Monday, October 16, 2006

Thoughts on English spelling and grammar

English is my first and only language. One of my few regrets in life so far is that I did not learn another language fluently. The language centres in my brain are no longer plastic enough to learn the nuances and unique sounds used in order to speak another language without a strong accent.
I took the picture of this sign at the farm where we buy our apples. I have no idea who created the misspelled sign, but we had a good chuckle when we saw it. I have been acutely aware of my weaknesses in spelling and grammar since starting this blog. I labour over phrases and spelling, aware that readers may find an error as glaring as the one on the sign. In Canada we use a mixture of British and American spelling, for instance colour and labour, rather than color and labor. But we use the American spelling of pediatric rather than the British paediatric. I have been told that learning a language such as Spanish is much easier than learning English, as there are fewer grammatical and spelling irregularities. Both my brothers who live in Mexico have schools where English is taught as a second language. I sat through one class earlier this year while the students conjugated verbs in the past tense (ugh!) and practiced a vocabulary list. I conjugated French verbs and memorized many vocabulary lists for 7 years in school and cannot carry on a conversation in Canada’s other official language.
The most notorious English words end in “ough”. The words rough, through, though, trough, plough, thorough, hiccough, and cough are similar in spelling, but all are pronounced differently. “Eye” and “I” and “ewe” and “you” have no similarities in meaning or spelling, but sound exactly the same.
Recently I told one of my patients to “lay down on the mat” in order to do his exercises. He quickly corrected the common grammatical error I made and reviewed the usage of lay and lie and laid for me. No wonder so many people are labeled “dyslexic”!
So I have purchased a small style book and am reviewing…I should say learning…things I was never taught in school about English grammar.


  1. Anonymous8:00 pm GMT-4

    English, while respected somewhat in my mind for being the offical language of business, is confusing and ugly ;). Even though I spoke it before I spoke French I much prefer the latin based languages for both sound and ease of learning. However I do find that both my grammar and vocabulary in English (if not my spelling) is better then most people who have it as their only language. But perhaps that is because I learned the structure of the language (or lack of) in school or because I get Word of the Day in my email ;)

    And don't get me started on the their, there, they're... Arg!

  2. Jaspenelle is absolutely right! We take English for granted; I know I do because I never had to study it so intently.

    My English grammar improved a lot after having studied and taught a second language - that makes you aware of the way languages work.

    I worked as a tutor for a short time with English as a second language students - boy did I fell badly for them!

    But, I felt worse for myself studying French - the spelling and pronunciation is so difficult compared to Spanish.

  3. Yes, I am glad English is my first language. I also appreciate the huge number of books available in English compared to other languages. Laura, I am glad to hear you also found French challenging. You have very a interesting teaching background. Jaspenelle, your exposure to several languages in your youth is a real asset for you.

  4. I would also love to be fluent in several languages, and so admire people who are. Languages don't come easily to me as an adult. I lived in Germany for two years as a small child (Dad was in the army) and spoke fluent German by the time we returned to the US. But with no opportunity to use it, I forgot all of it, and struggled desperately through 4 semesters in college. If only I'd been able to continue speaking it...

    Currently I am being highly entertained by the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I'd never have thought anyone could write an entire book about punctuation and make it funny, but she does. I recommend it!

    And thanks for commenting on my blog; it led me to discover yours, which I will blogroll!

  5. Thanks, TundraPA. I have seen the book you mention on best seller lists, but have not yet seen it at the library, as it is always out. Perhaps this is a good excuse to buy another book.:)
    It is too bad you couldn't have kept up with your German. You should have lived in our community, as it is still widely spoken here.


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