language and mind

August 1, 2011

The game of the ziggurat – spelling needn’t kill

Filed under: Uncategorized — teresapelka @ 1:47 am

Kids happen to have spelling problems. Telling them to rewrite anything a hundred times might take more than a hundred years to win their hurt feelings back. More, some children happen to be a little dyslexic, not lazy or disaffectionate. Taken the many terms used for reading or writing difficulties, many of those problems happen to be functional, that is, not resulting from irremediable brain damage or brain damage at all – and transitory.

You can’t change the world and all the writing in it, but you might think where the stumbling block could be hidden. What are the letters of the alphabet really? They are symbolic representations for language and speech; they are not language and speech themselves. Looking to the various alphabets in the world – which is the true and only? The Latin? The Greek? Or, the Chinese? Right, the ‘True Type Fonts’ is just a label.

You can ask a dyslexic kid to close his or her eyes and try to draw or paint the letters they have problem with on a large sheet of paper – this happens to help with the directionality one needs to tell a ‘d’ from a ‘b’. But well, doing homework with your eyes closed might not work at times!

Letters are symbols. This is why you can try the game of the ziggurat. I am not offering the game here; I’m just trying to convey the idea. The history of writing may show how humans have developed writing skills – now it just does not need to take ages to learn. :)

In the beginning, human writing could even be only pictures. More, the pictures could represent non-vowel speech sounds. In an Egyptian script, something like ‘ntrprs’ could stand for an ‘enterprise’. On the other hand, ‘ntrprnrl’ could become ‘entrepreneurial’. I tried the trick years ago with kids in their early teens. The kids could use dictionaries. Interestingly, the little ‘bug’ in the words beginning with the ‘enter-’ versus ‘entre-’ did not give them trouble. :)

How do you make the trick work? The simplest is to play it like a game of hangman giving the kid all the non-vowels. For example, [b] and [t] could become a ‘bat’, a ‘bet’, etc. Another version could take making simple pictures you would draw on the blackboard or a sheet of paper.

You could also make playing cards. In the full form of the game as I have invented it, the cards could include non-vowel letter symbols as well as speech sounds. The symbol for a shadoof might go in ‘Chicago’ as well as a ‘shop’. Then, the ziggurat card could be a ‘vowel exempt’ – if you start with a word as short as [b] and [t], the kid to have the ziggurat card could take it all over – kids might begin to feel prone to think about longer words. The cards could be two-sided, one side showing the picture, the other the letter of the alphabet or speech sound. That might help avoid gambling lunch boxes (!) ;)

The important thing would be that kids would think about writing as it really is – a symbolic representation to language. The letter ‘z’ represents a non-vowel sound, yet it could be a ‘vowel exempt’. Figure 1 shows how the card could look like – with a [z] its other side.



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