Friday, May 6, 2011

The alphabet - an inadequate tool

I think that it helps a lot of teachers to realise just what a sad job the English alphabet does of approximating the sounds that come out of our mouths.

In a perfect world, the same symbol word make the same sound every time.  That would make reading easier to learn for children and ESL students.  But this is certainly not the case in English is it?
Think about the letters ough.
Now, say these words:  
  1. through
  2. cough
  3. brought
  4. enough
  5. although
  6. borough
  7. bough (when the bough breaks the baby will fall).
Is it any wonder that our students have trouble getting their heads around spelling?
Of course, there is something that works better than the alphabet.  You see, a group of linguists got together and created an alphabet based on the sounds that we actually use.  Those crazy-looking letters that show you how to pronounce words in the dictionary.  This is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).  It shows not just all the English sounds but all the sounds in all languages.
It may be a bit tough to learn initially but what if all countries moved to using this as their primary alphabet?  Would that help us to understand each other better?  One step closer to a universal language?
Remember, a language dies every 14 days anyway.  Will it really come down to survival of the most entrenched language?  Or would this be a proactive step in accumulating the benefits of all languages?

No comments:

Post a Comment