I am so very happy that English is my fist language. I am trying to learn another language, Spanish, but the more I explore it and teach English as a second language, the greater my pleasure for having English as my first language. Why? Because English makes no sense!
Oh sure, to those of us who are native speakers it makes perfect sense. We just memorize it and the rules. We study phonics, memorize the letter sounds and sight words and practice using them all together in one happy concert of language. But as I teach it to children overseas and get the pleasure of dissecting it for learners of all ages, it really makes no sense!
Now, before anyone takes offense, think of the basics of English, you know, phonics. Phonics is the relationship of letters to sound. Simple, right? First you start with the ABC song. You know the song, “A-B-C-D…” aren’t you happy you got that earworm started. Then once you know the letters, and thank goodness there are only 26, you practice the sounds they make.
After you have the sounds down pat, then you start putting them together. For example, C-a-t. Then f-a-t, h-a-t. and so on. It all starts out so simple. Know the 26 letters, memorize their sounds and then build from there.
But is it really so simple? First of all the 26 letters are categorized into two groups. First, there are the vowels. You remember the vowels; “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y.” Stop right there. Sometimes why? Yes. See “Y” depending on when you use it and how you use it, it is either a vowel or a consonant. All the other letters, the other 20, are always consonants. But “Y” has super powers. It’s a switch hitter. It has allegiance to neither category and therefore in my opinion is the strongest letter of them all.
When you try to explain the reason to a child, they just look at you like you are crazy. Kids have no skin in the game. They are just a fresh set of eyes looking for guidance. That’s when it hit me as I began teaching English to young non-english speakers, English makes no sense!
Before anyone takes offense and tells me the history of English and the origins of certain words, relax. I know English borrowed from all different languages. That is not the point. When you are just starting out learning a language the history of it means little. Having fun with it means everything.
I love English. I love words. I love reading and writing both English and words. I am trying to get better at Spanish. I have taken French in high school. I love Latin and Greek roots. I love all of it. I also know that the more I think about English the less sense it makes. I can hear my mother and father lamenting the fact that we, their children, were not forced to take Latin in school. They felt if everyone had to take Latin then everyone’s reading and comprehension would jump effortlessly. Maybe they were right. I know lots of both Greek and Latin roots, and yes they help me a lot even to this day. However, they do not help non -English speakers just starting out.
The alphabet and phonics do. Until they don’t and that is the fun of English making no sense. Just start with the letter “y”. How and why does it get to play the field? I don’t know. And that is what makes my new hobby so much fun. Dissecting and teasing the English language. I hope you’ll join me for the journey. (Ahh, not journey, perhaps ride would be better! Journey is so overused, and has multiole meanings!) Come on, I’ll show you!