Falling in Love with Words
“Comfortable.” How I loved that word, the meaning, the times to use it, the rolling jumble of consonant sounds. If only I could pronounce it! Though I tried and tried again, only strange sounds came from my mouth,“comdafable” or “cofdumfable.” Sometimes I got so mad I threw a tantrum. Why could everyone say it but me?
My mother, amazingly in tune with my spirit, gave me a great approach. “Remember,” she said. “Comfortable has two parts: comfort and table.” She had me practice the parts, then say them fast together. So comfort-table it was—a bit funny with the long “a” in table, but oddly enough, that didn’t bother me—it was a wonderful reminder of my mother helping me. After a while, I just started saying the word the same way everyone else does. But to this day, I always say “comfort” and “table” under my breath when I am writing or typing the word.
Years later, I still marvel at how easily my mother seemed to help me get ready to become a reader. By teaching me things like how to say “comfortable,” she helped me understand that a word is not just something that lets you say what you mean, but is also a thing with a form and substance. A word is something you can take apart and put together. This is a key insight in word attack for reading. It’s not just the meaning you attack, but the form.
Of course, as it turned out, “comfortable” has more than two parts when it comes to reading the letters. But my mother’s advice was a great start on the central idea that you can think of and talk about a word separate from what it means. She helped me fall in love with words.
Most young children can accurately perceive the difference between similar-sounding words (“coat” and “goat,” “three” and ”free,” “witch” and “wish”), even though they may mispronounce words quite often in their own speech. Clearly, if a child cannot reliably make such distinctions, it will be difficult for him or her to engage in activities that help to develop phonological awareness, described above.
A simple game of pointing to pictures can be used to confirm that speech discrimination is reasonably accurate in a 3- to 5-year-old child. In a quiet place, show the child the array of pictures on page 25.