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5. Multi-sensory teaching methods for teaching the English language

5.1 English orthography

English orthography is a collection of difficult spellings originating from various other languages (mostly French and Scandinavian alongside Greek, Latin, and nowadays even Chinese and Japanese), from which the English language constructed its hybrid vocabulary. In order to demonstrate it better, I must first explain the differences between the terms “script,” “writing system” and “orthography”. As explained by Miller (2019, 1), the script is a collection of specific symbols which are used to write a language – for example, hieroglyphs, or Roman letters; the writing system is a linguistic unit which is displayed by a language’s graphemes – in other words, the writing systems refer to the process of how the meaning is written down. The three main types of writing systems are: alphabetic, syllabic (Japanese) and morphographic (or logographic, which is used by the Chinese). What constitutes orthography, in the end, is “the specific patterns

21 of correspondences between the graphic and phonological forms”. In plain English, orthography is the way how the word is read based on its letters.

The English language uses the Roman script and the alphabetic writing system, which means that each grapheme corresponds to a certain phoneme. However, the correspondences between graphemes and sounds are not at all as clear as one would wish them to be. The degree of grapheme-phoneme correspondence (also known as orthographical depth or transparency) ranges from very shallow, which is common for Slavic languages, where mostly each grapheme has only one phoneme assigned to it, to very deep (or low transparency – opaque languages), an example of which is English, whose correspondences are extremely unreliable and inconsistent.

Decoding words is much more difficult in deep orthographies such as English, and deep orthographies require readers to rely less on letter-by-letter reading and instead to use groups of letters, morphemes, and lexical information that is unique to each word (Miller 2019, 3).

To illustrate some irregularities connected to the English grapheme-phoneme correspondences, the following can be mentioned (cf. Miller 2019 3; Birsh and Carreker 2018, 632-633):

1. One grapheme can correspond to many phonemes: letter <c> can be read as /k/ in

“cat” or /s/ in “certain”. Or -ed can be read as /d/, /ɪd/ or /t/ in played, hunted and walked, respectively. The plural affix <-s> can be read as /s/ (cats) or /z/ (dogs). It is especially problematic concerning vowel pronunciation (“dove”, “tear”,

“laughter” (note the vowel digraphs “ea” and “au” in the last two examples)).

2. One phoneme can correspond to many graphemes, which is dubbed as “many-to-one relationship”: the /k/ sound can be written as <c>, <k> or <q> (“cat”, “kite”, and “quiet”).

3. Consonant digraphs (or consonant clusters), such as <th>, <sh>, <ch> and <ck>

correspond to a single sound (“think”, “shoo”, “chain”, and “pick”).

4. Preservation of word stems in orthographical representation but not in phonological one (for example, pronunciation changes in “nation” and “national”, but keeps

“nation” in spelling. Another example would be “mean” and “meant”).

22 5. Silent letters which are present orthographically but not in pronunciation (“night”,

“though”, “pterodactyl”, and “debt”). Some such letters are known as “markers”

that include information about how the letter should be pronounced (cottage  “e”

at the end signals that g is not /g/ but /dʒ/).

6. Homographs, which are pronounced differently depending on context but have the same orthographical representation (words such as “read”, “convict”, “live”, etc.)

The English language, as proven above, harbours many problems for a learner – especially one learning it as their second language. Its spelling, with a plethora of words having retained their spelling from their language of origin, is a potential nightmare since there are no consistent spelling rules to navigate by. Students therefore have difficulty in learning encoding and decoding rules, and must essentially learn the majority of the word-formation rules and their exceptions by heart. These problems are usually solved by teaching phonics and morphology in practice.

As far as syntax is concerned, the English language can be either harder or easier to learn, depending on the ESL student’s native language. Compared to Slovene, for example, which has six cases, no articles, dual number, and double (or triple or more) negation, it seems that the English language would be easier to learn for Slovene students, since it has only three cases (subjective, possessive, and objective). The same goes for the grammatical number, as English only has singular and plural. Articles might be challenging to learn, since they are a cognitive novelty, and singular negation might be a bit tricky to remember, since it requires additional learning of auxiliary words (such as “any”), and in some cases involves advanced logical reasoning. I believe that irregularities in plural nouns and verbs are a matter of vocabulary retention and will therefore not count them among the difficulties in learning English syntax; but, a memorization of all kinds of function words (for example, “a”, “to”, “of”, “any”, etc. ) is a must for the creation of sentences. Furthermore, Slovene is also an inflectional language, whereas English is an analytic language; therefore, in English, the word order is very important for coherence, whereas in Slovene the rules for it are not as strict.

In relation to memorization and inflectional rules, the English language has a large assortment of irregular word forms, for example plural nouns which do not follow the rule of adding of the inflectional morpheme “-s/-ies” at the end of the word. Gor (2010, 2) explains how the regular

23 plural nouns are automatically composed and decomposed and thus less taxing on the storage space of the mental lexicon; on the other hand, the irregular nouns, each having their own additional transformed form, need to be coded into memory, since a decomposition of such a word into morphemes is not possible.