Keys to understanding English

ENGLISH illiteracy is not just an education and social dilemma confronting most developing nations – it is a universal problem. In 1998, a study in Great Britain found that over 20% of its adult population was illiterate. A similar study in Australia revealed that almost 22% of adults, not counting any migrant person, had a major illiteracy problem. In New Zealand, over 30% of the unemployed were discovered to be virtually illiterate.

In these countries, the illiteracy problem is not because of a lack of financial investment in education, nor is it linked to the quality of teaching. One of the key causes in these three highly developed countries is the inadequacy of the main methodology that has been used in schools and colleges to teach English over the last 50 to 60 years.

A system of rules

Over three centuries ago, in 1762, the Irish actor and English language expert, Thomas Sheridan, in A Dissertation on the Causes of the Difficulties Which Occur in Learning the English Tongue, said:

“The great difficulty of the English tongue lies in the pronunciation. The chief cause of this has been the want of a system in teaching it by a well-digested system of rules.”

The perception of English being difficult to learn is certainly understandable, particularly if one notes the many homophonic, multi-meaning, foreign-borrowed and silent-symbol words to be found in the language.

However, while readily accepting that these factors can be a learning challenge for anyone, the contention that English is a very difficult language to master is highly contestable when its other attributes are considered.

Sheridan knew that there were “rules” that applied to English but he lamented that, in his era, there was no system in place to teach them. The good news is that the key “rules” that apply to the English language have now been clarified, simplified and formalised as part of the 4S Approach To Literacy And Language accelerated learning and teaching methodology.

Regrettably, few educationists are aware that just like Science and Mathematics, there are “rules” in English. These mnemonic or memory rules and clues assist learners to quickly understand the special characteristics and attributes of English that underpin personal language proficiency.

In all, there are 180 rules, around 30 of which are important to know initially. They explain, in simple terminology, why words are pronounced and spelt they way they are – and also why words can mean what they mean.

Unfortunately, mainly because of the use of the Whole-Word Look and Say method to teach English in most countries over recent decades, little is known by the majority of teachers about the English language.

Few have even heard of the Five Influential Consonants – ‘w, r, l, q, and v’ – that can change the sound of other letters in words. For example, compare: ‘farm’ and ‘warm’, or ‘cord’ and ‘word’.

Again, vital grammar skills have been lost over the years, and word creation tools – such as Skills Transfer and the Exchanging Techniques – often have never been heard of by many.

Consider the 4S Key To Understanding Pronunciation, which teaches that double consonants usually split.

When learners encounter the word ‘butter’, and know this pronunciation rule, not only can they pronounce butter correctly as but / ter, but they also can easily pronounce and spell other phonic-related words such as mutter, gutter, splutter, flutter, shutter, stutter, and so on.

Again, knowing about ‘butter’, they can “lift the bar” and rise to another level by applying the 4S Middle Exchanging Techniques and Skills Transfer and change butter to batter or bitter or better.

Having mastered this simple word creation skill, other related words can then be “created” using Frontal Exchanging, for example batter > matter > scatter > shatter. Likewise, bitter > fitter > litter and better > letter and so on.

Hundreds of English words have double consonants and knowing this rule is one of the keys to pronunciation and spelling proficiency.

Understanding just one word can enable a learner to transfer that knowledge to dozens of other words using the 4S accelerated learning methodology, when the rules of English are known.

Consider the clue word, ‘arrow’. When one can correctly pronounce and spell this word, it is an easy step to pronounce and spell: barrow, harrow, marrow, narrow and sparrow.

Something to ponder on: why are the words ‘hid’ and ‘hide’, ‘cut’ and ‘cute’, and ‘tap’ and ‘tape’ pronounced differently?

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