Ghoti spells Fish. This thing still shows up on social media and still makes me sigh heavily for two reasons:
It still gets used by literacy professionals as 'proof' that the English language is 'not phonetic'.
Of course, we're honest that English has a complex written code. There are a lot of ways to represent the sounds that we say. However - and this is a big deal for teen and adult literacy learners - the language is most certainly phonetic and the phonetic code is limited and learnable.
If you want to learn more about the patterns and frequency of phonemes and graphemes in English, get a copy of Greg Brooks' Dictionary of the British English Spelling System
According to Professor Brooks:
<gh> represents /f/ in draught, chough, cough, enough, laugh, rough, slough, sough, tough and trough.
<o> represents /i/ only in women
<ti> represents /sh/ only when followed by the letters <a, e o, u> He gives the examples: confidential, inertia, infectious, nation, quotient and Ignatius
Proof that ghoti cannot ever spell fish in English.
Erroneously telling struggling readers that ghoti spells fish is 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'.
it is simply wrong to think that learning the English code is beyond struggling readers or that they can't read because the language is so complex. Rather:
- 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.
- They have personal sight vocabularies but don't know how to approach new words that matter in age-appropriate and life-appropriate text.
- If they haven't completely given up on reading for meaning, they rely on skipping unfamiliar words, guessing (badly) from initial letter and shape and looking for unrelated words within words (like hen in then).
- They have quite a lot of latent knowledge about the English code but need some way of unlocking it for reading and spelling.
During the first few hours of That Reading Thing 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 astonishment and establishment in hour 3. When they get into the Advanced code, they learn there are patterns (not rules) to how we spell various sounds and read various graphemes. They learn that English isn't random or chaotic and that they can approach unfamiliar words with a consistent plan which frees up their working memory to think about meaning.
Learning to decode using age-appropriate phonics is not a boring slog but a satisfying challenge.