An English Lesson

Drifting round hostels the past year I have had a lot of conversations with people struggling with the illogicality of the language you are reading this in, and I generally explain the many bear traps – especially in pronunciation – in terms of the word origins, but last night I got a really odd notion thrown at me.

Someone asked me , how can you write without speaking the words?

I had no idea what he was saying at the time, but this was coming from an Italian, whose language is predictable in its spelling. But it seems in order to figure out how to spell a word, he has to say it several times to try to figure out the spelling of it.

This is fair enough for him, because the words may be new to him, but I could not then or now figure out why I would need to say the words out loud.

I just know them.

So then it was his turn to be confused.

How could I possibly know all the strangely spelt and /or pronounced words in my native language.

That’s the difference between learning it at your mother’s knee rather than from text books etc.

6 thoughts on “An English Lesson

  1. Interesting post and viewpoint!

    In fact that happens while learning a foreign language!
    It also occurs, however, even in our mother tongue! It’s our conscious knowledge of our own language working, not just the intuitive one. When we have similar words (only a letter changes them and their very different meaning (in Portuguese we have “discriminar” and “descriminar”, meaning the first ‘discriminate’ and the second ‘justify’, among hundreds of others people we tend to confuse and misuse), we do that a lot (if we don’t want to mistreat our language! Naturally a dictionary helps a lot, too, when doubts are too many!)
    We do a lot of mistakes and errors while writing (naturally while speaking, as well, but writing demands a lot more attention and being not so spontaneous a process errors shouldn’t occur that often. Our grammar is far too complex and once again we need to say it out loud to ‘see’ how it sounds better. It is hard for most of us… I can imagine how hard it is for foreigners! We also have tons of words beginning with ‘per’ (perfeito (perfect), perdido (lost), permanente (permanent) ) and ‘pre’ (preconceito (prejudice), prematuro (premature), prelúdio (prelude) that people confuse too much, too often, ’cause while speaking it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the difference among ‘per or pre’, unless your diction is rather good.
    This “speaking the words”, even spelling, naturally happens far more often with those who don’t read much, who are not used to see the words represented as something with a body. But it DOES happen, too, once you’ve read so many mistakes and errors that you are no longer able to distinguish between right or wrong. Funny, ha?!
    You’d better take a break, then. Breath deep and… take a coffee!




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