Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Trouble With Commas

If you haven’t noticed yet, my comma usage is just as bad as my spelling. I have a theory about why I’m so bad at using commas. You can’t always hear a comma. I didn’t learn English from reading it, I learned English from hearing it. I have a large speaking vocabulary, and I spell like a third grader. There are a lot of veratious readers in this world who often mispronance words that they have read many times but never heard aloud. I will never be one of those people. Instead I often spend a great deal of time sounding out words that I say on a regular basis. I may have learned to speak English by listening, but people don’t talk with commas. Hence my gaustly punctuation.

People claim that commas indicate a small pause in speech, but they really don’t. When I stick commas in places that need a small pause, I end up putting a comma where I really need a period. Most of the “rules” regarding comma use have nothing to do with sound and are simply ment to provide for easier reading. Reading is never easy for me, with or without proper punctation – so I haven’t figured out where I’m supposed to be putting my commas.

Somehow it has been drilled into my head that I’m supposed to put a comma on both sides of a person’s name, and on both sides of the word however. The place were I struggle with commas is separating clauses in a compound sentance. Apparently I need a comma after an introductory clause, but not before a secondary clause. I don’t know. When I just write, and don’t think about commas and I end up with long runon sentances that people find difficult to read. Perhaps I talk in run on sentances, I don’t really know what my problem is. When I do attempt to properly punctuate my writing, I end up sticking commas where they don’t belong, and omitting them from the places they are needed.

I find commas very confusing. The thing that bothers me the most about commas is that other people seem to understand them. Most people accept my lack of spelling. They might not like it, but they learn to deal. But dyslexia isn’t supposed to be an excuse for bad grammer, just bad spelling. When my punctation is all wrong, people look at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something.

I guess that is the whole point of this post. I just want you to stop staring at my forhead with a bewildered look on your face. I know I don’t understand commas. I want to learn, but the rules are really confusing. And a bell only rings at the end of the sentence in books on tape written for preschoolers. When I listen to classic literature on fast forward, there are no commas. Just a really great story all messed together into a giant run-on sentance.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Apparently I'm a God

Well, half god anyway. Lately I have been reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series. It is a fanticy series very much on par with Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/Narnia/etc. This particular brand of fanticy is all based on Greek Mythology. The idea is that since the Greek Gods are all imortal, they are still alive - even if nobody believes in them anymore. The same way that the gods used to shack up with mortals in the good old days they are still doing it today and creating a new group of Hercules type heros in the process.

Percy Jackson is the teenage son of Posidon and goes on lots of exciting adventures with the daughter of Athena, a satyr (half goat), and a cyclops. The books are really good. I like them even more than Harry Potter, and I was a big Harry fan a few years ago. But here is the crazy thing. In the books, all the demigods are dyslexic. It turns out the author, Rick Riordan, originally made up the stories as bedtime stories for his son. Riordan's son is dyslexic, so he gave his stories heros some of this sons personality traits. According to the legends demigods all have super intense reflexes to help them servive in battle, which leads to them all being diocnosed with ADHD. Their brains are also hard wired for ancient Greek, so they can read English very well and are labled dyslexic. The first book even begins with a warning that if you recongnize these characteristics in yourself you should stop reading, because it is better not to know the truth. So there you have it. I am a god. Well a half god really.

The problem is that dyslexia is genetic. So my dad is also dyslexic and he has the attention span of a five year old so ADHD is definately on his list of peronal traits. Does that mean my dad's the half god and I'm really only a quarter god? To make matters worse, my grandfather was dyslexic too. I don't know about the literacy rate of my great grandparents, but it is beginning to seem like I'm an eighth god at best. To bad. It would have been fun to fight a minotar on my way home from work. On the other hand, maybe I'm glad I'm not a god and I can just read about them from the comfort of my own couch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Listen to Your Literature

I am concious of the fact that different people learn in different ways, and I should not judge vissual learners. Still I am beginning to wonder why anyone would ever want to read. The capability to jot oneself a note and then read it later definately has its advantages. Also the use of email can be more effective in buisness than telephone communication, because the conversation is more easily recorded. But I’m beginning to think the entire idea of reading books is a giant waste of time.

When I was a child I listened to audio books because I didn’t know how to read. I systimatically worked my way through the audio book section of my local public library, listening to every audio book available to me. I often listened to books at night before bed. I enjoyed being lulled to sleep with gentle words. I never had to worry about turning off the light once I finished a chapter. I simple listened until my mind drifted completely into sleep, often dreaming about the fictitional world I had been visiting while awake.

I would become so engulfed in my bedtime stories that I wanted to listen to them during the day as well. In order to keep myself awake, I started doing other activities at the same time. I did jigsaw puzzles, colored, or completed my math homework with classic literature rattling away in the background. As long as the activity I used to engage my hands and eyes didn’t envolve words, I had no problem focussing my attention equally on the story and the activity. Using audio books as a constant backdrop to my dayly life, I was able to listen to hundreds of books during my childhood. Had I know how to read, I likely would have experienced far fewer stories.

About the time I made it to the Z’s at my local library I joined RFB&D (Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic). Thanks to the American Disability Act, I was able to get every book ever published – including text books on tape. When a book I requested wasn’t available, the library of congress would hire someone to record it for me. The best part of the RFB&D system is that there books were all on four sided tapes. And the special tape player required to listen to them had a verying speed dial. Once I learned to always listen to books on fast forward my 2 or 3 books per week quickly transformed into 4 or 5 books per week.

When I headed off to college, I found that playing video games was a great activity to accompany listening to high speed text books. I became so addicted to many of the games I played that I would do additional unassigned reading – just so I had some background literature to accompany my games. Spending so much time listening honed my skills and kept my listening comprehension far above my visual comprehension. I never had to worry about taking notes in class – I could simply doodle in the margins of a notebook while I listened to my professors lectures.

When I graduated from college I made an unussual decision. I decided to stop listening and returned my magic tape player to the library of congress. I told myself that I would never become a compotent reader if I didn’t read. Since I no longer had deadlines associated with my reading assignments there wasn’t a pressing need to listen simply to save time. If I enjoyed a story enough, I could take the time required to read it. I have always loved a good story, and read numberous books over the next few years. Occationally I would grab an autio book to entertain me during a long road trip, but whenever possible I read my literature.

Recently reality has struck me. As a child I listened to a minimum of two or three books a week – aquating to between 100-200 books a year. Now as a functionally literate member of society I was rairly reading more than one book per month. The reason for my sharp drop in literature intake is simple – it is almost impossible to multitask while reading. Reading a book requires the use of ones hands and eyes, very few other activities can be done while the hands and eyes are engaged. I could read while sitting on a bus, listening to music, or eating (with mild dificulty). But it is foolhardy to try to read while driving, cooking, cleaning, playing a game, performing mathmatic calculations, or examining drawings. All those things can easily be done while listening though.

I included the last two items on the list because they are my job. I’m a structural engineer. Which means I spend eight hours each day performing mathmatical calculations and examining drawings. I used to listen to music while working. Recently I have found that my productivity is in no way affected by listening to audio books instead. Occationally I am forced to actually read something while doing my job. In such a case, I pause the book I am listening to and devote my full attention to the words I’m being paid to read. Even with these periodic breaks in my listening, I am once again listening to 2 or 3 books a week. I am glad that my reading skills have improved over the past few years, but I no longer see any reason to read books. Listening to literature is a far suppirior use of ones time. In a way I pitty the many literate people in the world who have completely missed the joys of audio books.

So much of life is missed if one spends all there time burried in paper. But the absence of literature in ones life is an equal tradigity. The only simple solution to this problem is to listen and live simultaniously. For your own good, I encourage you to put down your papers, and listen to your literature.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How Do You Spell Your Name?

Most humans seem to have an overwellming fasination with their own name. It seems that every toddler I know is capable of spelling their name. A young child may only know five letters in the alphabet, but they know the five letters used to spell their name along with the required order. I am not like most humans. I have never felt an overwellming need to properly spell my own name.

I did learn to spell my first and last name at a relatively young age. My elementry school teachers all required my name to appear on the top of my assignments, so I figured out how to scrawl down my name early in my education. But my teachers never asked me to write my middle name on the top of my paper, so it never occured to me I should learn the spelling of that word too.

I knew my middle name began with an M. It’s fairly commen for people to require a middle initial when filling out a form. I knew three people whose first names matched my middle name – my grandmother, Robinhood’s girlfriend, and the madum librarian from the Music Man. It never seemed important for me to learn the spelling of any of those peoples names though.

You may find it odd that I didn’t learn the spelling of my grandmothers’ name, but I typically wrote grandma on cards and letters, so I really never needed to write her real name down. I’m still not entirely sure of the spelling of either of my grandfather’s names. Their names are Jenkins and Arnold. Those names may be spelled correctly, or they might not be. I rairly know when my spelling is correct. I simply guess, and hope I guessed write. If I was asked to write one of my grandfather’s names on an important document I would make sure and ask a better speller before grabbing my pen.

So when I went to fill out my college application at age 17, and saw that they required my full middle name not just my middle initial I logically asked my mother. “How do you spell my middle name?”

She answered, “M-A-R-I-A-N,” right before she went bizerk. I was a senior in high school. I was heading off to college. And I didn’t know how to spell my own name. How had she failed so miserably as a parent?

As you can see, I now know how to spell Marian. This is because my mother took to quizzing me on the spelling of my middle name every day for the next month. But I still think it’s a very difficult word to spell. Marion berries are spelled with an o, but pronounced the exact same way. And it seems equally likely that it could be spelled Mairian, Marianne, or Maryan. I just don’t see the point in memorizing the spellings of every word in the English language. And apparently as a child, I never saw the point of memorizing the spelling of my own name. Like I said before – I am not like most people.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Lesson in Phonics

Most children get a brief introduction to phonics in elementry school, but few adults are concious of phonics when reading and writing. When I was a child, I met with a private tutor three times a week for four years. During that time I recieved a much more indepth phonics training. Even as an adult, I have a very small site vocabulary. When I read, I sound out each word and decode its meaning. When I write, I carefully select the most probable phonetic spelling of the word.

If you aren’t me, you many already have an inharent understanding of phonics. You may also be cabably of learning a phonics lesson without writing each letter or letter combination in rice while stating its phoneme 78 times. So I’ll simply give you a brief phonics lesson and allow you to retain of it what you will. If you want a more indepth approach find a tutor familiar with the Orton-Gillingham method of multi-sensory education, and sacrifies a coupe hundred hours to your phonics training.

There are 42 phonemes in the English language, even though there are only 26 letters. This means that there are several letters that can make multiple sounds. There are also sounds that require multiple letters to spell. Some phonemes can be spelled multiple ways. Below is a list of all 42 English phonemes, along with each of their spellings (or at least of the spellings I can remember off the top of my head).

ā – a, a-consonent-e, ae, ai, ay, eigh, ey
a – a
b – b
k – c, k, ck
d – d
ē – e, e-consonent-e, ee, ea, ie, y, i, ey
e – e, ea,
f – f, ph, gh
g – g, gh
h – h
ī – i, i-consonant-e, igh, y
i – i
j – j, g, dge
l – l
m – m, mb
n – n, kn
ō – o, o-consonent-e, oa, oe, ough, ow
o – o, au, ough, ou,
p – p
kw – qu
r – r, wr, er, ir, ur
s – s, c
t – t
ū – u, u-consonent-e, ew, ue
u – u, a, o, e, au, ou
v – v, f
w – w
ks – x
y – y
z – z, s
ōō – oo, u, u-consonent-e, ew
oo – oo, u
oi – oi, oy
ou – ou, ow
aw – aw, au, a, o
ar – ar
sh – sh, si, ti, ci, che
hw – wh
ch – ch, tch
th – th
ng – ng
zh – s

I graduated from tutoring more than 17 years ago, so I may have missed a few of the less probable spellings. I feel like there should be more for the spellings of the soft vowel sounds of a and i, but I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. If you can think of any sound spellings I missed, please feel free to make me look bad.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Users Guild to Spellcheck

I'm not using spell check in this blog - which is making my life oh so easy. But in most situations, I do attempt to correct my creative spelling before unleashing it on the world. This isn't always an easy thing to do. I have developed an integrated stratagy for spell checking that I will explain to you now. If you too are a piss poor speller, feel free to implement these stratagies at will.

1. Right click on all the words that MS WORD underlines in read.

2. If the correct spelling is listed give yourself a pat on the back for being so close.

3. If only one word is listed take the time to carefully sound it out and make sure it is the correct word. Selecting the wrong word from spell check can be wors than leaving in a misspelled word.

4. When you get that nasty "no suggestions" response, begin by analysing your consinets.

5. If there is a place where a single consinent could be doubled or an f could be replaced with a ph, try that first.

6. If after two or three tries of shifting up consinents you still don't have a useful suggestions, return to your orriginal consinents and begin alternating vowels.

7. If you are a reformed dyslexic who was subjected to many years of intensive phonics training you should know that the sound ē can be spelled e, e-consinent-e, ee, ea, y, ie, i, or ey. Most vowel sounds have at least five possible spellings. Shift through alternative vowel spellings until word gives you a useful suggestion.

8. When word fails you and you can't think of any more possible spelling options move onto google. Type a common phrase using the word into google and see if it gives you the "did you mean..." suggestions.

9. When word and google both fail you, move onto the thesarus. Look up a synonim for the word you are attempting to spell in the thesarus and hope it lists the word you want in the list of synonims.

10. If you still don't know how to spell your intended word - just put in the synonim and move on.

So there you have it. After going though all those easy steps, 99% of the time you should have correct spelling. Normally the misspelling creaps in when step 3 isn't properly followed.