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Pain and shame impress precepts on the mind. The child therefore is intent in remembering the sound as in bun; but when he comes to busy, burial, and prudence, his last precedent will lead him fatally astray, and he will again be called -dance. The letter o in the exclamation, is happily called by its alphabetical name, but in to, we can hardly know it again; and in morning, and in wonder it has a third and a fourth additional sound.
“The amphibious letter y, which is neither vowel nor consonant, has one sound in one character, and two sounds in the other. As a cousonant, it is pronounced in yesterday; in try it is sounded as i; in any, and the termination of many other words it is sounded like e. Must a child know all this by intuition, or must it be whipped into him? But he must know a great deal more before he can read the most common words.
“What length of time should we allow him for learning when c is to be sounded like k, and when like s? And how much longer time shall we add for his learning when s is to be sounded like sh, as in sure, or z, as in has,--the sound of which letter z he cannot by any conjuration obtain from the letter zed. How much more time shall we allow a patient tutor for teaching a docile child when g is to be sounded soft, and when hard ? There are many carefully-worded rules in the Spelling- books, specifying what letters and in what situations I shall vary in sound; but, unfortunately, these rules are difficult to be learned by heart, and still more difficult to understand. These laws, too, however positive, are not found to be of universal application; or, at least, a child has not always the art or the time to apply them upon the spur of the moment.
In coming to the words, good gentleman, get an ingenious grammar,
may be puzzled by the mere distinctions he is to make in the pronunciation, in cases apparently similar. But he has not yet become acquainted with all the powers of this privileged letter. In company with h it assumes the character of f, as in tough. The next time he meets it, perhaps in the same company, in the same place, and as nearly as possible, in the same circumstances, as in the word though; but now g is to become a silent letter, and is to pass incognito: and the child would commit an unpardonable error, if he claimed the incognito as his late acquaintance.
"Spelling comes next to reading, --new trials for the temper, new trials for the understanding, positive rules and arbitrary exceptions, endless examples and contradictions, till at length, out of all patience with the stupid docility of the pupil, the tutor perceives the absolute necessity of making him get by heart, with all convenient speed, every word in the language. The formidable columns rise in dreadful succession, months and years are devoted to the undertaking, but after going through a whole Spelling-book or perhaps a whole Dictionary, till we come triumphantly to Zeugma, we find that we have forgotten to spell Abbot, and must begin again with Abasement.”
The essential error of the popular system lies in an attempt to apply science to a matter in which science is misplaced, and where in truth neither science nor the results of science can be put in practice. It is the office of science to analyse first the organs of speech, and then to analyse the sounds to which they give birth. Next comes the analysis of the alphabet, considered as the instrument by which vocal objects are expressed by visible ones.
Another analysis shows the modifications which ensue when the alphabet is syllabised and so made into words.
Four analyses to be practically gone through by one so ignorant that he is unable to read! No wonder learning to read is found so difficult; no wonder so little permanent good ensues from ordinary school teaching. The science actually employed, however, is purblind. Its real task it sees but dimly, if at all. That task in the main is the task of expressing sounds by sight. The task is the most difficult ever accomplished by the human race, as the step, which it implies, is the most important in the career of civilisation. Such is the work you assign to the child ! You require ignorance and inexperience to solve a problem which yielded to human ingenuity only when in a state of some maturity! You aid the pupil? What? by teaching him two opposites as equivalents? In leisure your e is short though supplemented by i, whereas this same vowel, which cannot be long with the help of a neighbour, is long, though standing alone, in metre.
In truth, the English language is before all others full of irregularities in regard to its sounds, and the connection of those sounds with visible signs. Any attempt to reduce the actual phenomena into a system is a most arduous task, nor can a system be constructed which does not involve very numerous exceptions. What folly to make such a step as the acquiring of this system, together with these exceptions, the first step to knowledge!
Had the science applied to this subject been true science it would have been based on observation; and observation would have led to the discovery that we should teach the young to read in the same way that they are taught to speak. Imagine a mother in her nursery beginning to teach her child to speak on the data and rules supplied by a careful analysis of the organs of speech !
_imagine this, and you have the exact parallel of what the bulk of our schoolmasters still do when they set about teaching a person to read. Here, however, the All-wise Teacher does His own work. The child hears speaking on all sides around it, and so naturally learns to speak.
The same method is to be pursued in teaching how to read. The essence of the lesson, we have seen, is the translation, so to say, of certain vocal signs into certain written (or printed) signs. The translation depends on principles which vary now with different languages, now with different ages, and now with different individuals. Our fashionable a, as equal to aye, is but of modern date, and English growth, while in Lancashire we often hear father pronounced fawther and sometimes faether (as in Dorsetshire) and water is liquified and degraded into waiter. The English I is almost, if not quite exclusively, English in its sharp bright sound, and o becoming both (o short) and boath (bo, ath) usurps the office of u in bosom and mother. To one who is not familiar with etymological, ethnographical and other reasons for these variations, they appear so many caprices, and popularly regarded, the English language is very capricious. Will you drag the untaught through the minute, wearying, and all but profitless labour of acquiring a familiarity with rules which prove no rules, and exceptions that have constantly to be excepted to, and that as preliminary to the task of connecting what is said with what is written ? Surely the better way is to connect the sign with the thing signified by a direct and specific act. You want to teach a person to read this,
The lark sings. Very well--then let him hear you read the proposition yourself. In his presence do the task you wish him to learn to do, and all difficulty vanishes. His wise and good Maker has
provided him with the essential aid in giving him the faculty of imitation. When you say the, he says the; the combination of straight and curved lines lark receives from his lips the sound you and your fellow countrymen give to it, and you both agree in pronouncing sings as it should be pronounced, that is, as it is usually pronounced by educated Englishmen. And so I am brought to give a specific direction or two.
Here I must be undersood as addressing principally the teacher. Hoping to have to do with one who is a teacher indeed -a teacher in spirit as well as act; one who does not leave the scholar to flounder through the art of learning-madedifficult, as an encouragement to lazy masters and idle pupils, but takes the trouble to teach and so teaches in reality, I beg him who wishes to instruct in the matter to begin by reading aloud in the hearing of his pupil, say, the first proverb. Let him repeat the reading until he has excited his scholar's curiosity. That curiosity once excited, the learner will probably recognise a thought already known to him, or a thought in which he feels an interest. Thereon his curiosity will be extended, and he will wish to see with his own eyes by what book-signs that thought is conveyed to your mind. Ask him if he would like you to show him those signs. He answers in the affirmative. Then direct him to cast his eyes on the proverb while you again read it. Read it slowly. Read it slowly, as a whole, two or three times while he looks on. Then pronounce each word and, pointing to each word as you pronounce it, bid him look at the word and imitate the sound you utter. Do this at first repeatedly. When your pupil can read the first short lesson, pass to a second proverb, and pursue the same course.
So do with a whole page. Do not however occupy in the lesson more than half-an-hour. On