Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This is doing the rounds again.

I've been looking for it, because it might make some of my students feel better about English spelling!

Fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, maens taht it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are; the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

If you're a native English speaker, and particularly if Winnie the Pooh figured in your childhood, with helpful spelling lessons from Wol, you may have only a dim awareness of what a foreigner has to deal with when tackling English as a subject instead of absorbing it organically or cognitively.............. i.e. the way you (and I) did.

We started our language course almost as soon as we were born: watching, listening, imitating the faces and voices around us; notifying the world of our personal requirements and registering outcomes: Dry nappy! Full tum! Squishy warm hug! Let's try that again!!!!!

Meanwhile, everyone signed up as our language teacher, pulling out all the stops to communicate with us: watch people talking to babies, and see how close they bring their faces, how they exaggerate expressions and sounds, just to get the little one's attention and get a reaction.

If parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and favourite neighbours spoke half a dozen languages between them - well - we grew up with a working knowledge of the whole circus, and that magic 'ear for languages' that makes school language teachers sigh with delight. I've met several people who speak three or more languages fluently.

I remember a Swiss family, when I had a summer job as a waitress at Heathrow Airport, who batted the conversation back and forth in English, French and German as they discussed whether they wanted a Danish pastry or a croissant with their coffee or Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice.
(Well of course our juice was freshly squeezed... in Heathrow Airport.... in the early 80's.....). Someone else spoke 6 languages, a former colleague speaks Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, English - and there's a fifth, but I can't remember what it is.
Rudi - in international sales - spoke 12 languages. TWELVE!
They all acquired their gift of tongues through being born into bilingual or multi-lingual families, and proceeded to expand on what they had.

Buuuutttttttt..... if, by an unkind accident of fate, you didn't happen to be born at 23 Babel Towers, and were therefore denied the delights of Japanese, Croatian and Uzbek nursery rhymes with Auntie Polyglot, never had the chance to try Lingo Dancing or make a Blue Peter Thesaurus Rex glove puppet on rainy afternoons................... then you need A Course of Evening Classes to Unlock your Latent Potential, Liberate you from Linguistic Limbo ....... etc. etc. etc.

Just be grateful that the language you'll be signing up for won't be English, arguably the most complex language in the world when you take into account the wealth of synonyms and homonyms, and the extraordinary elasticity of its spelling and pronunciation rules, based as they are on successive linguistic invasions, transplants, grafts, modifications, fashions and developments. In English, the exception doesn't prove the rule - it is the rule! (More or less....)

Here's a website that takes a stab at rationalising things, with its Introduction to Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling. Admirable.

Of course, this is American English, so the pronunciation guide doesn't quite work for British English, and isn't so hot on Strine or Saaf Efrican either. Actually, neither does the spelling guide....

Ah well, it didn't bother Wm. Shaksper, so why should it bother us?

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