Volume 3 • #5 • March 2004


When you walk down the street, you don’t think of putting one foot in front of the other, leaning forward slightly, picking up the other, etc. etc. You don’t have to teach a baby to walk. It is all automatic, the programming for it built in with no need for awareness on your part of what you are doing.

But when you are a ballerina, you know where every joint is, exactly how far your foot goes up, where your arms belong. Even after you have memorized your role you are still very aware of what you are doing. The same can be said of playing the violin, doing gymnastics or engaging in any other activity invented by people.

This is quite similar to the difference between talking and reading. A baby learns to talk because the programming for him to do it is built in. He is born with the ability to produce any linguistic sound at all, and as he hears the ones in his own language, he gradually forgets the others and copies the ones he hears the most often.

But reading is an activity invented by people. There is nothing natural about it. First, you have to read somebody else’s words correctly. Then you have to comprehend his grammatical framework to understand the meaning of the sentence. But you are still not out of the woods. When you talk, you know what you mean. When you read, you must understand the writer’s grammatical framework to find out what he means. Awareness of somebody else’s grammatical framework is not necessarily easy. Try a bit of Shakespeare, if you don’t believe it.

This is why teaching grammar and syntax to dyslectic pupils is so important. Both are processed in the left hemisphere, along with semantics, or word meaning, in two areas called the Broca area and the Wernicke area. (Our old friend the angular gyrus is mostly involved in phonics). So stimulating that left hemisphere does yeoman’s duty, stirring up not only phonics, but syntax, grammar and therefore comprehension as well.

The key here is conscious awareness. To develop it, we start in RfS with the -ed rule for past tense spelling, which requires the student to become aware of the difference between verbs and nouns. Later come exercises on adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. As he understands what kind of enrichment each part-of-speech contributes to meaning, we go on to prefixes and suffixes.

Here is what you tell him: prefixes usually change the meaning (tie, untie) and suffixes change the part of speech (happy – an adjective, happiness -- a noun). Maybe for fun, you tell him that the letters, -en- can be either a prefix or suffix! On words like enlarge, enhance, enliven, enclose, encourage, the en- means “make more so”. As a suffix on eaten, gotten, written, given, driven, etc, the –en often changes a verb from the present tense to the past tense, just like its cousin, ---ed. Sometimes the –en will change an adjective into a verb, like sweeten, darken or lighten. He doesn’t have to memorize any of this. You just want him to notice.

The more he is consciously aware of the construction of language, the better his comprehension will be, so don’t skip the lessons on grammar!



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