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Growing up, I was an avid reader and English was always one of my stronger subjects. But, I never expected that one result of going to Taiwan to teach english would be unintentionally becoming a grammar nazi! I suppose my grammar was relatively strong before I left, but teaching English to non-native speakers has greatly strengthened it.

I taught children. It was wonderful. They were, for the most part, cheerful, eager to please and fun. But they also had this annoying habit of asking “why?”

Why is it, “I haven’t swum this year,” instead of, “I haven’t swam?”

Why is it, “I like eating,” and not, “I like eat?”

“Why is it a big, brown dog and not a brown, big dog?

“Why, why, why…”

Being a student of foreign languages myself, I told them I’d always done better by focusing on how to express a given idea than why it had to be expressed that way. A lot of children were satisfied with that. A few children weren’t. Most of their parents weren’t. They really wanted to know why. And after my first year or two, so did I.

So I ended up learning about when to use past participles, the similarities between gerunds and infinitives, subjunctives and many, many other things about the wonderful complexities of my native tongue. It wasn’t half bad for my abilities to talk about grammar in Chinese, either!

Somewhere along the way, I started to forget what it was like not having an explicit knowledge of various grammatical points. Then I came back to the US and almost immediately started noticing everyone else’s grammatical errors. “There’s a lot of busses to the Embarcadero from here,” I’d hear someone say. And I’d be thinking, “There are a lot of busses because they are countable and plural!” in my head. “I’ve ran a lot of intervals this week,” I’d hear some guy say at a park. “NO!!! You’ve run them because it’s a completed action and therefore is a perfect tense and requires a past participle!” an evil voice would scream. Once in a while it was almost like being a character in The Oatmeal comic.

Now that it’s been two years, my inner grammar nazi is just now finally starting to subside and allowing me to let the distinctions between less and fewer slide. I still haven’t relaxed my stance on English “names” I can’t stand, though!

:D

This is a short one!

This video covers the pronunciation and semantic clues of words ending in -able and words ending in -ive.

Last week one of my projects at Hack Reactor was to write a server (using Node.js) to emulate the functionality of the Wayback Machine– that is to download and archive copies of various web sites.

An interesting coincidence is that my old friend John just wrote about it yesterday. He’s designed and written numerous beautiful blogs and, sadly, destroyed them and broken all of my links to them. He’s started combing the wayback machine to bring some of that content back… for me. Now I can tell you readers who email me about not being able to find his content to go check out the dev.gd graveyard. Some of his old posts on language (and other) learning are great!

How do you pronounce an “a” if it’s at the end of a word? This one’s pretty easy. Just tell your students at some point… or better yet, ask them if they’ve noticed the pattern.

In terms of phonics, what’s the difference between -sion, -tion and -ssion? Why is it that it’s possible for students first encountering the words “devotion” or “nation” to be 95% sure they end in -tion and not -ssion? Why is it even easier to know when to spell something with -sion?

This video covers the spelling pattern of “al” or “le” at the end of words. It’s about polysyllabic words such as “noble”, not single syllable words like “pal” or “vale”. Aside from the pronunciation of the “le” itself, the “le” also interacts with preceding vowels.

And yeah, this is a good one to know if you ever want to read Fox in Sox!

When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle
bottle paddle battle.

Sometimes words with a “ch” sound are spelled with a “tch” in which the “t” is silent. Other times, the “ch” sound is spelled without a “t”. What’s the pattern? When do you spell words with “ch” vs “tch”?

Since my arrival in San Francisco last summer, I’ve become aware of the new “hacker schools” popping up around the city. Their stated purpose is to take smart, motivated people who may or may not have a strong technical background and turn them into world-class junior developers in a short time.

The Starter League

The first school of this type that I ever heard of was Code Academy in Chicago (renamed as The Starter League due to name confusion after the online school Codecademy launched). Their system was pretty unique– students spend 8 to 10 hours per day for 2 months, working in pairs as they learn a stunning amount of ruby, HTML/CSS/JS and Ruby on Rails. At the end of this time, they have an interview day in which they demo their projects to various tech companies, including some of the hottest local startups. The school has only been running since 2011, but results have been excellent and even DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails, is a fan of the program.

SF Hacker Schools

With that kind of success, it wasn’t long before similar schools started popping up in the Bay Area. The demand for top notch developers is extreme here, but very few companies are willing to train and they take only a tiny fraction of their applicants. A program to quickly bring students up to speed in the technologies that local start-ups are using is the perfect solution. It’s an incredible learning experience for the students that opens doors, the companies can hire solid programmers to join their teams and schools can earn money from either or both of the former two groups. From what I understand, Dev Bootcamp‘s first class was hugely successful–Over 90 percent of the students landed jobs shortly after graduation (at nearly double the average US salary) and of those who didn’t one opened a similar school called App Academy that focused on iOS development and the other opened Hack Reactor, an even more intense school with a stronger focus on JavaScript and front-end technologies. There is also another school, which I know less about since it doesn’t accept men.

In contrast with computer science degrees at universities, these schools have less of a focus on CS theory and more of a focus on building things. Students write a lot of code, and they use newer languages and frameworks. Another feature is heavy use of cutting edge tools and various automated testing frameworks that are commonly used in bay area start-ups, but not so common yet at larger, more traditional companies. Most striking to me is the intense nature of the study. No college I’ve ever seen puts students through 8 class hours of computing classes per day.

The bay area hacker schools remind me more of high-end intense language schools! There are a number of 6 hour per day intense language learning programs in which students work in pairs or small groups, work hard, and acquire a great deal of vocabulary, speaking skills and reading skills in a short time. In my experience learning mathematics as a teenager and then later learning Japanese and Chinese in my 20s, working at something 4 hours a day isn’t just 4 times as good as 1 hour a day. It’s closer to 10 times as good.

All in all, I see a lot of positives of this type of education. So much so, that I’m considering the possibility of running a school of this type someday… possibly even in Taiwan again! Entrance is very competitive to the existing schools, so it took a lot of hustling, but I’ve gotten into Hack Reactor class. I’ll be in class from 9am to 8pm six days a week, starting tomorrow. If you’re interested in the full story, I’ve put it up on my programming blog.

I may or may not be able to continue posting phonics lessons in my Phonics Friday Youtube channel, but I’ll try!

Why is it that the to make the plural form of “hobby”, you change the “y” to “ies”? But to make the plural form of other words ending in “y”, like “toy”, you just add an “s”? Why do you add “es” to make “potato” plural? How about “loaf” and “loaves”? Is that just an exception?

If you don’t know, then this is phonics video for you!