Teaching Spelling Through Meaning

I was so caught up in the excitement of the book this week, that I didn’t get around to writing an Englisch Macht Spaß post. But that’s okay, because someone else – a Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra, no less – has written a fantastic article that I am going to share.

When I was at school, I loved spelling. For whatever reason, I could do it very well. My best friend, who is a bona fide brain, was a dreadful speller. I think, to this day, she still is. Spelling in English is one of those things that first appears to bother us when we start scrawling our name, and for many, continues to bother us for the rest of our adult lives. It’s hard. It’s often seemingly nonsensical. Did you know only 12% of English words are spelt how they are pronounced? And one of the main ways we are taught to spell is to ‘sound it out’ – which is completely a redundant technique with 88% of our words.

We have 26 letters, but we have around 44 sounds (it’s not easy to be precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds.

So, while sounds – or phonics – are important in learning to spell, they are insufficient. When the only tool we give young children for spelling is to “sound it out”, we are making a phonological promise to them that English simply cannot keep.

Why Some Kids Can’t Spell and Why Spelling Tests Won’t Help by Misty Adoniou, is a fascinating piece, published on The Conversation, that looks at English spelling and how we should learn it – through etymology. Instead of asking our kids to rote learn ‘strings of letters with no meaning attached’, or to ‘sound it out’, we should be attaching stories and meaning to the words we’re teaching them to spell.

If you’re a teacher, parent or English language learner, I strongly suggest you pour a coffee and read on.

Catch up on other Englisch Macht Spaß posts:

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
  11. A Short History of the English Language
  12. Root Words and Dirty Etymology
  13. Pesky Prepositions Part 1: Place

Pesky Prepositions Part 1: Place

Prepositions are nasty little things that, quite unfortunately, are rather important when learning a language. I trip up with German prepositions pretty much every single time, so I know how frustrating (and difficult to remember) they can be. With English, to confuse matters a little further, sometimes prepositions of time and place can differ depending on whether you’re talking/listening to/reading American or British English. For example, British English would say ‘at the weekend’, while American English would say ‘on the weekend’. I say ‘on the weekend’ despite being Australian and Australians generally using British English.

Today I thought we’d wade into the waters of prepositions – not too far, don’t worry – and take a look at prepositions of place. For most of you, this will be absolute revision, but useful revision. Very often I come across quite advanced students still mixing up their prepositions, so it’s good to revisit them every now and then to make sure you’ve got them sorted.

There are three key prepositions of place that are important to get straight, because you will use them a lot when telling people where you live, where you work, where to meet for coffee, where the nearest bank is, where you’ll be spending New Years Eve etc, etc, etc. They’re also necessary for when that lost looking tourist approaches you and says, ‘excuse me, I’m looking for …’

They are:

IN, AT, ON

Small, sweet and a little bit confusing. It’s easier if we use a visual:

peskypreps1

Pretty straight forward right?

You live at an address, on a street, in a city/suburb/country.

But what if you give someone your address, and as they are driving to your house for dinner, they call and say they are completely lost. They can’t find your house – can you give them some more information? You are going to need more prepositions to describe where your house is, and to give them some clearer directions. Eg; ‘we live next to the Sparkasse, behind the big oak tree’, or ‘we live across from a Spanish restaurant.’

This video below gives great visuals for more prepositions of place, that will allow you to go into greater detail about where something is, should you ever need to (and you will, trust me). There are also some prepositions that change meaning when given an article. Check it out, it won’t take long. It comes from this great Youtube channel.

Keeping it short and simple this week! Don’t forget to catch up on previous Englisch Macht Spaß posts, and if you have any questions or comments, I always love hearing from you.

Viel Spaß!

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
  11. A Short History of the English Language
  12. Root Words and Dirty Etymology

Root Words and Dirty Etymology

There has been something doing the rounds of the internet for a while, you may have seen it. It’s called English is a Crazy Language and is, essentially, a humorous, lovingly written ‘rant’ by Richard Lederer. 

He comments on confusing prepositions, eg; when the stars are out, they’re visible, but then the lights are out, they’re invisible; on plurals that don’t make sense – one goose, two geese, but not one moose, two meese; and verb forms like teach/taught/taught, but preach/preached/preached. All of the stuff that drives learners of English absolutely crazy.

He also talks about strange words, and the lack of logic to them; ”there is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger … and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.” (But an eggplant is a plant in the shape of an egg, hamburger is named for its place of early origin (Hamburg) and there are several possible explanations as to how guinea pigs got their name. In German, funnily enough, they’re called Meerschweinschen … a sea piglet … süß!)

From busyteacher.org
From busyteacher.org

(Of course, we know why English can be so higgledy piggledy – we watched that fantastic ten minute video last week that explained so much. Didn’t see it. Go and watch it now. I’ll wait.)

Reading through English is a Crazy Language – and thinking about eggplant and guinea pig – got me thinking about etymology; the origin and development of words. Of course, if you’ve ever studied Latin or Ancient Greek, you’d be an old hand at root words and etymology – so many words in most languages belonging to the Indo-European family spring from Latin and Greek. Having an idea of ‘root words’ can really help your comprehension (and assist in answering questions on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.)

English has had a wild ride to get where it is today, with our vocabulary filled with words from many different languages. It can be a lot of fun to learn where words come from, and to compare whether your mother tongue and learning language share a lot of etymology, or not. Look at a video like this (another one that has done the rounds). Here are examples of where English uses the Latin or Ancient Greek, like the romantic languages, but German doesn’t – and, of course, therein lies the ”humour”.

Being aware of where words come from and how they have developed, will help you understand English on a deeper level. Here are some articles for you guys to read and think about. Do you use the same words in your language?

The Dirty Etymology of Everyday Words

Words with Interesting Etymologies 

Selected Etymology

Etymologically Speaking

And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
  11. A Short History of the English Language

Viel Spaß!

 

A Short History of the English Language

Do you remember, back at school, when you’d walk into the classroom and see a TV set up and you’d know, with a surge of joy, today’s class was going to be a video?

Today is one of those days.

Behold, a wonderful little video from the Open University that gives us the history of the English language in about ten minutes. It’s animated and narrated brilliantly and addresses such questions as – how did we wind up with such a mish mash of Latin, French and German (and loads of other languages we’ve brushed up against)? How many words did we get from the Normans? What did Shakespeare do to the English language, apart from provide angst for high school students? What did the King James translation do to the English language? How did English come to be the dominant language? And what about the American English (or as the video says – American English, not really English, but somewhere in the ballpark)? What effect has the internet had on English? And now, that it’s so global … whose language is it anyway?

It is a clever, informative and very funny video. Pour a coffee and check it out, you will learn so much. I certainly did.

And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound

The Bandage was Wound around the Wound

Hello and welcome to this week’s Englisch Macht Spaß (so much spaß.) You’re going to need a coffee for this one (in a good way) because we’re dealing with some slippery little suckers today.

Ready? Let’s go.

This was put on my Facebook wall the other day. Have a sip of your coffee, and read it. Read slowly.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture..

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear..

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

 WHAT’S GOING ON?

Homographs my friend, that’s what’s going on.

What is a Homograph?

  • A homograph is a word that is spelt the same as another word, but has a different meaning.
  • In many cases, the words are distinguishable by their pronunciation – when this happens, ie: the words are spelt the same, but pronounced differently, these words are also called heteronyms.
  • If the words, however, are spelt the same way and pronounced the same way, but differ in meaning, they are called homonyms.

Still with me?

Look at the list above – most of the homographs up there are also heteronyms – they are spelt the same way, but pronounced differently. Either the emphasis is in a different spot – refuse vs. refuse; or the vowel is longer/shorter – does (duzz) vs does.

Number 7 features a homonym  – ‘present’ meaning the time now and ‘present’ meaning a gift – as well as a heteronym – ‘present‘ as a verb and the two other meanings of present above, which both share the same emphasis – ‘present.’

I hate Homographs! How can I learn them?

Homographs confuse us English speakers too, don’t worry. We sometimes need to pause and repeat the sentence to ourselves, when we encounter homographs. And you can’t really learn them, per se. Context is the only thing that tells you how to pronounce a homograph.

To get you started, I’ve done a little graphic below that shows you where to place the emphasis in some of the homographs from the list above. Read it out loud to yourself.

homographs

With the other homographs, you need to think about sounds – vowel sounds and dipthongs. Not familiar with them? Don’t worry! Check out this fantastic interactive phonemic chart. Click around. Listen! Hover over the icons and see which words use that sound!

Now look at this –

The bandage was /waʊnd/ around the /wuːnd/. 

Go and click on those vowel sounds and dipthongs on the interactive chart. You’ll hear the difference! It’s actually rather fun.

Optional homework: Try and write all of the other homographs using the vowel sounds and dipthongs from the phonemic chart.

Okay, we’re done for the week!

What other homographs have you come across, in your English language learning experience?

Do they drive you crazy?

*** Any questions, ideas, comments? You know the drill; email me livhambrett@gmail.com,

Tweet me or leave a comment below. ***

And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms

Viel Spaß!

Tricks of the Trade*: Idioms

Hello there …

… and welcome to this week’s Englisch Macht Spaß! We took a little break last week, because I was off gadding about the Czech Republic. I have no doubt you used the break wisely to catch up on previous English Macht Spaß posts. Right? Good.

This week, I thought we’d talk about idioms, those strangle little expressions that pepper conversations and can cause a lot of confusion.

What is an Idiom?

An idiom is an expression that’s meaning does not reflect, or cannot be deduced from, the individual words it contains. It has a figurative meaning, not a literal meaning. Eg: I am over the moon with my exam results. (I am thrilled/really happy/very pleased with … etc etc.)

Why do we need to know about them?

A few reasons …

  • There are thousands upon thousands of idioms in any given language, and English is no exception. Courtesy of English being spoken by many and varied countries, its idiom collection is a rather full one.
  • Native speakers use idioms often, without even thinking about it, because idioms can express something quickly and easily. It’s therefore useful to be able to 1) identify them as idioms – and so things you won’t be able to understand literally and so don’t try – and 2) understand what they mean.
  • Knowing a few idioms that spring from the country you may be learning/speaking English in, helps you understand the language on a deeper level, and also afford greater insight into the culture. (Eg: German idiom will reveal a deep love of the pig.)

Some Useful English Idioms

It isn’t possible to learn every single idiom that exists, nor should you become so bogged down in looking for them that you begin to think every single sentence spoken to you is an idiom. But knowing a handful is a good place to start, both for your comprehension and conversation skills. So I’ve put together a list of some very common idioms that you can start trying to use in your day to day conversations.

– You’re pulling my leg. // You aren’t telling me the truth –> You speak ten languages fluently? You’re pulling my leg.

– She’s as a sick as a dog. // She’s very, very sick. –> Jo will be off work for a week, she’s as sick as a dog.

– Once in a blue moon // Not very often. –> I got to the dentist once in a blue moon, because I hate it.

– It’s raining cats and dogs. // It’s raining very heavily. –> I am not going outside today, it’s raining cats and dogs.

– To change your tune. // To change your mind. –> Oh you like pumpkin spice lattes now, do you? You’ve changed your tune.

– Drop me a line. // Contact me. –> I’d love to hear about your trip to Italy. Drop me a line when you get the chance.

– To kick the bucket. // To die. –> Didn’t I tell you? The cat kicked the bucket last year.

– It takes two to tango. // More than one person has caused the problem. –> John was wrong to have an affair with his colleague, but it takes two to tango.

– By the skin of your teeth. // Just! –> You handed in your assignment two minutes before deadline – you made it by the skin of your teeth.

– To bite the bullet. // To do something you have always wanted to do, or have been avoiding. –> I have always wanted to go to South Africa, so yesterday I bit the bullet and booked tickets.

– To beat around the bush. // To take a long time to get to the point. –> Stop beating around the bush and just tell me what you want.

* Tricks of the trade? Tools and techniques that make people very good at their craft or profession.

Check out these sites for some more examples of common idioms:

  • Your Dictionary
  • Wikipedia (has some great idioms from around the world, translated into English. Very interesting!)
  • About.com (has the German idiom with its English counterpart!)

Some of my Favourite German Idioms in English

Not a day passes where SG doesn’t translate a German idiom directly into English, thus confusing me greatly by saying things like, ‘well, that was always hiding in the bush.’

I asked the good people on Twitter what some of their favourite German idioms are, that sound extremely funny when translated into English. Here’s what we came up with.

— It goes DE // Direct Translation // EN Idiom Counterpart —

* Um den heißen Brei herumreden. // To talk around the hot soup. // To beat around the bush.

* Sich in den Arsch beißen. // To bite oneself in the arse. // To kick oneself.

* Sich auf die Socken machen. // To make the socks. // To make tracks.

* Sie spielt die beleidigte Leberwurst. // She’s playing the affronted sausage. // She’s in a huff.

* Arschgeige. // Arse violin. // Arsehole.

* Dumm wie Bohnenstroh. // As dumb as a bean straw. // As thick as a brick, or as dumb as a post.

* Daumen drücken! // To press your thumbs. // To cross your fingers.

* Die Kirche im Dorf lassen. // To leave the church in the village. // To not get carried away.

What are some of your favourites? Leave them in the comments below.

Leaving it there because I have just been asked to do something and, upon not responding fast enough, told, ‘the music’s over here!’ So I am off to face the music, wherever and whatever it may be.

*** Any questions, ideas, comments? You know the drill; email me livhambrett@gmail.com,

Tweet me or leave a comment below. ***

Viel Spaß!

And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English

British and American English

EMS brit and usa english

When I first started teaching English as a foreign language in Germany, I noticed a particular question would keep popping up when I would pronounce or spell a word, or even give a definition; ‘is that British or American English?’

I’m sorry, what?

As a native English speaker, and an Australian at that, the differences between British and American English that I would routinely come across at school and during my studies, were limited to spelling; ‘ou’ vs ‘o’ in words like colour and labour, ‘s’ vs ‘z’ in words like organise and specialise, and some differing word uses; pants vs trousers, chemist vs drugstore, biscuit vs cookie.

As I taught more and, in doing so learnt more, about the English language, its history, development and global uses, I began to realise those differences …

… are only scratching the surface.

The differences between British and American English extend beyond spelling and vocabulary, to quite distinct grammatical differences. Of course, within the ‘British and American’ grouping, lie numerous dialects that, themselves, feature entirely individual quirks of grammar, spelling, pronunciation and vernacular. Alas, I’m doing a blog post, not a book, so we’re not going to delve too deeply – but trust me, it’s fascinating.

For the record …

… in Australia, we have largely and historically learnt British English spelling and grammar, (although American spelling has become far more widespread with the use of computers and spell-check) but use both British and American vocabulary (‘truck’, not ‘lorry’ like the Americans, but ‘boot’, not ‘trunk’ of the car, like the British). That is, of course, not to mention our own Australian vocabulary that neither the Brits or the Americans use and often confuses them greatly. We are a bit of a mixed bag. Other English speaking countries – Canada, South Africa, New Zealand etc etc – tend to straddle both English and American as well, with a healthy dose of their own words and language quirks specific to the development of their English.

What I’m going to do today, is look at some of the main ways in which British and American English differ, on a standard level, and along with a short explanation and, where possible, some fantastic resources for you to explore further.

Ready? Let’s go.

Spelling

  • Humour//Humor
  • Centre//Center
  • Realise//Realize
  • Jewellery//Jewelry
  • Learnt//Learned
  • Etc, etc, etc, etc! …

WHY?

In 1828, an American by the name of Noah Webster produced a book that marked the first clear and deliberate departure of American English from British English. That book was An American Dictionary of the English Language, in which Webster called for changes to be made to the spelling of words, some of which you see above. As well as wanting words to be spelled like they sound, a key motivation behind Webster’s dictionary, was to set America even further apart from England and assert its ‘cultural independence through language’. (That link will take you to a great article!)

Here is a fantastic chart that gives you a visual of the key differences.

Vocabulary

Word choice is generally what gets us English speakers all confused, when we’re conversing with an English speaker from a different country. Aussies say undies, Brits say pants or knickers and the Americans, rather unfortunately, say panties. When an American tourist in England asks where the nearest drugstore is, you’ll need to point them in the direction of a chemist, and Brits and Aussies always get horribly confused when discussing chips, which, to an Australian means both french fries and potato chips, but to an English means only french fries, because potato chips are called crisps. We call it jam, the Americans call it jelly, but jelly for us is jello to the Americans. We have petrol stations, they fuel up at the gas station, ask for a biscuit in America and instead of something sweet and filled with choc chips, you’ll get a savoury, salty toast-like thing.

Some of the differences are quite large, so as to make whole conversations completely confusing, others not so. It is worth nothing that, due to the dominance of American pop culture and the sheer number of Americans in general, American words have filtered through into the vernacular of traditionally British speaking countries.

This is a fantastic side-by-side word list, ten interesting differences, and a great blog to get you started.

Grammar

And so we come to grammar. Do you know what? There are more differences here than you’d ever suspect and are seen in the uses of: prepositions, auxiliary and modal verbs, past tense forms, delexical verbs ‘have’ and ‘take’, and verb agreement with collective nouns. Phew. Bet you didn’t think it was that complicated. And do you know something else? There is a superb article on all of this over at One Stop English, which I cannot improve upon and am not going to try. I am going to suggest you read it – it is extremely interesting and very helpful, both for teachers and advanced students. Go on, check it out.

That’s it for this week! Any questions you have, or things you have noticed in your English learning/teaching careers – pop them in the comments or say ‘hi’ on Twitter.

And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities

Viel Spaß!