the hardest area to master in my personal opinion. Why don’t we spell “go”, “so” the same way as “do”,”to”?.  Why are some letters silent?. Why should we pronounce “Knight” as if it sounds “nite” with the “k” silent?. Who decided certain letters to be silent? Why do we even need a silent letter when we have to ignore it eventually?  Why don’t we just write as we spell a word. Why shouldn’t we not write “masal” for “muscle” when we want to pronounce it as “masal”. Why not pronounce “CHEmical” same way as we spell “CHErry”.  Why create so much confusion and complicate things? There are already lot of complications in life, English language just adds another one.

With so many exceptions to the rule, makers of English have made it difficult for people to master it. The only option left is to memorize half of the English language as to how it should be pronounced, spelled and written. We hate to memorize.

Whats in the name? So butcher it ? !!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”  wrote Shakespeare in the memorable novel “Romeo and Juliet “.

Off course,  the person would still remain the same even when called with another name. Neither a good name would make a person good, nor a rich name would make him rich. “BUT“……!!!!  Shakespearean definition sounds logical only in his classic novel, not in reality. The name gives a person his identity. It is the integral part of who you are , not considering the physical aspect of the person. It is what identifies your personality. Not all who are named “Gandhi” are revered as “Gandhi”. When we say “Gandhi” we co relate the name to the messenger of peace “Gandhi”. That’s how the name engulfs the personality. Our name is so dear to us that mispronouncing it or misspelling it , hurts us. Not just hurts, but causes severe consequences in some cases.

Our culture and society gives a lot of importance to the name of a person. When a child is born people like to name their kid with a name that is very unique and unheard of. That unique name makes the parents feel that his child is special among others.  Lot of rituals go with naming a child. That’s the reason we always hold our name very close to our heart and cannot tolerate to hear it mispronounced or misspelled. However, many times these beautiful names are butchered because of the way different languages are pronounced. Spelling names of persons from other cultures  or languages sometimes becomes difficult  to a person belonging to some other culture or speaking a different language. Take for example the African name “OLUWAKANYINSOLA” (means “sweet” in South African language) or the Thai name  “APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL” (meaning “Holy“) . Some names are not just difficult but if not pronounced properly give a totally different and weird meanings, though in their native language they would mean something very nice. Being an Indian and knowing meaning of most Indian names, I’m particularly amused and sometimes irritated with the way native American English speakers butcher Indian names. They do not mean to deliberately do it. Most of the time, it is because they try to pronounce them the way they speak English phonetically. I have heard some names pronounced really funny and sometimes embarrassing, by native English speakers.  (more…)


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