Never Heard Such Nonsense!

I flunked my first “reading readiness” test, despite being the only kid in class who could read well. I missed a statistically improbable 29 out of 30 questions on the test–probably because the title of the test was “Reading Readiness Test” and I could not figure out what triangles, squares, spheres, and pattern matching had to do with reading words. Ironically, reading the only text on the test distracted and confused me.

I flunked my first IQ test, too. How was a child of the sixties supposed to know answers to questions like, “What color is coal?” Though I lived in a coal-producing state, I’d never laid eyes on a lump of coal. In response to my nearly being labeled an idiot, my father took me to the railroad tracks; even there, it was nearly impossible to find a lump of coal. But when he did, he put it into my hands and said, “Here, this is coal. What color is it?” I’ve never forgotten that. Ironically, no test since then has required me to know it.

While looking for ideas for today’s “N” post, I ran across lists of nonsense words. No, I don’t mean the rather extensive list of words that mean “nonsense,” but lists of made up words that are used to test children’s “phonemic awareness.” While this is potentially as confusing as the pattern matching test I flunked in grade school, it makes sense. It’s jabberwocky with a purpose. The idea is to focus on the phonemes, or sounds, and not the orthography (our weirdly inconsistent ways of representing those sounds in English). There’s some merit to the idea of separating phonemes from orthography in teaching.

Not only does it help young readers to decode words and guess at their meaning, a phonemic understanding of language helps writers to tap into the reader’s emotional response – and that is one of the keys to writing effectively. That said, it’s no substitute for the ear training that comes from reading aloud or singing to a child, sharing with them all the sounds, tones, and inflections that impart deeper meaning to the words.

Music is the universal language of mankind.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some of the techniques writers use to do that include: accent, assonance, consonance, alliteration, cacophony, euphony, dissonance, onomatopoeia, dissonance, resonance, modulation, rhyme, rhythm, and meter.

Writers, and especially poets, “use a concentrated blend of sound and imagery to create an emotional response.  The words and their order should evoke images, and the words themselves have sounds, which can reinforce or otherwise clarify those images.  All in all, the poet is trying to get you, the reader, to sense a particular thing, and the use of sound devices are some of the poet’s tools.” (from “SOUND DEVICES USED IN POETRY: A List of Definitions”)

Put that way, how we spell it suddenly seems a lot less important than how we hear it when we read.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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12 thoughts on “Never Heard Such Nonsense!”

  1. I read this a couple of days ago but it appeared to have been written by someone else. Did you let someone else post under your name? This also reminds me of the test with coal in it!

  2. I remember lots of words I saw as a kid that didn’t make sense to me because they weren’t a part of my reality. I mean, how was I supposed to know what a veranda was, or the little room (I’ve forgotten the word at the moment) where people hang their coats? Strangely enough, I knew what color coal was because I thought it was the same as charcoal… though I’m sitting here right now unsure about it all. lol

    BTW, I just noticed that one of my old college friends “likes” your Facebook page and I’m stunned by that; you just never know who knows people you know. 🙂
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…Misleading Titles, Disappointing Blog ContentMy Profile

  3. RE: I flunked my first “reading readiness” test, despite being the only kid in class who could read well. I missed a statistically improbable 29 of 30 questions on the test–probably because the title of the test was “Reading Readiness Test” and I could not figure out what triangles, squares, spheres, and pattern matching had to do with reading words. Ironically, reading the only text on the test distracted and confused me.

    And what the HELLA would geometry symbols HAVE to do with reading words! What a bunch of moroons!
    Still 29/30. CONGRATULATIONS. If yer gonna blow it, kiddo, go ALL the way. Or pretty dammed close to.
    It… didn’t… have… anything to do with…. your hair colour… or well known….. stubbornness, tho, did it? LOL!
    (How could I resist this?)

    RE: I flunked my first IQ test, too. How was a child of the sixties supposed to know answers to questions like, “What color is coal?”

    HA HA HA! Well, I mean, after all – THE 60’s!!!. But WHY did I (a simple minded child) know it was black?

    RE: Ironically, no test since then has required me to know it.

    FASCINATING, no? How much algebra did you use?

    RE: There’s some merit to the idea of separating phonemes from orthography in teaching.

    THAT made no sense to me. If a “word” has no meaning, it is a collection of letters, not a word. As a Kid, I would have ignored it. Also as an adult. I have no time for stuff that has no use.

    RE: Some of the techniques writers use to do that include: accent, assonance, consonance, alliteration, cacophony, euphony, dissonance, onomatopoeia, dissonance, resonance, modulation, rhyme, rhythm, and meter.

    And I guess I was lucky and never had to learn these. Mayhaps my ignorance, actually helps me enjoy poetry more. Less time spent analyzing, more time spent enjoying!

    Well, anyhow. You could use the blackness of coal in a survival test tho. Captain Kirk did….
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series)

    Oh, well….

  4. My word shame story: I was doing a monologue from Santa Clause: A Morality by e.e. cummings. In the midst of the monologue was the word Omnipotent. I had never before seen the word in print, only having heard it spoken on TV, or a movie. So…I pronounced it Omni Potent. Didn’t know why the class laughed at me. Sigh.

    Never took an IQ test. Was always afraid of what I’d be labeled as.

    Stu
    Stuart Nager recently posted…Nerves Like Daggers (A to Z Blog Challenge)My Profile

    1. Well, teachable moment for the class – it’s rude to laugh at someone who doesn’t know how to pronounce a word. Karma will bite them in the butt, one day. They’ll have to say something seemingly obvious to their boss, and they’ll say it wrong.

  5. We read them a lot of stories. We pointed out the code that connected the black marks on the page with sounds and words. They were all reading by three. Next job?

    Homeschooling is easy that way – which is one of the reasons I didn’t want the schools to claim the credit. And didn’t want the schools to interfere with further progress.

    Seems to have worked out more or less okay.

    If I recall correctly, middle child required us to use a bit of phonics to point out that many syllables and words that looked alike, also sounded alike. Lightbulb moment, a page of lists of words, and it was done. That and husband’s willingness to read Goodnight Moon 12 times in a row. How can you resist the childish command, “Again!”?

    Five-year-old down the block wanted to know why my daughter could read the Chinese takeout menu and she couldn’t; it took her a couple of weeks, and she mastered it, too. She was ready – no one had thought to teach her.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Mental Dialysis, slow CFS brain, and extreme restingMy Profile

    1. I was even luckier – I had public school, private school, and two parents who valued education highly and were studying when I was a baby up through my preteen years. School and reading were both such a normal part of life.

      While I probably would’ve been happy homeschooled, and definitely would’ve learned as much or more, I have to say I’ve met a number of parents who aren’t up to the task – and that’s not including the ones who simply aren’t interested in it at all. We shouldn’t even think of dismantling public education if we value an educated society. We can always improve upon it, but let’s not turn up our noses and talk of eliminating it.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Metaphor and SimileMy Profile

      1. No – I would NOT eliminate public education – not all families have a parent who can be home and has enough of an education to make sure the kids learn what they need to learn.

        The strong point of the United States for many immigrant families in the past (including my Hungarian ancestors) was that the kids got a good education.

        I’m just saying that for properly motivated parents and kids, the ability to homeschool may be better.

        It’s a big job and a big responsibility – but it is efficient for some families.

        I think, though, that public schools could do better – and they could spend more time on reading for pleasure as part of that.
        Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…The indie author’s artistic integrity is primeMy Profile

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