Friday, August 20, 2010

F Is for Phonics

There are some experiences that are so tragic that they remain imprinted on your mind forever: Age: three closing in on four. Setting: our apartment in the Pomona Valley. My parents had heard about four-year-olds mastering reading, so it was time to get started. “School” went from jumping up and down on the “dance mat” in the middle of my bedroom and singing “A, B, C…” to sitting down quietly in the livingroom doing exercises in the dreaded “red book.”

To my parents, it was a success. Samuel L. Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers did teach me phonics, but I hated every minute of it. I had mastered the alphabet, but its relationship to sounds continued to baffle me. And just when I thought I was getting it, the worse part came.

I have one memory of sitting by my mom at her Estey spinet,* parked under the stairs, and being proud of myself for sounding out the word above the music. Then my mom told me that the word was pronounced fugue because it was German and German had different phonics rules.


So now that I’ve finally made sense of one set of phonics rules, I have to learn another one? My heart sank as I imagined a lifetime of red books. And looking back at it now, I’m not one bit surprised that remembering correct pronunciation is the highest brick wall preventing me from furthering my French and Koine Greek.

*She still has it, and it still works (sort of), despite all the abuse it got from her seven younger siblings and five children.