Possessive adjectives in child Singlish

The kids I used to teach had trouble producing the sound of short “i”. It comes out as long “ee”. (In linguistics, this ee and i are a tense/lax vowel pair.) Thus, as I tell new teachers during training, there are no fish in Singapore. They’re all feesh.

That means that “ship” and “sheep” are homophones. The fact that “ship” and “sheep”  are not actually the same word is really confusing to kids who are learning plurals and collective nouns (fleet of ships, flock of sheep).

Another significant effect of this problem is that “his” and “he’s” sound exactly the same. The obvious effect of this confusion is that kids often write one of these words when they should be writing the other one. The more subtle effect of this confusion is that kids sometimes assume that there exists a possessive adjective “she’s” which means “her”.

Here’s what they hear here:

He is a boy. That bag is he’s bag.

Therefore, by analogy, they want to say:

She is a girl. That bag is she’s bag.

I wish English were that logical!

I think (I hope?) most Singapore kids grow out of saying “she’s” as a possessive adjective but they don’t necessarily learn to pronounce lax vowels as lax vowels. The adults here also say “feesh”.

The “oo” in “moon” and the “oo” in “book” are another tense/lax pair, which explains why kids (and adults) say the word “book” with the vowel sound that’s in “moon”.

Schindler Lifts

This is the sign in the lift at Huber’s Butchery and Bistro. (In Singapore, where elevators are almost universally called ‘lifts’ because that’s normal in British English.)

It’s a laugh-inducing shock when you see a sign saying “Schindler Lifts” for the first time, since what immediately springs to mind is Schindler’s List, the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie about a German who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

You brain goes: “Hey! That’s almost a famous movie title! Did they do that on purpose? Are they making a joke about the Holoc—Aw, it’s probably just a normal family name in Europe and totally a coincidence.” Which it is. But then you take out your smartphone and take a photo anyway.

Then you realize that hundreds of people on the internet have already done exactly the same thing.

And then you think, so what? It’s all been done. That doesn’t mean nothing is worth doing.

Randall has the right idea in this webcomic.

There will always be happy opportunities to share things with people who don’t know what you know, especially if you spend time around small children. Practically everything is new to them! That’s one of the joys of teaching.

I’m a little snowflake.

Sometimes alternative words to songs just come to me. Look what happened to “I’m a little teapot”!

I’m a little snowflake, perfect bright;
Don’t you dare insult or slight
Any little thing I do or say,
Or else I’ll make you rue the day.

I love children, but sometimes I do not love their parents. Never having been a parent, perhaps I shouldn’t criticize. On the other hand, most parents have never been teachers, and some of them make teachers’ jobs much harder…

(I made the illustration in Photoshop using a free stock image from Pixabay. The variety—and the tagging—is pretty pathetic, but sometimes Pixabay has exactly what I’m looking for. In this case, a photo of a girl wearing a suitably smug expression.)

Why Johnny Can’t Read

Why Johnny Can’t Read is a rant, but the rant is justified if the ‘whole-word’ method was as dominant as the author, Rudolf Flesch, claims.

How infuriating that someone assumed, and led a whole country to assume, that because adult readers take in whole words in a glimpse when reading that that was how reading should be taught to children, rather than by sounding out the letters and letter combinations.

Flesch proposes that parents teach their kids at home using a phonetic system very much like the one I’m teaching now.

Spell all the words!

My six-year-old students must think I’m omniscient. One of them asked me whether I could “spell all the words”. He wasn’t asking about all the words in the wordlist for chapter three, or something like that; he was asking about all the words in the English language. I think I said that I can spell a lot of words but not all of them because English has so many. Imagine believing that a language has a particular number of words and no more!

Short i

Two of my reading classes did the ‘i’ lesson today. I had to explain ‘chill’, ‘cliff’, ‘knit’, and ‘vanish’. At least a couple of kids in the noon class knew what a ‘vest’ was. (No, ‘vest’ doesn’t have a short ‘i’, but it is one of the words in the short ‘i’ lesson.)

I continue to be surprised by gaps in vocabulary. Plus, half the time, the gaps are gaps they don’t even know are there: when I ask what ‘knit’ was, they think it’s ‘neat’ or ‘need’. Today, they thought ‘vanish’ was ‘Spanish’ or ‘spinach’. Fake homophones abound.

I can read!

My current job is with one branch of a network of literacy centers called “I Can Read”. We teach phonics, reading, spelling, and eventually, grammar, including parts of speech.

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. An adjective describes a noun.

A verb is something you can do. Here’s how you test to see whether something is a verb:

I can… jump.

I can… think.

I can… window?

For some reason, “I can window” struck me as hilarious. What would that even mean, do you think?

I is for… igloo?

It always cracks me up to see the picture of the igloo in representations of the alphabet in Singapore. I suppose it must be practically the only noun that starts with a short i sound, because it’s not an obvious vocabulary word at all, especially here. American kids have never seen an igloo in person, but they have typically seen snow, which Singaporean kids may never have done.

‘Insect’ is perhaps a better concrete noun to represent short ‘i’.

What else starts with short ‘i’?

Interview, interesting, intermission, interstate highway (there aren’t any of those in Singapore either), ignorant, illness, id, it, idiom, insecurity, inception, illusion, irritation, irritant, incubator, intermittent, itsy-bitsy, intern, inner, intimate, invalid, incomplete, inadvertent, incapacitate, interpolation, indigo.

There must be dozens with in-/il-/ir- (which are all the same underlying latin prefix). And dozens more with inter- and intra-. Putting latinate words in a kid’s alphabet is maybe not a great idea, but Latin stuff is more authentically English than igloo, for crying out loud.

Meanwhile, ‘j’ is for ‘jack-in-the box’. It’s an old-fashioned toy. I’ve seen some, but I imagine that people younger than me increasingly haven’t.

Hm. What else starts with ‘j’?

Jelly, jam, jail, jig, Jell-o, Japan, junk, jellyfish, jeans, judge, jalopy, jinx.

I don’t think I even knew what a jalopy was until someone tried to teach me the Spanish word for jalopy (‘cacharro’). I suppose whoever it was succeeded, since apparently I still remember.

Now I’m thinking of churrascaria, a Portuguese word for Brazilian barbecue.