Tag Archives: spelling

Learning to Read

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten, and she’s learning to read. A few months ago, she couldn’t read at all. But now, she knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, as well as all hiragana. What’s that? It’s the main writing script for Japanese.

You see, my daughter also goes to a Japanese school, though not for much longer. She’s able to read both English and Japanese. Actually, she can read Japanese faster. It’s easier to learn to read Japanese than English. You might not think so, since English has 26 letters, while Japanese has 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and thousands of kanji. It’s hiragana that she knows, and this is what’s needed to be able to read basic Japanese.

But why is it easier for her to read Japanese? Hiragana is phonetic. With a couple exceptions, everything sounds exactly as it’s written. English is a mess. There’s a meme going around:

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

Then the right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU

I have no idea what the original source is, but this is everywhere. But you get the point, right? English spelling is stupid. I taught English for 11 years, but I managed to get children, including a 5 year old, to be able to read English reasonably well.

My point here is that if you can read English with no trouble at all, you’re doing pretty good. It must have one of the least strict rules for spelling.

I’m pretty good at spelling. When I was in grade 7, I tested at a university level for spelling. But there was one word that I had no idea how to read: paradigm. When I saw it, I thought, “paradiggum?” I knew the actual pronunciation. I’d heard the word before, but I’d never seen it spelled out. And then there’s “embarrassed.” How many r’s is it? Well, it’s two.  Don’t forget that!

What are some words you had trouble spelling or were pronouncing completely wrong?

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Obvious Mistakes on Signs

Having lived in Japan, I was used to seeing strange English on signs. But here in Canada, it can still happen.

Today, I was in Home Depot, and I saw this sign.

Do you see the mistake? I wonder who wrote that. Gollum? A snake? I often wonder how mistakes like this get past people. Admittedly, I have found mistakes in my blog posts, but mostly because of autocorrect. 
What are some funny mistakes on public signs you’ve seen? Share them in the comments below. 

Natural Talent

Is there something that you just seem to have a knack for? Something you don’t have to concentrate on very hard to do well? Or is it more than one thing?

Ever since I was young, I’ve always been very good with maps. Geography was something I enjoyed a lot, and would capture my attention all the time. Any map was fine. Got a map of Delaware? I’d go over it and study it. In fact, I have a map of Delaware in my mind right now.  I know have a map of the United States in my mind with the location of Delaware, which is next to Maryland. It’s pretty small. You might miss it.

It’s not just country maps, but also local maps. If I drive or walk somewhere, my mind creates a map. If I’ve already seen a map of the area, it’s much easier. But when I combine looking at a map and exploring the area on foot, I completely memorise the area. I only need to do it once. Any time I go to that area, the map pops up in my mind, and I have an bird’s eye view of the area. I know exactly where I am and where to go.

I have no idea why I can do this. I seem to know where everything is. If I want to think about which direction something is, my mind calls up a map of the area, and I immediately know which way it is. It’s kind of strange, isn’t it?

But that’s not all.  I’m also very good at spelling.  But you may have noticed that I tend to use the British spelling, which is more common in Canada.

What about you? What’s your natural talent?

My Job and Writing

I teach English in Japan.  I’ve been doing it for more than 9 years, and should be here another 2 years.  As a result, I’ve been forced to think about English grammar and vocabulary nearly every day for quite some time.  It probably helps me with my writing in some ways.

One aspect of my job is that I have to know the proper way to say something using grammar.  Now, this isn’t always required, since I’m teaching conversation, not writing.  I teach a lot about casual conversation, as well as formal and business English.  There are idioms, figures of speech, and many other aspects of language that are not very natural for Japanese people to use.  You see, they learn grammar in school, but not conversation.  They can read reasonably well, but when it comes to speaking, they often can’t do much.  Of course, I do teach advanced students, but they’ve been studying English for a long time or have had to use it in business or lived overseas.  I’m exposed to a large variety of students, so I have to use many different kinds of language.  As a result, dialogue may be one of my stronger suits in writing.

When I began teaching, I didn’t know everything.  In fact, I found it kind of difficult to explain different rules for grammar and the difference between similar words.  This has caused me to learn a lot about my own language.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to grammar these days.  I guess I’m a Grammar Nazi.  I’ve also always been good at spelling.  In grade 8 in junior high school, we were given a spelling test to determine what level of spelling we had.  I had a perfect score.  I was spelling at a university level while I was 13 years old.  So when I write a draft, my spelling and grammar tend to be very good.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s great to read.

An interesting thing I’ve found is that the Japanese language has loan words from English, but the meaning is different.  For example, Japanese naive means sensitive in English.  Also, there are many mistakes that Japanese people learning English make.  For example, the usage of particles (a, an, the), the usage of almost, and verb tense problems.  Sarcasm is also not commonly used in Japan, so it often goes over the head of many Japanese.

When I read, grammar or spelling errors pop out to me.  The rare mistake is fine. But if they’re happening on every page I read, I find it difficult to read and take the book seriously.  Problems with to and too, confusing your and you’re, and mistakes with their, there, and they’re irritate me.  I also easily spot problems with quotation marks and commas when using dialogue and dialogue tags.  And the incorrect use of apostrophes aggravates me.  Maybe I could be a proofreader.  Or maybe I should stick with writing and blogging.

Do you have any difficulties with grammar or spelling?  It’s embarrassing to say this, but I often forgot if it’s embarrassing or embarassing. I don’t have that problem now.

Editing is very important

After reading some eBooks, I have come to a conclusion.  Many independent authors don’t edit very well.  My guess is that they edit their own books, missing the mistakes that they make.

The simplest mistakes are often confusing similar words, such as their, there, and they’re; elude and allude; affect and effect.  I could go on.  Having someone who’s decent with spelling and grammar read it would get many of the mistakes.

But sometimes it’s the actual formatting and style. I have read some books in which the authors seem to have no idea how to format dialogue well.  One book has improper punctuation and has dialogue of several people in the same paragraph.  For example:

“I’m tired of grammar mistakes.” he said.

should be

“I’m tired of grammar mistakes,” he said.

Did you notice the difference?  The period inside the quote should be a comma if the sentence continues outside the quotation marks.  But it continues on after that with another line of dialogue from another character.  This is how it may look:

“I’m not doing dialogue correctly.” said John. “I know.” said Bob. “This is very confusing to read.” he replied. “Sometimes I have no idea if the same person is just continuing to talk or another person is talking.” said Jane.

Please put line breaks at the end of each line of dialogue.  It keeps it neat and tidy.  You can understand who is speaking, when they finish, and when the next person starts.  It’s so much easier to read!

These problems could even be resolved by using a critique group.  There are people in those groups who are quite strict.  I like Critique Circle, which is an online critiquing group, so you can get a variety of opinions on various aspects, such as style, grammar, formatting, and so on.  But it’s really up to you if you want to use a critiquing group.  Some don’t.  I do.  However, they cannot replace a proper editor.  Those cost money, and I understand that indie authors may not have the money for it.  I know how that feels. But just get someone you know that can be strict to read over your book and do some serious editing.  At least until you can afford an actual editor.  It may not be perfect, but it can definitely improve your readers’ experience.

Comments or questions are welcome and encouraged.