Ghoti spells Fish. This thing still shows up on social media and still makes me sigh heavily. It also still gets used by literacy professionals as “proof” that the English language is “not phonetic”. More heavy sighing.
If we’re being honest about the English language, we have to admit that it comes with a complex written code. There are a lot of ways to represent the sounds that we say. However – and this is a big big deal in my world – the language is most certainly phonetic and the phonetic code is limited and learnable. It is NOT adequately represented by GBS’s old chestnut.
But that’s not what this is really about. I sigh heavily because erroneously telling struggling readers that ghoti spells fish is actually creating a barrier to reading when our job as educators is to tear down barriers as thoroughly and quickly as we can. Saying to a vulnerable learner, “Don’t worry, you’re right, this language is a mess and really really difficult” is actually saying, “You’re right, you’ll probably never learn this”.
I am desperate not to alienate people who struggle with reading by suggesting that the English code is beyond their grasp. In the past 15 years I’ve met a few students who will always find decoding difficult due to serious speech and language difficulties. However, most teens and adults arrive at their first TRT lesson simply not knowing that the squiggles on the page represent the sounds that we say out loud. Instead, they have memorized loads of little words by sight and they guess (badly) at the longer content words. They can read lots but not new words that matter in age-appropriate and life-appropriate text.
During the first few hours of That Reading Thing, instead of being encouraged to guess from shape and initial letter, they learn to read through long words from left to right and listen for a word they know. The goal is to get our students from reading words like fax and plug to words like conditioning and instructions in 5 hours or less. Most will be able to spell accomplishment and establishment in hour 3.
Generally, learning to decode is not a huge challenge but a joyful ride. The biggest barrier to reading at this stage is a tiny vocabulary. I can get almost anyone to read the following in a few lessons:
The instructions were simple but the desk was difficult to assemble.
However, this will be meaningless if the learner doesn’t know what it means to assemble something. That’s why our learners need to read and talk and read some more – well beyond the few hours it teaches them to decode.
If you’re interested in one-to-one literacy for teens and adults, go to the online training over at TRT~GO.
The first 20 minute topic is free and will tell you lots more about what’s included.