Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Maxim full of phonemes

Source: Maxim magazine.

Yesterday, I attended the first training session to be a tutor at the Racine Literacy Council and was reminded that words really are just the sounds we associate ideas with. Also, when it comes to adult learners, ideas of phonetics and separating out words requires a new approach.

We as tutors have to use tried and true methods that have also been used as the brunt of jokes. “Hooked on Phonics” is not a tag line our adult learners want to walk around with. At the same time, after they have mastered basic literacy skills, these students will succeed amazingly.

Having survived so long without literacy, they have adapted in other ways. In some cases, we might not even recognize the fact that they cannot read. Though rare, there are business leaders and even teachers in our society who cannot read.

When it comes to phonetics, a phoneme is the smallest unit of meaning or functional sound in language. Research has shown that phonological awareness is one of the most important factors in learning how to read. Phonemes can be taught both as letters and as sounds. The specifics can be broken down as follows:

Onset – the beginning sound of a word (the b- part of bend)

Rime – the ending sound of a word (the -end part of bend)

Blend – two letters that combine together but are still two separate sounds (the sn- part of snap)

Digraph – two letters that combine together to form one sound (the ch- part of chap)

This all gets a little too analytical a little too fast, so it is best to use it in small doses when working with learners, particularly adult learners. Like Daily Oral Language, give them a shot of it at the beginning of class, and then move on with the rest of the lesson. Quickly move on to learning how to read something more pressing, like Maxim magazine.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When widgets eat quarks, all nonce breaks out

When widgets eat quarks, all nonce breaks out

Recently, I learned about something called a nonce word. Or, more accurately, I did not learn about the existence of nonce words, just that there was a word for these type of words. Yes, even I'm a little confused.

A nonce word is a word created just for the sake of having a word or word phrase to refer to something for which there is no name or for which you do not know the name. Sometimes, you just substitute a word – like widget or thingamajig – for the word you are unsure of. I do this all the time. For example, could you get me my whatsit?

Another example of a nonce word is one that has added prefixes or suffixes to create a new word. In semi-current affairs, an example would be Snowmageddon. It's meaning is obvious, even though it combines two very interesting ideas “snow” and “Armageddon.”

Lastly, we have nonce words that are really just nonsense. These words are substituted for other words, most often for comedic effect. For a good example, read some nonsense verse, like Jabberwocky.

What's even better about nonce words is that they often become part of the modern vernacular and the language we use everyday, even though they were once nonce or nonsense.

Related links:

Nonce words
James Joyce's quark