One of the tasks we face as teachers of young children is attempting to teach them all the quirks and variables of the English language. Try explaining to a five year old how he can differentiate between hard, soft, or silent “g”. How do you determine if a word starts with “k” or “c”? Why is “y” pronounced as “e” at the city, but “i” at the end of cry? For every rule of language it seems there is a word that breaks it. Welcome to my world!
As most of us realize, the fundamental problem is that so much of our language really isn’t English. We have borrowed so many words from other languages, and used them for so long, that their origins have been forgotten. And each of those words adheres to the spelling and pronunciation rules of its original language. To make things just a bit more challenging our society is constantly losing old words and gaining new ones. The dictionary changes with each new edition! And texting is giving us a whole new category of literacy, or illiteracy, depending on your viewpoint.
We constantly work on adding new vocabulary to our “word bank” in kindergarten. Yesterday we read a book about weather words and I found out that my students had no meanings in their little brains to attach to “breeze”, “drizzle”, “chilly”, or “forecast”. Without an understanding of the words in a story it might as well be written in a foreign language. Sometimes we can barely get through a book because we have to stop so often to talk about what the words mean. I often re-read a story later so we can just enjoy it!
As adults we tend to limit our vocabulary to our own little world of work, home and recreation. If we don’t read extensively and eclectically our vocabulary diminishes over time. And those limits are often passed on to children, especially if parents aren’t reading to them on a regular basis. You will find significant differences in the words used by children from different environments and different regions of the country. Children infatuated with a particular sport or hobby will adopt the language needed to understand it, even if they can’t tell you what “responsible” or some other common word means.
Teachers are left to try and compensate for the background and environment of each student and to try to give them the foundation of words needed for the rest of their educational experience. Each grade level contributes. Each year a student is exposed to more new words. Each year a student adopts a few of them into their own “word bank”.
Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting an “uphill battle” in the war on ignorance. Then I remind myself that one word leads to another and steady progress often leads to victory.