Thursday, April 8, 2010

English is Stupid

Mama Kat asks “If you could change the alphabet, what would you do? Add? Subtract? Combine? Simplify?”

I don’t have a beef with the alphabet or the number line. My issue is the English language as a whole. Many of the students I teach in second grade do not speak English as a first language. My instruction to them in both phonics and spelling over the last few years has made me realize just how screwed up English actually is.

This past month one of my reading groups has been working on long vowel sounds, more specifically vowel teams or pairs like ‘ea’ or ‘ai’. One of the general rules I teach is “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” This is just a reminder for the kids that in most vowel teams, the first vowel is heard in its long form and the second one is silent. For example…
beak – the e is heard, the a is silent
paint – the a is heard, the i is silent

As we go along, the walking/talking rule works until we get to…
field – the i is silent and the e is heard

In fact, there are so many ways of making long vowel sounds in our English words, it’s crazy…
Long 'U' shoe, grew, through. do, doom, flue, two, who, brute, duty

Long 'O' go, show, though, sew, beau, float, bone,

Long 'A' may, weigh, late, pain, rein, great

Long 'E' free, bean, magazine, gene, be, receive, believe

Long 'I' fine, rhyme, fight, align, bayou

The ones that really get me don’t even use the letter of the sound that they make – bayou, sew, weigh. Really?

In one of my other groups we have been practicing the ‘ough’ family. Well, it’s not really a family, because there are so many different sounds those 4 letters can make. Case in point…
enough, rough, tough (uff)
through (ew)
though, although, dough, thorough (o)
cough (off)
bough (ow)

Not to mention our multiple meaning words…
There’s no time like the present to present the present.
I’m going to study about rocks while listening to rock so I can rock the test.
We’ll have a ball playing ball at the ball.

Plural nouns have four basic rules…
1. add ‘s’ to most nouns dog –> dogs
2. add ‘es’ to words that end in s, x, sh, ch, z dress –> dresses
3. drop the ‘y’ and add ‘ies’ to words that end in ‘y’ puppy –> puppies
(except of course if the word is a one syllable word that has a vowel in addition to the y boy –> boys)
4. drop they ‘f’ and add ‘ves’ to words that end in 'f’ calf –> calves
Now those four rules can be reviewed and reviewed so our kids can master them, but then we throw in the irregular plurals that don’t follow any rule. We don’t say persons but people. We don’t say mouses, but mice. We don’t say mans but men.


“Miss Delight, sometimes English is so hard,” lamented one of my second language learners.

I know honey, I know.



  1. English is so different, isn't it? Shoshi tells me all the time that it is one zillion times better than Bengali!

  2. I used to mentor third grade ESL students in reading and spelling (Santa Ana) two days a week.

    The biggeswt problem I had with paired vowels was the kids trying to make them all diphthongs.

    I could never be a teacher full time. You are an angel.

    Oh, JJ didn't really run away, but they will be taking him away from me to AZ.

  3. Hey! Stopping by from Mama Kats Writers Workshop. I totally understand! I have taught at a Korean school before and it was so confusing to them to learn this because the English language is actually very complicated!

  4. I feel your pain. I took advanced French for several years, and worked with ESL children toward the end. I was asked "why" constantly. "Why, Mademoiselle Christine? Why does it that way?". After attempting to translate portions of the movie "Hook" I gave up. My children could conjugate verbs beautifully, though. : )

  5. I never taught English, but I did teach hebrew. I realized that English is an amazingly difficult language. Hebrew was completely logical by comparison. Is there any rule in the English language that doesn't have at least one exception?

  6. My foreign language teachers always told us English was so easy!

  7. That was straight up teachery.

  8. whoa, English lesson post, glad I don't teach!

  9. And then test writers dare have the NERVE to put these inane exceptions on the tests. For seven year old English Language Learners to remember.

    Good post, Miss Delight.

  10. Learning a foreign language is a lot easier than learning English ... I was taught both German and English growing up ... there are so many less rules with German.

  11. Aint that the truth. In the work I do from home I do phonetic translations of how someone with a Mexican or Spanish accent would say certain words in English and I have to do all kinds of variants because if the person is not familiar with the word and just reads it they will mispronounce it because it does not look the way it sounds or does not sound the way it should.

  12. I still struggle with English and it's my native language. Fred corrects me all of the time, and he's French! m.

  13. Shall I through in a few loops with Australian/British English?

    Such as "tyre", "aeroplane", "colour"

    This one isn't so much a rule or pronunciation but meaning: 'biscuit' which is either a cookie and/or a cracker, but never a biscuit, which there is no word for.

  14. Hello! I'm also stopping by from Mama Kats, and I completely feel your pain here. My mother tongue is Dutch and this year I am teaching it to mostly English-speaking adults. They break their heads over it, but at least I can throw back that English is as weird with as many exceptions! :D