Saturday, December 18, 2010

Learning Phonetics and other English language arts.

I am doing this through my kids. Its like I’m going through the whole gamut of English Language classes from Kindergarten to present along with them(I should actually include Pre-school too..because the sounds of A, B,C’s started from there…right!). So, I guess I’m in the third grade with respect to that. Now everything boils down to this..forget Hindi, forget Telugu, forget all the languages that I blabber in, or have any knowledge of,  forget any Abstract Math or Applied Math, forget Computer Science..forget my experience as a Software Engineer (Yeah! I love the sound of my accomplishments!!!! Who wouldn’t?), if I’m not able to talk well in English, especially with my kids(since that’s the only language they talk with me in), how can I justify being their Mama if they are able to pronounce better than me. I’m not able to talk to them saying “PhINK” for Pink or say “ThALK” for “Talk” or “ChHIN” for “Chin” "or “ChAT” for “Cat” and so on.   All my "P’s and T’s are messed up. They were fine while I was in India. I’m sure of that.
This realization hit me when I stepped into the USA and I had to spell words using P as in “Peter”, N as in “Nancy”, G as in “God” and so on..Oh Man! what’s wrong with me, everybody could understand me when I spelled in India. Even the sound of my name started to sound different during the same time.   It became “ga-yaa-ta-ree” instead of its usual sound that was like “guy-thri”.
Then, the learning started with the set of leapfrog video’s that I bought for the triplets when they were in pre-school. It said something about sounds of letters. But, don’t we just sound them as A, B, C….What?! E has an “eh” sound!! That’s why Elephant sounds as ELEPHANT!  Then why do we say “Eat” or “Ear” using the alphabet “e” sound?  It was like some blur came clear after so many years from my eye when I understood it, and I let out a long OOOOOO!!!!  loudly, sounding it like Raag Bhimpalasi!
You see, I got enlightened. There was this concept of Phonetics, something that had to do with short vowels and long vowels and how they sound. But, aren’t vowels just the ones we know off, when did they get long and short. Again, when I understood that part..Oh!! That’s why “Bit”  sounds like that and “Bite”  has the “I” sound!   Another one I learnt was the rule of two vowels walking together..”When two vowels walk together, the first vowel does the talking”. That’s why the difference in sounds of “Bet” and “Beat”.
There are about 6 such Phonics rules. We didn’t learn all this in school. Not even in high school. Not in my school!! Yes, we did have an English class, and we had stories like “Kutchu’s Glasses” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and even Leo Tolstoy short stories where that cobbler was watching everybody’s shoes..sure we had all this in the syllabus but they forgot to teach us the very first part of it! How to read it right, how to sound it right!  I went through so many years of school and college and learnt everything I know, that was written in English and now, I see where I stand in terms of my English language. Maybe, dumping 60 kids in a class, had done the trick. It had not mattered to the teacher how the kids spoke. Anyway, she wouldn’t have time to listen to anybody, anyways!
It was supposed to be a convent, a very highly regarded one in the city. The rumor was that the classrooms were actually the horse stables during the British times.  It was St Ann’s ….something!  But, the truth is, whatever its history….the teachers were local, Anglo Indians..speaking like “What Re..” Anyways, what’s done was done..No point in pondering over it so much, so, I started learning fresh.  
Now that my kids are in third grade..I’m learning something more complex.  While we were taught to spell by memorization, they are being taught that there are patterns to spelling. There is a reason why a common suffix as “ing” or “ed”  makes some words add a double letter while some are unchanged.  THen we have this case. We spell “Facial” with a “cial” while others are spelt “Essential”. Basically,  spelling it with “cial” if a vowel precedes it, and with a “tial” if a consonant precedes it. Its so amazing, this whole new world, this whole new science I am learning from my third graders.
Lets look at the rule to add the suffix “ing” for 3 particular groups of words . For VVC, it is e-drop and for VCC its no-change and for VC, it doubles a letter (V=vowel, C=consonant),  That’s why “Guide” becomes “Guiding”, “Roar” becomes “Roaring” and “Get” becomes “Getting” while “Ask” becomes “Asking”.  Look at “Run, Running, Rest, Resting, Plug, Plugged” and so on..Another one, why is Cabbage spelt with an “age” and College is spelt with an “ege”. In fact, there are only 3 words that spell with an “ege”. They are, “college”, “privilege” and “cortege”.
Other than millions of such rules they are learning (I mean, I am learning!!) about spelling, they are ( I am!!) also going through this rigorous workshop on writing.  It started way back when they were in kindergarten, when they were made to write short moment stories with illustrations of their own. Just some tiny moment of their lives which they wanted to write as a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.  They were doing non-fiction then.
This year, they’ve been creating fiction of their own. The other day when I had to meet the kids’ teacher for their performance review and the teacher talked about their writing training, I came out of the class with my jaw dropped down wide open..I was so overwhelmed.  They are being taught to first define characters, characters have traits,they are told..For this, they learnt lots of words that define character traits. Physical, Emotional and other. While a character could be perceived as greedy because it wants to earn lot of money, it could also be perceived to be very ambitious or hard working..They are being taught to create characters with different traits and make sure their characters maintain their trait through out their stories..not change as they go along…OMG! I don’t think any school, at least during my times took this upon themselves to bestow their students with all this fundamental knowledge of reading and writing. We were the “Rat-ta” lot of students. Memorization was the mantra.  Creativity…Who knew that?! Not even the teachers did. We didn’t ask questions like , Why?! or How?! or dared our teachers to explain something. Just heard anything information that was broadcasted in the classes.
So now, I am going to school at home and my teachers are my children and they teach me what they learn from school.  I for my part, am trying to make sure, I put myself on a higher pedestal by putting them through Hindi School.  Now they have come to a stage when they have to create 2 letter Hindi.
And, thus our learning continues!!
P.S. Surely, I don’t make a good student because I didn’t get the basics of writing. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end I was told.  I don’t know where the middle of this write up was, and surely there’s no end!!!


bhagyareema said...

I can understand what u are saying bcoz I too have started the journey. The other day I said Diane and he said Amma its Deeeanne.. phew.
I guess we in India do not master any language. we have english, hindi and the state language at school but we are not 'purrfect' in any. The younger generation (in metros mainly) speck English. But the grammar in spoken and spellings in written are just horrible.

gayatri said...

The problem is with the teachers and/or the curriculum, I think. They are not well qualified and not updated with the latest teaching models just like doctors have to keep up with the latest in medicine. Every thing is evolving. But from what I experienced as a student, They don't encourage creativity and new thought lest their ignorance is shown. Look at how memorization played such a big part!
Pavan also had a hard time at school, because his creative ways of solving problems were scorned upon. Clearly, the teacher couldn't figure out his way, although both arrived at the same answer again and again. Later as he grew up, he realized who was the dumb ass there.

Feels so horrible to say this because Teachers are Gurus'. To this day, I stand up even for my kids teachers. "Gurur Brahmah..." made sense in those days because the guru's were really learned. They accepted their ignorance if that was the case.
My point here, there is no end for learning. If somebody, talks with an accent that belongs to a language, just remember, they have knowledge of another language when compared to you. That's what I preach to my kids.

Catch the Kids said...

As a teacher, I'm fascinated by this stuff! It's so important to help children understand structure. Memorizing doesn't help in the long run as students cannot use what they know in new situations. Sounds like your kids are getting a great education.

gayatri said...

Right! I see the difference in education I received and what my kids are receiving and I realize that its a good one.

As Indians we do believe in the value of Memorization as it does help in improving memory. If one goes to the Veda schools, most of the Sanskrit hymns can run for half hour long or much more(I'm very ignorant here!), to memorize them with the right pronunciation, is a feat in itself.

But, if a language has a structure that should be highlighted and taught. I am happy that they are getting this benefit.