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.