Homophone Horror and Happiness

Homophone practice

Homophone practice

Learning German is tough…well learning any new language is tough once you pass into Middle School.  I often get my German words mixed up.  I can’t hear the difference between some words.  For example, take sauber and Zauber:  Clean and Magic.  These can be tough for me when trying to understand a conversation.  Is the house clean or magical, I wish mine would be magically clean.  Then there is the ever terrifying Schwule and schwüle.  With this mix up you could either be talking about the incredibly hot, humid weather or you are speaking of a homosexual.  This is not one that you should confuse or mispronounce when trying to strike up a conversation with 7th grade boys.

So today I embarked on my first lesson in Homophones with my 6th graders.  This is fun, this is easy, this is babyleicht (baby easy).  Well not so fast….if you are learning to speak English, this may not be as simple as it “sounds.”  My German students did alright, most of them had been in our school since Kindergarten.  Most European languages overlap as well, you can look at the words and sound them out. But this process is more difficult if you are speaking a language with a whole different alphabet and sound structure.

My Korean students found it challenging, but they had smiles on their faces as this was just the kind of puzzle they liked to sink their teeth into.  For them, like me, the subtleties of the sounds tripped them up.  When correcting a paragraph to ensure the right homophone was used, they did fine.  But when I said, now make a list of as many homophones that you can think of…things went a little wonky.  Still and Steel, heard and hard, stair and steer, till and tell, sound the same to them, however they are not homophones.

Then there were the multilingual and multicultural kids…they couldn’t just stick to English. They mixed and matched their languages:  Mais and Maze, Sorry and Sari, Tie and Thai.  These were the most fun to listen to, as it showed how some kids identify more with ALL of their cultural experiences rather than being able to separate them into specific languages, cultures, or places they have lived.

So an easy lesson it was not.  But the joy of watching students make connections across cultures and languages was exhilarating.  The lesson epitomized international mindedness.  The English-speaking and German-speaking students were able for the first time to understand why learning their language is so difficult for their friends.   And from our Korean friends we all grew in an appreciation for the subtly of sound.  As we concluded the day, we decided we wouldn’t be so hard on people when they used the wrong word, or mispronounced something.  We found common ground in sound.

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3 replies

  1. This was sent to me by my (homeschooled) 11 year old granddaughter.

    We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
    But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
    One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
    Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
    You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
    Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

    If the plural of man is always called men,
    Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
    If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
    And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
    If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
    Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

    Then one may be that, and three would be those,
    Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
    And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
    We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
    But though we say mother, we never say methren.
    Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
    But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

    Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
    There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
    Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
    English muffins weren’t invented in England .

    We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
    We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
    And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
    And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing,
    Grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
    Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
    If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
    What do you call it?

    If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
    If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

    Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
    Should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.
    In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

    We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
    We have noses that run and feet that smell.
    We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
    And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
    While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

    You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
    In which your house can burn up as it burns down,
    In which you fill in a form by filling it out,
    And in which an alarm goes off by going on.

    Oh well, we can all shake our heads as we nod in agreement.

    • John – That poem is awesome! Thanks for sharing it! I’m so going to use that in some of my English lessons next week. That one’s even better than the English pronunciation poem I got while I was in school:

      I take it you already know
      Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
      Others may stumble, but not you
      On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.
      Well don’t! And now you wish, perhaps,
      To learn of less familiar traps.
      Beware of heard, a dreadful word
      That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
      And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead,
      For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
      Watch out for meat and great and threat
      (They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
      A moth is not a moth as in mother
      Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother,
      And here is not a match for there,
      Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
      And then there’s dose and rose and lose–
      Just look them up–and goose and choose
      And cork and work and card and ward
      And font and front and word and sword
      And do and go, then thwart and cart,
      Come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
      A dreadful Language? Why man alive!
      I learned to talk it when I was five.
      And yet to write it, the more I tried,
      I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

      There are longer versions of it, too. 🙂

      Kathleen – That reminds me so much of the Homonyms show on 30 Rock (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLaikBRYpfU). Most frustrating show ever! 🙂

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