‘English is Stupid’ spotlights new teaching, learning approach

Source: Busy Teacher

Judy Thompson discusses how to overcome English as a crazy language

“English is a funny language that explains why we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway.”

―American saying

ESL teacher and pronunciation maven Judy Thompson’s new book boasts a surprising title: English is Stupid. Yet as her introduction and examples unfold, she does make a compelling case. After all, why do “red”, “head” and “said” rhyme? Or how about “weight”, “ate” and “straight”? Thompson argues that English has no “clear-cut relationship” between the alphabet and sounds and therefore, teachers cannot simply lump listening and speaking with reading and writing skills when teaching. Her book introduces the “English Phonetic Alphabet” (EPA), which is composed of 40 consonant and vowel sounds, to instill a sound-based method of teaching the language. Thompson previously expounded on these principles in a Tedtalk, which I found a great supplement with the text.

Each colorful pair of pages consists of a Teacher Page and a Student Page, making this an all-in-one resource for the classroom. The two parts are split between Basic and Advanced–the first focusing primarily on pronunciation and stresses and the second on expressions and English in practice. Thompson brings her learners in a natural progression from teaching the EPA all the way through body language. This flexible, multi-level book can be used in a wide variety of levels and contexts.

Though each page is full of common examples, playful graphics and detailed distinctions, the formatting provides variety and clarity. Thompson links all sorts of ideas–sounds, syllables, conversation–without being overly complex or jumbled. Additionally, for those teachers tired of the textbooks too focused on grammar and constantly broken rules, English is Stupid is a perfect match.Thompson ridicules any sort of pattern, logic or law in the English language.

Readers of the blog know I personally discourage teachers from being very nit-picky with grammar rules; after all, fluency above all else is important for the students. Yet I disagree with Thompson’s insistence that speaking and writing in English are completely unrelated. This unorthodox perspective widens the gap between the two and risks creating a sense of defeat for English learners. Thompson’s viewpoint of the language is negative, yet, for students to really swim in English, they must want to not only learn, but also love the language.

Nonetheless, this book–and Thompson’s ideas–are far from not stupid. This insightful resource demonstrates English’ wacky manner in a persuasive manner. Even as an English teacher who seldom uses EPA and its 40 sounds, I find many of the exercises quite helpful. For instance, stress patterns often pose significant challenges for many advanced English language learners, especially from Asian countries. Thompson’s lesson addresses these issues in a clear, compelling manner. For those English students and teachers frustrated with “i before e, except after c” or the difference between “lie, lay, lied and laid”–English is Stupid is worth looking through.

Is English, in some ways, stupid? How do you help your students to overcome its craziness?

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