Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Teaching almost all my students to unlearn was a big problem. Teaching them something new is one thing but teaching them to unlearn something that they have learned and practiced for a year or more is not easy at all. I found that the child’s face went blank when I pronounced certain words. It took me a while before I found out the reason.
This was because of the way these children have been taught in tuition centres and in kindergartens. They had been taught the letter sounds in the wrong way. Almost all my students gave me the same answer to questions as to what sound the letters b, f, t, s (and many other letters) made.

I rang a few of the tuition centres and asked what they meant by phonics and most of the centres gave me some acceptable answers. However, when I asked them to pronounce some of the letters of the alphabet this was their response. They pronounced ‘f’ as ‘fur’, ’t’ as ‘ter’ ‘s’ as ‘sir/shr’. Therein lies one of the biggest problems for kids predisposed to shutting down. This is because it is not logical to them. When something is illogical their minds shut down.

I want to repeat this point. As I have mentioned, in my earlier post, a child predisposed to shutting down learns logical things very quickly but his mind shuts down when it does not make sense.

For instance, when I taught the word ‘fox’ one of my students could not accept it, as to her ‘f’ made the sound ‘fur’, and as such how could ‘fox’ sound the way it did. It should sound as ‘fur-ox’. She had simply refused to repeat after me as her mind had shut down. I could see this from the blank look on her face. 

I repeat: As far as she was concerned it should have sounded ‘fur ox’ and she was not going to repeat something that did not make sense to her. 

The same went for many other letters which had been taught wrongly by the tuition centres. So my students had to unlearn most of the letter sounds which was no easy task for them, nor for me.

In case you're wondering, the sound for ‘f’ is the beginning sound of fish or fast. When you make this sound your mouth is almost closed and you blow air through your front teeth. The sound for ‘s’ is the ending sound in ‘hiss’. You make that sound with the teeth clenched or almost closed. However, the letter 's' does have the 'zee' sound in words like 'does, is, was' etc.

While waiting to pick up my son from kindergarten in the late 80’s I have heard teachers teaching the letters in the following manner - 'a' 'er' apple; 'b' 'ber' bed, 'c' 'ke' cat and so on. (This was done in a sing-song manner). Now why won’t the logical child be confused? 'a' 'er' apple and the child is lost – his mind shuts down. Here the sound that 'a' represents is as in the word 'air' and not 'er'. This is a very serious mistake made by many of the kindergarten and tuition centres.

My advice to parents who send their kids to tuition centres which teach so-called phonics is to first check out if these tuition centres know how to teach sounds represented by letters. Please take heed. This is a serious problem, especially for so-called dyslexic children. Teaching to unlearn is not an easy task. If they are not taught to unlearn in the early stage they end up not learning anything in school.

By the time they are in primary 2 or 3 they are considered stupid or lazy by their teachers and placed in “D” or “E” class (‘A’ class is the best class and ‘E’ class being the worst). These children in class ‘D’ and ‘E’ are almost completely ignored as they are considered stupid. Soon the so-called dyslexic kid himself begins to believe he is stupid and he goes into a shell when it comes to learning to read. To hide his 'stupidity' he becomes aggressive and starts misbehaving. They are promoted each year until they are in Form 5 (O level). Go to any school in Malaysia, except for schools like MRSM where the cream of all the students is selected and placed, and you will find a few students in each form who can’t read any English at all.

Einstein and Edison’s mothers took their sons out of school when they were in primary 4 and taught them. Similarly, if someone had intervened during the initial years of the above students they would fare better in school. By not teaching the 'dyslexic' children in a proper way, in the way they ought to be taught, by not intervening at an early age, our schools have probably changed the course of many a genius.

The first thing you as a parent need to do is to ensure that your children are going to kindergarten and tuition centres where phonics is taught correctly. It would be better not to send your children to tuition centres at all than to send to one that teaches phonics wrongly. Once they have learned the things wrongly it will be very difficult to unlearn.

If they don't unlearn.....; their minds shut off...; when their minds shut off they refuse to learn anything new that will continue to not make sense...; when they don't learn their school mates call them stupid (even some of the teachers do)...; when they begin to believe they are stupid they become aggressive and ....

Many parents think that once they have sent their children to kindergarten and later to school their duty is over. No, this mindset must be changed. You have to ensure that you pick a dedicated tuition teacher who really cares about children. Periodically talk with the school teachers as well as the tuition teacher and listen to what they may have to say.

This is especially for teachers who may be reading my blog: Parents have entrusted their children to us and we should take this responsibility seriously. The student's life can be influenced and molded by us. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the future of the students we teach is in our hands. This reminds me of a saying by Einstein:

"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common."

-Albert Einstein


Unknown said...

Here, here! Oh mygosh and I thought it was only me. As a kid I was taught some of those bad habits. When I entered school I was a bright and very enthusiastic student. My enthusiasm waned very rapidly because of the language issues. I felt that I really wanted to do well and had no ware to turn. My parents where some of those that believed that their role as educators ended with the enrolment in elementary school. I kept on trying and when I tried to change my way of thinking I had a sense that part of my head went numb. After a few years of doing very poorly, about grade 5 or 6, I was sent to a special class. Initially they did a test of my language skills. Then they gave me a month or two of phoenix. They then tested my language skills again, the results were worse then when I started. I was accused of trying to sabotage their efforts. When I insisted this was wrong they sent me out to have my hearing tested. I have become a real disbeliever in the teaching of phoenix and yet I see its purpose.

You are so right, it needs to be taught correctly, it has a purpose but there are pit falls. I still have a problem with words that end in the “shun”. I don’t here the difference in the ending of such words as fashion, tuition and fusion. But I find they are still at it, teaching phoenix. To quote your favourite Albert Einstein “the definition of insanity is to do the same experiment again and again expecting a different result.” To those that teach phoenix think about what you are teaching, I don’t know how else to say it.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you for your very valuable comment.

Hakim Bin Luqman said...

This phoenix seems to be a particular system of teaching phonetics, as I gather from my cursory search on Google. By bad habits, you mean that the phoenix system didn't teach the proper sounds for all the letters?

Unknown said...

Bad habits. How about a few examples

C sounds lick the c in cat. K sounds like k in kit. Qu sounds like k in quit.
So when someone says spell cut I might spell it as cut, kut, quut.
I remember one time having to spell upon. Said as u.pon’ but people had several other pronunciations such as up.on’ or often au.pon’. What did I come up with
Apon as in appreciation.
Eighpon as in eight
Aupon as in August
Opon as in Ontario

And there were a few others. My hearing was just fine back then but the rules where confusing and as clear as sh sounds like sh in shush, therefore sure is spelled shure, fiction is spelled fikshon, fission should be spelled fishun, action is therefore spelled akshon. There where rules and exception, rules to the exception with exceptions which lead to kaunfuseshun. Wouldn’t you say that it was very straight four word.

Then came the sounding out or reading the written word. English is strait forward easy to read, so straight forward. For example I found phoenix straight forward, “ I fo und fo en x stra ig ht fo r word.” The knight exercised chivalry. “The k nigh t ex cer sisd chi val ree.” But that is a different topic (to pic).

When it came to selling I was forced to make my own rules just to survive c as in cat was c. So toolcit , and loc, care, and corc. Silent letters were dropped, nife, noledge, sychology and nite. Double letters became single, bokeper instead of bookkeeper, uf instead of off, suport instead of support, adres instead of address, fite instead of fight and acounting instead of accounting. Ph and f sounds like f in fish. So please visit your fusishon.

What happened was from grade 3 through grade 11 I never received any comments on anything other then “you should know how to spell that”, “do something about your spelling,” “buy a dictionary,” “don’t you know how do use a dictionary?” “look up the words you are not sure of in the dictionary.” Truth is, there was not one word in the English language other then “I” that I was confident of. Please try looking up the above words in the dictionary, please do. I use a dictionary a lot and spent more time looking up words then I spent researching and writing a paper. If I could not spell the word I had to leave it misspelled.

I took school serious, I was determined to get away from that town and all that frustrated me. I became one tough and unsatisfied customer of the school system.

I worked harder then anyone else in my classes. The ramification of the single minded emphases on spelling was that though I wrote a lot trying to improve my skills my writing was an absolute disaster. How would I know? The teacher would say write a paragraph. Since spelling was their only concern, I must have done the exercise correctly. No comments on punctuation, ergo my punctuation is good. No comment of sentence structure therefore sentence structure is fine. The system contributed to my functional illiteracy. Teachers talk to each other and often compound the mistakes without breaking a cycle.

After grade 11 I left school for a couple years and when I returned I was in a different school in another city. Wow, I was informed and raked for having bad punctuation and poor spelling. I did not know how to right a sentence; I normally got subject and predicate backward, “A car is what I drive.” “Work is where I am going.” I could not write a parallel sentence. My arguments were not constructed correctly; my paper was a stream of sensuousness. In truth I was unable to communicate through writing. My contempt for English, English teachers and all things English grew without bounds.

Hakim Bin Luqman said...

But now when you write, you do all the spelling yourself? You've learned all the spelling through repetition, but do you still have to put a lot of thought into your spelling?

Are there, perhaps, some days when you want to write a simple letter, and you just can't remember if you "received" something or "recieved" it?

For the longest time I was spelling airport as aeroport...(but that's because I speak French - and it's completely unrelated)

Unknown said...

Time seem to help. Things improved but slowly. My spelling improved little by little. Why or how I am not sure. I just kept on tying.

It was not repletion. That did not work I learned in school the more I repeated a spelling list the worse my spelling became. If I did not study the spelling lists given I could eek out a passing mark. When I practiced the list a few times I failed. If I put in a real effort I would normally get 20%. I eventually refused to study spelling at all.

Technology has made a world of a difference. When I had a spell checker I found that a majority of my words were spelled correctly. I no longer had to examine each and every word. Incredible! was my response and then I could place attention on the words that I misspelled. I was finally able to see the errors. Spelling improve very rapidly for a while. Spell checkers gave me the confidence to write. Communications, completeness of thought, and the transfer of information became the issue.

Yes there are days. Days when I just cannot spell if my life depends on it. I before e or e before i remains a issue. There are words like function that I invariably spell wrong. I don’t know why but I seem to leave out the n. But I know that I do it and so I have to go back and add the n after I complete the word.

Luqman Michel said...

Yes, computer are very helpful for a person with dyslexia.
I would like you to share more with me so that we may help many parents with dyslexic children, E-mail me if you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Luqman ,

Thanks for your comment on my blog . I was going thru your blog . And thanks for speaking from the side of the parent .

My son is in fourth grade . He is finding it very difficult with spelling . Especially now that they have started Geo and history in full swing it is almost impossible to teach him to spell all those words .

As he takes resource help from school they may not cut his marks and he scores 90% or above almost always . Or the least 80.

But he seems to be very worried when he scores very less for dictations . And they have surprise dictations almost every day . No matter how much I play it down in front of him I am concerned how it will affect his confidence.

Other than the spelling problem we have fared well since he was diagnosed . He is taking spelling lessons from the resource for his level and I think he needs a few more years wrt spelling.

Can you guide me on what stand I should take ?

Anonymous said...

Your comments are so correct and from heart .

I can understand it very well becoz its the same way my son works .

And from what you said I can see there will be days when the sun will be brighter .


Thanks for the piece of advice . I had somewhat given up reading to my son becoz nowadays he reads by himself . Yet I was confused how I will correct the words he reads wrongly .
Yesterday I told him that I will read for him also after I read for his sister .Usually he reads by himself during this time . Even though at first he said there is no need, when the time came he was ready with a book from our library which he hasn't read .

Thanks for giving a new start .

Luqman Michel said...

Every child that I know likes to be read to. You are lucky that he reads by himself but get him to read to you too. I am sure you are a busy lady but you can ask him to read to you while you are cooking or doing some house chores.He will enjoy reading to you while you cook or even while you are lying down. Ask him to read to you while you try taking a nap. He may enjoy that and you will also be able to correct him. Why not get him to read while you drive him to school or any where else?
You should try and read to him daily. I remember a lot of stories my mum used to read to me when I was a little boy (though this was in Tamil.)

When you read to your son, you can read words that are above his reading level. Even if he does not understand it it does not matter as it will lie dormant somewhere in his head and pop up later.

Luqman Michel said...

As for spelling just let it take its course. You will see later on in my blog how I teach my dyslexic students and you may apply the same method with your son. Just tell him that all dyslexic children are logical thinking children and that is why they find it difficult to learn to spell in English. Tell him that he finds it difficult because it is not a logical way of spelling.Read this comment to him. Tell him that it is not he who is the problem but the English language is. You may also read some articles from my other site to your son. It is at :

I have been spending most of my time here and have almost forgotten the other blog. I'll write more articles there as well.

superkate'smum said...

My daughter is certainly one of the children you describe. I noticed her 'shut down' for the 1st time when she went into year 1. On the first day of school she met her new teacher who was in a rush. The teacher fired several questions at Kate very rapidly and Kate's eyes began to fixate and glaze over.
I have seen her shut down in class many times since. Kate was taught the alphabet correctly, with the appropriate voiced and voiceless sounds. The problem for her was blending the sounds together due to issues with auditory closure. She could not identify words if they were broken down, partially spoken,spoken with an accent, or spoken with the epmphasis on the wrong syllable.
What a varied and complex condition dyslexia is.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Superkate's mum for your comment. Unfortunately I have not seen a child with auditory closure.Knowing when a child shuts down and helping the child to overcome that particular problem is paramount.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Luqman Michel: Thanks so much for your perspective. It does help!! And, it's really important to teach the correct sounds of the letters, especially to young children.

As for certain sounds of the letters, sight words/high-frequency words, extension spellings and suffixes, we do have reliable rules. Of course, some will not fit into them and that's why they are called rule-breakers. Yes, some can be just crazy, but sure they are interesting to learn.

I came across this wonderful site that has a practical, multi-sensory approach, great ideas and teaching resources that will be helpful to you and your learners:

Please don't miss this video of Ms. Marie Rippel:

Thank you, and all the best!!


Luqman Michel said...

Thank you for your comment and your recommendation, Joice. I will listen to the video suggested in the next few days.
Wish you well.

Luqman Michel said...

This is one of my first few articles in this blog. Soon, I decided not to use the word dyslexia as it made no sense to call all kids who could not read as dyslexic. Most of them are instructional casualties.