This English is So Hard

imageOne of our newer students in third grade has given us a unique challenge.  Coming from Ethiopia, Jone has been to school in his homeland but did not have access to books or paper.  He knows a little bit about writing in his native language, but not very much.  He draws characters when he writes but isn’t able to tell us what he has written about.  He is learning English from square one.  He knows the names of the letters of our alphabet, but doesn’t yet understand that each letter (or group of letters) makes a sound (or, as the case may be–a few sounds!).  And he certainly doesn’t understand that we put those letters into groups called words that go together to make an idea, or a story.  Although he his mightily confused by the English language, he is so intrigued by the books that surround him, especially graphic novels because he can get a sense of story from the illustrations.  He sees the other students reading and talking about books and wants so badly to be able to do the same.

So we made a plan!  I have pictures of all the kids in the classroom taped to a strip that also shows how their names are written.  We are working on connecting letters with the sounds that they make by anchoring them with the names of his classmates.  He can remember the sound that “t” makes because he associates that letter with “Tyler”.  He definitely knows about the letter “L” because we have six kids in the class whose names start with “L”.  In fact, today he realized that Logan E. and Logan G. both have the same first name, which made him giggle at the coincidence and ask “Logan and Logan, then they are brothers of the Logan family?”  I had a tricky time untangling that one…

Today Jone popped into the doorway of my office with a big smile on his face and asked “Are you READY??”  He grabbed the stack of names but couldn’t resist scanning the room for new books.  He quickly spotted my copy of “Hilo” and tucked it under his arm.  We settled in at his desk and practiced the letters and sounds that he knows and tried a couple new ones.  He was impatient to read something, ANYTHING, so I pulled from the very few sounds he recognizes and spelled out “sat”.  We made the sounds, blended them together and said triumphantly…”sat”!  I was thrilled–a breakthrough??

Jone looked confused.  He repeated “sat”.  “Sat.  sat.  I do not know this sat.  This English, it is so hard.”  Ugh.  We switched to “sit” and demonstrated with many classmates what it means to “sit” down, and then I tentatively tried to explain “sat”.  No luck…

Tomorrow I’m going to find someone in that school named “Isabel” so I can introduce her to Jone and we can gain another vowel sound.  Then we can read “sit”and I can try for that breakthrough once again.

In the meantime, we read the first chapter of “Hilo”together and Jone was ecstatic because the first few pages only consist of the two boys being chased by a robot alien and yelling “Ahhhh!!” in every frame.  He can read that!  And that’s really all he needs to feel good as a reader for today.






  1. macksworldsite · March 30, 2016

    Oh my gosh I loved this slice! I field like I was right there in the classroom watching you and Jone working together and seeing everyone’s excitement. Thanks for sharing. Your title is absolutely right!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristi Lonheim (@lonheim) · March 30, 2016

    It is SO hard, you captured his eagerness to learn and excitement at success.


  3. Fran · March 30, 2016

    So true – HARD, but you are so definitely celebrating the small successes! The literal . . . the beginning of speech/sound understanding! So my world for the last almost week!


  4. Erika Victor · March 30, 2016

    Yup, it is even harder when people do not start with a firm literacy handle on their own languages. I have a feeling Jone is going to pick things up quickly- he seems to have the will and that says a lot.Keep on trying different things with him- labeling pictures is a great way to start. Is everything in his classroom labeled?


  5. beckymusician · March 31, 2016

    I’m so impressed by your ingenuity! It is wonderful that he loves books so much, that will surely help him get a handle on our confusing language.


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