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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Forgive Me, Freya

If there is not already a statute of limitations on seventh-grade secrets between cousins, I would like to initiate one.  Better make it effective retroactively, though, since I let this cat out of the bag years ago.

Freya was an early reader.
Freya was a passionate reader.
Freya was a skilled and sophisticated reader—far more than I was, despite the fact that I was two years older. I would not be the least bit surprised if she was reading on a college level by the time she was in third grade.

Even though nearly twenty years have passed, I will always remember the time when my cousin Freya shared an embarrassing situation that had happened to her at school.  The task was reading aloud—something she’d always been a champ at—but in this instance, a certain four-letter single-syllable word created gallons of red-hot middle school embarrassment*.

The word rhymes with hint.
Okay, not really, but it looks like it should.


Hint. Mint. Lint.

When kids are early independent readers, it is usually because their decoding skills are in tip-top shape. They confidently use their skills to attack new words by sounding them out and making connections to familiar words and spelling patterns. Here is where capable independent silent readers sometimes fall through the cracks. She’d probably read that word a zillion times in her head, but because there wasn’t an opportunity to discuss exceptions to the rule, the pronunciation of the word got away from her.

So now there’s this amazing reader doubting herself (because you know there had to be snickers from classmates, “Haha, who mispronounces pint?!”)

I wish I’d known then how many times I’d encounter that situation as a middle school reading teacher. For some kids, it was not a big deal, but for the tender-hearted, passionate readers, it was mortifying.
Whenever this type of situation would happen in class, we’d pause in our lessons and I’d tell the students the pint story, because preservation of self-esteem is always worth the time.

Mispronunciations of this nature are not signs of a troubled reader; it’s just as likely that the student is a strong independent reader.

No harm, no foul, no need for self-doubt.

Whether or not folks are willing to admit it, it’s safe to say that everyone has these kinds of linguistic transgressions. I’ll admit it. I spent the bulk of my childhood (and even my teenage years) thinking “bane of my existence” was a compliment. Since my mother said it to me often, I assumed it meant “joy of my life”. For reasons I still can’t explain, I thought a Rottweiler was a car and a Studebaker was a dog until fairly recently.

A website called iusedtobelieve.com invites readers to submit their peculiar misunderstandings. I was surprised to see that many users confessed that when they were younger, they’d thought they were traveling to different planets by plane. It’s not so far-fetched—the plane leaves the earth, passes through the clouds, and eventually lands in a place with a (usually) different climate and landscape from the original location.

It’s amazing what you can go on believing when the world hasn’t had an opportunity to correct you.

Missed opportunities can’t be used to assess intelligence or worth of others, but we can’t allow missed opportunities to influence how we feel about ourselves, either.

It’s important to remember that experience trumps missed opportunities. Make the error. Experience it publicly, even, but don’t let it ruin your day or your self-esteem. Add the experience to your collection and just keep growing.



*Ever have trouble spelling embarrassment? Here’s a tip—two ‘r’s, two ‘s’s—really red, smiling shyly.

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