Pity the Poor Early Reader

I’ve known how to read since I was four years old, so I don’t really remember learning it. It’s been very interesting and a little shocking watching my children learning to read. (SillyBilly is learning in school; Napoleona is picking it up through imitation/osmosis.)

What has struck me is how difficult English is to read! Sounding things out only goes so far with such a hodgepodge language. I find myself apologizing to SillyBilly all the time when he tries unsuccessfully to puzzle out a nonphonetic word.

Recently he’s been having a lot of trouble with “of”. To him, quite logically, it should be pronounced as “off”. He very indignantly told me that it should be a “v” to make that sound!

Diphthongs have been a sore trial as well. How is it that the vowel sound in “lie”, “light”, “mine”, and “eye” are all the same? No wonder Dick and Jane stick to cats and mats.

Since he’s learning to read and write at the same time, SillyBilly has started to create some wonderful spellings of his own. Today he wrote,

Wan daa a stinkee volcano explodid. (One day a stinky volcano exploded.)

Of course it did. Stinkee volcanoes often do that.

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Filed under Napoleona, Parenting, Silliness and Mayhem, SillyBilly, Writing

16 responses to “Pity the Poor Early Reader

  1. I absolutely love to see first spelling attempts by children…they often make much more sense than the”right”way.

  2. mominmadison

    Oh, my son is reading and wants to spell EVERYTHING all by himself. He asks questions as needed on both the reading and spelling end – I have found myself apologizing in a way as well, saying I know this doesn’t make any sense and sound completely whacky, but this is how it is…

    I love the phonetic spelling of kids. So interesting to see how it all works in there!

  3. Wah! That’s brilliant! I have another fan of stinkee things here. I learnt to read so early I can’t remember the process at all but it took my writing a long time to catch up. I remember being so frustrated at around age six because I had all these story ideas but I couldn’t get them down on paper. I used to feel so sorry for my students learning English writing too – English is such an illogical language! The “loose” and “lose” spellings are a particularly mad.

  4. David


    I learned to read when I was eighteen months old, and I have to say, I don’t recommend that. It pretty much brands you for life as some freak of Nature. It is very stinkee.

  5. David

    (I meant “Ha!” as in, I was laughing appreciatively at the idiocies of English, not as in a contemptuous exclamation of disbelieving disdain. OK, yes, it was contemptuous and disdainful, but not aimed at anything other than English.)

  6. I remember the day I learned to read! If you read 18th and 19th century writing (and earlier I’m sure), often the spelling reflects how they pronounced things. Too bad we still can’t write that way! My other pity for the poor early reader are those boring early readers.

  7. My daughter was an early reader too, it just came spontaneously, everyday she would visit an 80 yo retired school teacher that lived on the farm, they would sit in her overstuffed chair and the woman would read the newspaper funnies and other old favorite books to her, as the old woman’s eyesight became worse we realized that Amelia was the one who was reading to Virginia, they were happy so happy together.
    I think it is fine to spell phonetically for a while, when my daughter needed help spelling I just wrote the word on a piece of paper and had her copy it. When Amelia was 5, she and her friend Allegra got married (matching dresses and all), I remember the invitation was actually for a “weeding” and they had several “flowere grills”.
    It was very frustrating, more for me because I was reading all of these Waldorf Early Education books and was trying to reign her reading in, but realized that this was just who she was and that she would be fine. She still went to a Waldorf first grade and was not bored with the way they presented the Alphabet because it was so beautiful.

  8. Alida

    I’m reading a book called “I Kan Red This! It’s all about kids developing their spelling skills and spelling phonetically. It’s such a cool book. Sergio has an adult novel that written phonetically. I don’t recal the author but the title is Feersum Enjin. I picked it up one day and felt like I was doing one of those brain teaser puzzles.

  9. Dawn: Kids take out all the extraneous letters, don’t they?

    MIM: Today my son asked me (somewhat in awe), “How do you know how to spell all these words, Mama?” I told him that I memorized them all. He was suitably impressed.

    Helen: I thought of you when I wrote this, trying to teach those poor befuddled Japanese people. Befuddled, of course, since their language is so happily phonetic.

    David: I figured you weren’t sneering at me 🙂 18 months seems a bit too early… were you just so done with all the walking and teething and talking and boring stuff like that?

    Sarah: Yes, too bad we can’t go back to “surprize” and “chuse”. I’m editing something right now using mostly UK style, except they want all the “ise” and “isation” converted into “ize” and “ization”…which makes me all muddled when I get to “surprise”.

    Lisa Anne: I think people often misunderstand (in my opinion) that Waldorf methods don’t say to squash natural abilities for reading…just don’t overemphasize it at the expense of physical and artistic activity and imaginative play. SillyBilly has taken quite eagerly and naturally to spelling and reading, though he just turned 6. And Napoleona is only 4 and is already outdoing her brother in some respects!

    Alida: My gut reaction is that providing books spelled phonetically will be more confusing than helpful, but I could be wrong. I think it’s good to let kids try to spell things themselves, and if it feels appropriate, to correct them afterwards.

  10. Heni — I’m still not sure I have the walking thing down pat. There was (is) definitely something peculiar about the way my brain was wired, though … I never had the spelling/pronunciation issues, and would also correctly pronouce foreign words that I probably hadn’t seen or heard more than once. It was pretty bizarre, and unfortunately I was displayed in my family as a curiosity, and asked to read aloud to adults from a very early age. A couple of postgraduate students in child development who worked at my preschool made me their thesis project, but I don’t know what conclusion they came to, other than the fact that I was kind of strange.

  11. David: I’m just not willing to agree that the ability to easily pronounce foreign languages is a “peculiarity”… since I can do the same thing. 🙂 You are a smarty pants, but that’s not why I like you.

  12. You’re right, English is not easy. Daisy is learning to read German at school and English at home and there is a vast chasm between the two – German is phonetic and she can sound out all words, while English contains weird things like “the” and “she” which she just has to learn off by heart.

  13. According to my mum, I started talking at 11 months and was reciting nursery rhymes fluently at 16 months, so I guess it is possible to learn to read at 18 months. The thing is, I’m not sure if I believe her about the 16 month thing although she swears it is true! I do remember being able to read fluently at 3, which freaks me out when I think of the stage Kiko is at, now he’s the same age. Today he handed me the sign for his train station, I read out the words: “Look, it says TRAIN STATION,” and he said back, sternly, “No, it says POO.” Hmmm, I’m sensing the brain needs a certain level of *maturity* to take on reading and writing, heh!!

    Also, the one easy thing I found about learning Japanese was the pronunciation. Reading was hard and writing nigh impossible. It always surprised me that their level of literacy is so high – I’m sure it’s almost 100%.

  14. Alida


    The book I read was certainly confusing! 🙂 The book I’m reading doesn’t suggest you teach kids how to write phonetically. (that seems like a nightmare!) It’s meant for educators to understand the development and meaning behind their writing.

  15. Nana

    not 2 wurry! with all the text meseging going on rite now, b4 wee no it, the hole langwij wil chainj

    thare ar sum veree seereeus fokes out in the wurld hoo reelee doo want 2 chainj wurds like right 2 rite and light 2 lite and night 2 nite

    makes sents 2 mee

  16. Nana

    then again, maybe it would help if we taught all of those words which sound alike, but are spelled differently at the same time. for example teach there, their and they’re together with their meanings. you could start with the easy stuff: by, bye and buy

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